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Greenland’s National Day, the Home Rule Act (1979), and the Act on Self-Government (2009)

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Today, June 21, 2019, is Greenland’s National Day, marking the longest day of the year (the summer solstice). June 21 is also the anniversary of the entry into force of Greenland’s Act on Self-Government (Lov om Grønlands Selvstyre (Lov nr. 473 af 12 juni 2009)). Although it us still formally a part of the Kingdom of Denmark, Greenland attained autonomy over a number of areas with the passing of this Act. The Act replaced the Home Rule Act, which entered into force 40 years ago this year.

Lov om Groenlands hjemmestyre [Act on Greenland’s Home Rule] (Lov nr. 577 af 29 November 1978). Photo by Kelly McKenna.
The Home Rule Act

On November 29, 1978, the Danish Parliament passed the Home Rule Act (Lov om Grønlands Hjemmestyre), but it did not to enter into force until additional legislation was adopted. On February 21, 1979, the Danish Queen Margrethe signed an act titled: Entry into force of Act on Greenlands Home Rule and Elections to the Greenlandic Parliament etc. (Ikraftsættelse af lov om Grønlands hjemmestyre og om valg til Grønlands landsting i 1979 m.v.). The Home Rule Act subsequently entered into force on May 1, 1979. The Home Rule Act was enacted as a response to the January 17, 1979, Greenlandic referendum, whereby 70.1 % of the voters (63% voter turn out) voted in favor of increased autonomy. Among other things, the Home Rule Act created the Greenlandic Parliament (Landsting in Danish and Inatsisartut in Greenlandic).

In addition to proclaiming that the Home Rule Act would enter into force on May 1, 1979, the 1979 legislation also required that an election to the Greenlandic Parliament be held in April of 1979, i.e., prior to the Home Rule Act entering into force. The election was held on April 4, 1979. Thereafter elections were to be held every four years. The most recent election to the Inatsisartut was in 2018. One of the first local laws passed by the Greenlandic Parliament was a Greenlandic income tax act.  The National Day of Greenland was established by the local government, and was celebrated for the first time on June 21, 1983. In 1985, a special Greenlandic flag was adopted. Since 2016, it must be flown by all government buildings throughout the Danish realm on June 21.

Lov om ikraftsaettelse af lov om Gronlands hjemmestyre og om valg til Gronlands landsting I 1979 m.v. [Act on the Entry into force of Greenland’s Home Rule Act and on Elections to the Greenlandic Parliament in 1979 etc.](lov nr. 56 af 21 februar 1979). Photo by Kelly McKenna.
The Act on Self-Government

The Home Rule Act was in force for thirty years, until a 2008 referendum when Greenlandic voters voted in favor of the adoption of an Act on Self-Government. This time the support for increased Greenlandic independence was even higher than in 1979, with 75% in favor (voter turnout was 71.96%).

The Act of Self-Government recognized Greenlanders as a people under international law (preamble), made Greenlandic the official language of Greenland (§ 20), entitled Greenland to representation at Danish diplomatic missions (although Greenland may be asked to pay for the expense) (§ 20), and granted Greenland power over its mineral resource activities (§ 7).

The Act also specifically states that the Greenlandic people will decide on Greenland’s independence and that an agreement on independence from Denmark requires a referendum in Greenland and approval from the Danish Parliament (§ 21). Foreign affairs remain the responsibility of the Danish Government (§ 11).

The Act includes two lists of areas of responsibility that will, over time, be transferred to Greenland.

Greenland’s relationship with the European Union

An interesting fact about Greenland is that it actually withdrew from the European Communities. When Denmark joined the European Communities in 1973, following a 1972 national referendum, Greenlanders were heavily opposed; the result from Greenland was 70% against versus 63% in favor for Denmark as a whole. As a result, Denmark joined in 1973, but without popular support among Greenlanders. At that time, Greenland had the same autonomy as a Danish county. After gaining home rule in 1979, Greenland held a public referendum in 1982 and decided (with 52% in favor) to leave the European Communities.

Reportedly, the Greenlandic Home Rule Minister for Social Affairs Moses Olsen declared:

We confirm our relations with Denmark – and with Europe – but we also realized that our full membership of the European Community as a ‘European Region’ is inadequate and unworkable along with our self-determination established through our Home Rule. Our climate norms, culture, ethnicity, social structure, economic and industrial pattern, infrastructure and basis for existence are so different from Europe that we can never equate with the European countries or regions. (Natalia Loukacheva, The Arctic Promise: Legal And Political Autonomy Of Greenland And Nunavut, 115 (2007).)

Greenland’s withdrawal was resolved by the creation of the Treaty Amending, With Regard to Greenland, the Treaties establishing the European Communities. Greenland was awarded Overseas Country and Territory (OCT) status for all areas except its fishing industry. The fisheries agreement between Greenland, Denmark, and what is now the European Union (EU) has changed over the years since the EU’s formal creation in 1993.  Greenland still maintains both fishing and cooperation agreements with the EU. Greenland, Denmark, and the EU renegotiate these agreements every six years.  The quotas on fisheries are renegotiated every year. In 2015, Greenland signed a joint declaration with the EU, and is also represented by a delegation to the EU.

The discovery of Greenland, 1875. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division
The discovery of Greenland. 1875. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Resources related to Greenland


As of 2011, Greenland publishes all of its legislation online in both Greenlandic and Danish.

Library of Congress Online Resources

Guide to Law Online for Greenland and Denmark

Global Legal Monitor, news from Greenland and Denmark

Trade Implications of Brexit: Lessons from Austria’s Accession and Greenland’s Withdrawal

Some Collection Holdings Related to Greenland




  1. There is a difference between Iceland
    and Greenland…
    The Dans thought after very short thought process they would claim as theres…NO..
    If you look at the position of Geenland..Latitude/volcanic/proximity
    to the east coast of the United States
    it is plain to see It is an extension of our governmental borders..

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