Copenhagen — Today Greenland ends more than 12 years of involuntary membership in the European Community, reducing the EC to less than half its original territory. The giant, mainly ice-covered island off the northeast corner of North America is not severing all ties with Europe, but it is cutting back on its involvement with the EC.
A majority of the 51,000 inhabitants of island saw full membership in the EC as incompatible with Greenland's six-year-old status as a semiautonomous province of Denmark.
``The idea behind home rule was to shed the yoke of Copenhagen. Why replace it with a new one?'' asked Finn Lynge, the Greenlandic member of the European Parliament, in 1979.
As an integrated part of Denmark in 1972, Greenland had to submit to the Danish decision to join the EC although some 70 percent of the islanders had voted against it.
The main reason the Greenlanders have opted out of the EC is to obtain full control of their island's only significant resource, fish stocks.
As a nonmember, Greenland will have the authority to decide the total allowable catch on the basis of biological evidence, thereby ending what the island's political chief, Jonathan Motzfeldt, has called ``humiliating'' bargaining sessions in faraway Brussels over the right of local fishermen to catch the cod and shrimp in Greenlandic waters.
In 1984 the 10 EC members agreed to let Greenland retain its duty-free access to the European market for fish products. Greenland conceded fishing rights to EC fishermen in exchange for a compensation of about $20 million annually for five years.
The agreement leaves Greenland about as well off as before, thereby refuting the gloomy predictions made by some EC proponents. Internationally the deal is viewed as being extremely favorable.
Greenland got its way partly because of strategic considerations. Located midway on the shortest route between the superpowers, its 840,000 square miles of ice- and snow-covered mountains have taken on added importance since the advent of the intercontinental ballistic missile.
Under a defense agreement with Denmark, the United States operates several military installations in Greenland, the most important being the radar and satellite-tracking station at Thule air base.
Had a deal not been reached with the EC, Greenland would have offered fishing licenses for sale, possibly attracting bids from the Soviet Union and other East-bloc nations.
``Security being infinitely more important than fish, the agreement between the EC and Greenland was a small price to pay for Greenland's continued allegiance,'' one EC diplomat says.
Copenhagen continues to be in charge of Greenland's foreign policy and defense, but last fall the island's home-rule parliament passed a resolution expressing support for membership in NATO.
Under the agreement with the EC the membership was scheduled to terminate on Jan. 1, 1985. But its departure was delayed one month because of legal formalities.
No other territory has left the EC in its 28 years of existence. The move was possible only by amending the Treaty of Rome, the ``constitution'' of the EC, which required the ratification of all 10 member countries.
But Ireland forgot to do it before the end of the year and could not make up for its oversight until Jan. 22, when the Irish parliament reconvened after the Christmas break.
Mr. Motzfeldt ignored the delay and had his pre-taped New Year's speech televised as planned on Jan. 1.
``From today we are no longer members of the European Communities, and it is now our own responsibility to cooperate voluntarily within the new framework set up by the new EC agreement,'' he said.