The Constitutional and Political System
Greenland is a self-governing unit within the Danish realm and the Danish constitution also applies to Greenland. Laws adopted by the Danish parliament also apply to Greenland unless Greenland is specifically exempted. The political system is very similar to the Danish style of parliamentary democracy. The parliament, Inatsisartut, has 31 seats and is elected by universal suffrage of all adults over 18 years of age who have been resident for more than 6 months prior to the election. It is important to note that Home Rule is a public government and that there is no distinction between persons born in Greenland and persons born in Denmark. All have the same right to vote provided that they are Danish citizens. The parliament elects the Home Rule Government, Naalakkersuisut, which is headed by the premier. The premier, along with each member of the government (currently six, including the premier), requires an absolute majority in the parliament to be elected. The parliament sits for four years unless the premier calls an interim election.
Of the 31-member parliament elected in November 2005, 13 are women and two are Danes. In the first years of Home Rule, Greenland was divided into a number of constituencies to ensure that even the most remote municipalities were represented in the parliament but, today, Greenland has only one constituency. Elections take place through political parties, of which five won representation in the 2005 elections. All governments since the establishment of Home Rule have been headed by the social democratic Siumut party, usually in coalition with one or, as is the case now, two other political parties.
The creation of political parties was a key factor in establishing Home Rule. The first parties were founded in the mid-1970s and they soon became instrumental in formulating the quest for self-government. All political parties were, and remain, based in Greenland without formal relations with the political parties in Denmark. The party system has since been a key component of Greenland’s democracy.
Influence on Danish policy
Greenland elects two members to the Danish Parliament. They have often had a larger say on Danish policy towards Greenland than their small number might imply. This has specifically been the case when the two Greenlandic members have tipped the balance between left and right and when they have had strong backing from the Greenland Provincial Council and, later, the Home Rule.
The Home Rule Arrangement
After the introduction of Home Rule in 1979, the first areas of responsibility and authority were transferred in January 1980 and, in the ensuing years, area after area came under Home Rule control. In general, Home Rule has taken control over all matters of domestic policy, the economy, the education system, culture, social affairs, etc. In all these matters, legislative competence rests with the Home Rule authorities. Some matters are under joint Danish-Greenlandic jurisdiction, first and foremost the exploitation of sub-surface resources. The basic principles of the Minerals Act are that it provides both parties, Denmark and Greenland, with a veto on all matters relating to prospecting and exploitation of sub-surface resources. Since 1998, the administration of all mineral resource activities has been in the hands of the Home Rule authorities in Nuuk. The economic distribution of income from mineral resource activities is such that the first 500 million DKK of income from these activities automatically accrues to the Home Rule – the distribution of any income above that has to be negotiated. Although the exploitation of mineral resources to date has had very little significance for the economy of Greenland, future expectations are high. The Home Rule's desire to extend its control over the mineral sector is, to a large extent, a reflection of its expectations that this sector will become the backbone of a self-governing or independent Greenland.
The Home Rule Act is available at Greenland Home Rule's website.
The Home Rule also has its own office in Copenhagen. Following recent agreements (2005), Greenland has been given further rights to negotiate independently with the European Union and, in certain matters, with the United States.
Currently, a Danish-Greenlandic Commission is negotiating further independence for Greenland. Read more under Central Issues