Postcard from the Faroe Islands Copenhagen's Tunnel Tummyache

The Danish government is spending millions for bridges and tunnels to connect the Faroe Islands. But with fewer than 50,000 people on the north Atlantic achipelago, many in Copenhagen aren't happy.

Only 47,000 people live on the Faroe Islands.

Only 47,000 people live on the Faroe Islands.

Just months after the Muhammad cartoon scandal, a new controversy is simmering in Denmark. This time the source of irritation is a gigantic tunnel project being undertaken on the Faroe Islands, an archipelago in the north Atlantic that is part of the Kingdom of Denmark. There, a €48 million tunnel is being constructed to connect the islands of Eysturoy and Bordoy as part of a highway, tunnel and causeway project that will connect 85 percent of the Faroen population. But there's an important qualifier here. The islands have a total population of 47,000 people.

The project is consuming fully half of the money Copenhagen contributes to the islands' coffers each year. And many in Denmark are unhappy about it. Problem is, many in the Faroes are seeking to have their cake and eat it too. They want to secede from the Danish kingdom, but they don't want to forego the subsidies that are helping them to build a lavish transportation infrastructure. Indeed, the stance of many on the islands has been a major sticking point in negotiations over the future of the Faroes -- and whether they should remain under the Danish flag or become fully independent. Critics on the Danish mainland have accused island politicians of promoting a naive infrastructural vanity project and are demanding the repayment of debts of about €1.1 billion -- money that represents the amount so far spent on the complex network of bridges and tunnels.

Graphic: Island roadways

Graphic: Island roadways

The latest tunnel project -- the second one to connect individual Faroe Islands -- is so far the most ambitious civil works project undertaken by the 18 island department. Some 420,000 cubic meters of rock must be removed using explosives. But the Faroens would rather not hear about the difficulties. Driving is one of the most popular leisure activities on the islands. According to 2003 figures, there were 24,000 registered cars on the Faroe Islands against only 17,000 households. Soon, the next major road construction project will begin: a 12-kilometer tunnel to the southern island of Sandoy. That project alone is expected to cost close to €70 million -- with much of the tab going to Copenhagen.



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