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FALQs: Greenlandic Autonomy, Government Formation, and Mineral Resource Policy

This blog post is part of our Frequently Asked Legal Questions series and describes Greenland’s legislative autonomy, government formation process, and mineral resource policy.

Picture of Greenlandic Parliament in Nuuk, Greenland.

Greenlandic Parliament (Inatsisartut) Building seen from above. Photo by Inatsisartut, https://ina.gl/imagegen.ashx?image=/media/2531542/2012-inatsisartut-fra-oven.jpg&width=685&height=430&pad=True&constraint=True used under fair use rules. 

A few weeks ago I wrote about the government formation process in Sweden. Last month, specifically June 21, marked the National Day of Greenland and the anniversary of the adoption of the Home Rule Act in 1979. Greenland is an autonomous part of the Kingdom of Denmark. Greenland, since the adoption of the Self Governance Act in 2009, is responsible for its own legislation pertaining to several policy areas, including natural resources. This blog post will provide an overview of Greenland’s legislative power and recent policy developments in the area of mineral resources.

1. What is the Greenlandic Parliament?

The Greenlandic Parliament (Inatsisartut) (“those who make laws”) is a regulatory body that enacts regional law (Grønlands lovsamling). The parliament is governed by the Act on Parliament and Government (Inatsisartutlov om Inatsisartut og Naalakkersuisut) and the Instruction for Parliament (Forretningsorden for Inatsisartut).

The Act on Parliament and Government provides that the Greenlandic Parliament is the legislative body for those policy areas which Greenland has conferred power from the Danish Parliament. (Act on Parliament and Government § 1.)

The Greenlandic Parliament has 31 members, currently representing five political parties. In addition, the parliament has 13 parliamentary committees. During the COVID-19 pandemic the Greenlandic Parliament has operated under special restrictions. The speaker of the Greenlandic Parliament is Hans Enoksen.

2. How are elections to Parliament carried out?

The Act on Parliament and Government requires that elections to the parliament be held every four years and allows for extra-ordinary elections to be scheduled. (§ 2.) The premier of Greenland can call an extra-ordinary election to parliament before the four-year term is over. (§ 26.) The Election Act for Greenland (Inatsisartutlov nr. 14 af 24. november 2020 om valg til Inatsisartut) further provides that Danish citizens who have resided in Greenland for at least six months are eligible to vote in Greenlandic parliamentary elections.

On April 6, 2021, Greenland held an extra-ordinary election to the Inatsisartut, which was dubbed “Greeland’s rare earth election” in international media. The result caused a shift in majority in the parliament, and thus the makeup of the Greenlandic Government (see below.)

Typically, the Greenlandic parliamentary elections see a lower voter participation than those of Denmark as a whole. In 2021, 27,079 out of 41,126 voters voted (about 66% participation). However, turn out among Greenlanders was higher in the 2021 Inatsisartut election than for the 2019 Danish Parliament election, where it was 49.8%.

3. What is the Greenlandic Government?

The Greenlandic Government (Naalakkersuisut) is the executive body of Greenland. (Act on Parliament and Government ch. 1 § 1.) It is headed by a premier, Múte Bourup Egede, who elects the 10-member cabinet, supported by 10 ministries and the Premier’s Office.

The Greenlandic Government is responsible for a number of policy areas, as scheduled in the Act on Greenland Self-Government, including marine environment and mineral resource legislation.

Although foreign affairs remains within the Danish government’s sphere, Greenland has diplomatic missions in some countries, including in Washington, D.C. (Greenland’s Representation to Washington, D.C.) and Brussels (Greenland Representation to the EU, Brussels).

4. What is the relationship between the Greenlandic Parliament and the Greenlandic Government?

The Greenlandic Parliament elects the Government (Act on Parliament and Government § 22) and has a right to ask so called § 37 Spørgsmål  (Questions) (§ 12), meaning they can ask the Greenlandic Government questions that must be answered within 10 business days.

The parliament can vote to remove the premier or any member of the government which it no longer has confidence in. (§ 27.) If the premier receives a vote of “no-confidence,” he or she can announce an extra-ordinary election. (§ 28.)

5. How are mineral resources regulated in Greenland?

Article 7 of the Greenlandic Self-Governance Act gives Greenlanders power to govern and legislate in the area of mineral resources. The Greenlandic Parliament has regulated mineral resources in the Mineral Resources Act (Inatsisartutlov nr. 7 af 7. december 2009 om mineralske råstoffer og aktiviteter af betydning herfor.(råstofloven).

 6. What is the current policy of the Greenlandic Government with regards to mineral policy and the Kuannersuit Mineral project?

In December of 2020, the sitting government sent a proposal for a mining project (Greenland Minerals A/S’ rare earths project at Kuannersuit (Kvanefjeld)) for public comment.

Ahead of the April 2021 election, the political party Inuit Ataqatigiit announced that it would scrap the Kuannersuit Mineral project if it received a majority of the votes, a move that has been credited with winning them the election.

As part of the coalition agreement between the parliamentary parties, the government has sent a proposal for a ban on “preliminary exploration, exploration and exploitation of uranium” on Greenland for public comment. The deadline is August 2, 2021. The government does not oppose all mining, however, and the Ministry of Mineral Resources became a member of the European Raw Materials Alliance (ERMA) on June 25, 2021, with the hopes of promoting mining in Greenland.

7. How is the Greenland-Danish relationship regulated?

As mentioned above, Greenland is a part of Denmark. The Danish Parliament reserves two seats that specifically represent Greenland. Since 1979, Greenland has had home rule as regulated in the Home Rule Act, meaning that Greenlanders through representation in local government got the power to regulate certain affairs relating specifically to Greenland, such as taxes and fisheries. Since 2009, the Self-Governance Act has provided that Greenland has power over several policy areas, meaning it is also responsible for funding in these area. However, Greenland receives funding, known as Bloktilskud, from the Danish Parliament. Areas that are still under the Danish government’s control include foreign affairs, citizenship, and monetary policy.

When it comes to Arctic issues, Greenland has been given a more prominent role, and will now speak first on these issues in an international setting.

Denmark has a Rigsombudsmanden i Grønland (High Commissioner of Denmark in Greenland) stationed in Greenland who represents the Danish government and is responsible for the Greenlandic Fund (Den Grønlandske Fond), which provides support for Greenlandic humanitarian, scientific, and cultural projects in or outside Greenland. The fund also provides support for cultural exchanges between Greenland and Denmark.

The relationship between Greenland and Denmark is still marked by its past. In 2020, the Danish government issued a report on 22 Greenlandic children who were removed from their families in Greenland and sent to Denmark in 1951 as part of a cultural experiment to improve their knowledge of Danish and Danish culture. The prime minister issued an official apology in December 2020.

Greenland is not part of the European Union but has an office, Greenland Representation to the EU, in Brussels.

Additional Law Library of Congress Online Resources

You may find the following Law Library of Congress online resources helpful:

Guide to Law Online: Greenland and Denmark

Global Legal Monitor: Greenland and Denmark

Relevant Law Library legal reports:

If you have questions about Greenland you may also contact us using our Ask a Librarian service. If you would like to access our physical resources, the Law Library has started its re-opening phase. Read more about it here.

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