Earlier this month, Shetland Islands Council convener Malcolm Bell, political leader Gary Robinson and chief executive Mark Boden were in the Faroe Islands on a three-day fact finding visit.
At the time Faroese prime minister Aksel V. Johannesen was not available for interview, but he has now responded to a number of e-mail questions.
Johannesen described the visit as “very constructive and insightful” and said it had “further strengthened” the relationship between both island groups.
Shetland News: Are there any concrete proposals resulting from the visit?
Johannesen: “The Faroe Islands and Shetland are different in many ways but we also share many similarities such as being island nations and close neighbours.
“We share the same challenges concerning young people leaving the islands. After years of stagnation, we now see population increases in the Faroe Islands. In August, we counted 49,755 inhabitants.
“I do see possibilities for closer cooperation in areas within trade and infrastructure and perhaps other unexplored areas as well. It would certainly benefit our relations to meet more often on a political level.”
Shetland News: How realistic do you think it is that Faroese Telecom might be able to enter the UK mobile market and do something to help improve Shetland and Orkney’s phone signal?
Johannesen: “It is possible for Føroya Tele (Faroese Telecom) to enter the market, as the preconditions in available capacity are already in place with the existing sea-cables.
“As I understand, an expansion of the net lies in the hands of a parliamentary decision in Westminster to make the necessary law amendments, which would enable FT to enter the market.”
Shetland News: Would you recommend that we follow Faroe’s lead and build subsea tunnels to connect our outlying islands to the Shetland mainland? The one downside appears to be the cost of tolls to use the tunnels?
Johannesen: “We built our first tunnel in 1963, and today the Faroe Islands have a good infrastructure with most of our islands and villages connected with tunnels. This has proven to be important for the development of the small communities.
“The government is planning to build a subsea tunnel connecting our two biggest islands. We believe that this upcoming tunnel will have a positive effect on the future development of the Faroe Islands.
“It will shorten the driving distance considerably and will make it much easier to work in one place and live in another place.
“Building tunnels is to some extent about concrete expenses for the government, but it is also about investing in people and in the future of our communities. It is up to the Shetland authorities to decide on what is right for Shetland.”
Shetland News: How is Faroe able to afford things like having the world’s best mobile phone network?
Johannesen: “The Faroe Islands make their own legislation in the telecom-area. There is no public funding to Føroya Tele. FT is a public limited company, which makes it possible for the political system to have an influence on how the company’s surplus, which the company generates through its services, is used.
“It is a political wish that FT is to provide everybody in the Faroe Islands, independent of location, the best possible service with the lowest price possible. At the same time, it has been a political priority to build one of the best mobile networks in the world.
“Vodafone is the other provider on the market. The competition is one factor driving innovation, prices and investments the right direction. Our infrastructure and small size is another factor making it possible to establish a national network at a relatively low price.”
Shetland News: We have heard a lot from our own politicians about what Shetland can learn from the Faroese example. Are there any aspects of how Shetland is run that Faroe could maybe learn from too?
Johannesen: “As I have mentioned we can learn a lot from each other. Particularly I find it impressive that Shetland is used as location and narrative in a BBC crime series called Shetland.
“Many Faroese are watching this series. We could learn from Shetland in making the Faroe Islands attractive for the film production industry.”
Shetland News: Will you be making a state visit to Lerwick sometime in the near future?
Johannesen: “I would very much like to visit Shetland; I hope that this can be arranged within not too long.”
Shetland News: How do you see Faroe’s relationship with Shetland, and Scotland, developing now that the UK has voted to leave the European Union?
Johannesen: “The Faroe Islands followed the Brexit referendum very closely, since a possible Brexit would also have implications for the Faroe Islands’ formal relations with the UK and therefore also Scotland.
“The Faroe Islands are not part of the EU and have a Free Trade Agreement with the EU. Forty two per cent of Faroese export goes to the EU, and the UK is our most important European trading partner with 21 per cent of our EU export going to the UK.
“It is very important for the Faroe Islands to continue the same good trade relations with the UK and Scotland after a possible Brexit.”
Shetland News: Do you have any views on how the simmering conflict between Shetland and Faroe’s fishermen over mackerel rights is likely to be resolved?
Johannesen: “It is difficult for neighbouring countries to avoid some disagreement about shared fish stock. This does not affect our good relations with Shetland and Scotland.
“The Faroe Islands do have an agreement with the EU regarding mackerel; it is up to the respective negotiating parties to discuss the issue further.”
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