Controversy over agreement with Faroe Islands: Russia is (still) fishing with permits in Northern Europe

Despite the war in Ukraine, the small archipelago of the Faroe Islands continues to allow fishing boats from Russia to fish in North Atlantic island waters and use Faroes ports. This causes trouble between the Faroe Islands, the Danish homeland, and the European Union.

More sheep than people, thatched houses, lots of wind, lots of water, 18 islands in the Atlantic between Scotland and Iceland. These are the Faroe Islands. An autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark.

It is precisely this condition that sometimes makes interactions with the Pharos so complicated. Although the Faroe Islands are part of the Kingdom of Denmark, like Greenland, they are not part of the European Union. Only their own rules and agreements apply in the Faroe Islands. The same applies to fishing, the archipelago’s most important economic sector.

For nearly 50 years, the Faroe Islands and Russia have had an agreement regulating fishing in the area. The agreement has been in place since 1977 and is renegotiated every year. It also allows Russian trawlers to fish in the Faroes waters and transport fish caught in Faroese ports. In 2023, it was determined that Russians would be allowed to catch 72,000 tons of blue whiting, 13,000 tons of mackerel and 8,500 tons of herring. In return, fishermen from the Faroe Islands are allowed to fish in the Russian Barents Sea. In the current year, that’s about 12,000 tonnes of cod, 4,000 tonnes of prawns and 1,200 tonnes of halibut.

“These are large sums of money that are regulated in this agreement,” it does Soften the runeCorrespondent for Northern Europe and Scandinavia topics at “Stern”, ntv podcast “Learned something again”.

Independence since 1948

The special status of the archipelago means that the Faroe Islands can do their own thing, bypassing the rules and laws of Copenhagen and Brussels. As an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark, the Faroe Islands have their own government and parliament.

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Independence’s roots go back 75 years. Previously, the Faroe Islands were under Danish rule, and since 1940 the Sheep Islands have been occupied by the British due to their important strategic location. In 1946, a year after the end of World War II, the people voted by a narrow majority in favor of state independence. After two years of negotiations with Denmark, an autonomy law was agreed upon. This allows the Faroe Islands extensive political independence. When Denmark joined the European Union in 1973, the Faroes did not go with it. That is why the Faroese government can still sign agreements with Russia.

However, for decades, no one was particularly interested in the Faroe Islands’ fishing deals. Fishing accounts for more than 90 percent of Faroese exports. “The Faroe Islands could do without this deal with Russia if they had suitable alternatives. But at the moment they don’t,” Weichert summarizes the problem.

I said in conversationsThe contract has been repeatedly extended without seeking alternatives. Then came the war in Ukraine and the politicians in the Faroe Islands said: we support the EU sanctions by and large, but we make an exception for fishing,” Weichert reports on the ntv podcast.

“Morally wrong, but no alternative”

In fact, the Faroe Islands also partly support EU sanctions by condemning Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine. The archipelago has also taken in Ukrainian refugees. However, at the end of last year the fishing agreement was extended for another twelve months.

Despite some harsh criticism, the opposition in the Faroe Islands also voted in favor of continuing. “A Social Democrat MP representing the Faroe Islands in Copenhagen told me he thought it was morally wrong, but his party voted for it because there was no alternative.” The MEP speaking to Weichert compares the Faroe Islands fisheries agreement to the role played by Russian natural gas in Germany. “An immediate suspension of this agreement would have had massive consequences for the Faroese economy, and that is why we are forced to continue,” Weichert said.

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How important fishing is to the Faroe Islands is also shown by the fact that the government does not have an economy minister, instead the deputy head of government of the archipelago of 54,000 people holds the position of fisheries minister.

Accused of piracy from Denmark

Characteristic of the Faroe Islands: the house is covered with grass, the sky is cloudy.

(Image: Image Alliance / Westend61)

Denmark criticizes the fact that the Faroe Islands put their economy above morality. In Copenhagen, both conservatives and social democrats expressed concern about Faroese’s approach. “The head of the Danish Fishermen’s Association equated the Faroe Islands with pirates because Russian ships can come in and out as they please. The Danish government is a bit more hesitant, and they respect that it’s a Faroe Islands matter.” , Weichert reports on the ntv podcast.

Even in Brussels, visiting the Faroe Islands alone is not welcome. A Danish EU politician said this Danish Radio, the continuation of the agreement “is not an appropriate signal in the midst of a global crisis”. Instead, the West should “unite” against Russia.

But the negative voices aren’t the only ones – some see an opportunity in the tricky situation between the Faroe Islands, Denmark and the EU. At the end of last year, a conservative Danish MEP demanded that Copenhagen and Brussels work together with the Faroe Islands to create new potential business areas and strengthen overall cooperation. It is not fair to be too critical of the Faroes’ course. After all, the small population of the Atlantic is not the only country that still works closely with Russia in the fishing industry. In fact, Norway has such an agreement with Russia – and that too is indisputable.

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The Faroe Islands are a suspected spy target

The Faroe Islands’ new government has also set a goal of making the local economy independent of Russia. The Social Democrats – still in opposition when the 2023 deal was signed – won a general election in December and lead a left-leaning three-party government.

The new government’s long-term goal is that the nearly 100,000 tonnes of fish Russia is allowed to catch in waters off the Faroe Islands this year should be fished by domestic trawlers in the future. But first big factories have to be built. This requires new partners that Faroese fishermen can use if they are not allowed to fish in Russian fisheries. “An alternative could be Great Britain, but certainly also the EU, Iceland, Greenland or Canada,” Weichert says, naming examples of possible new fisheries collaborations. “I think the people in the Faroe Islands are ready to look for an alternative to Russia. The way is to step out and look for alternatives,” says Weichert.

Research by Nordic TV stations suspicious of Russian espionage shows that this might be a good idea. Accordingly, Moscow has reportedly used civilian ships for espionage purposes in Europe on a large scale in recent years. These include two fishing trawlers that have been visiting the Faroe Islands for years – thanks to a fishing agreement.

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