On 21 June 2009, the Act on Greenland Self-Government (Self-Government Act) came into force. This self-government arrangement for Greenland thereby replaced the Greenland Home Rule Arrangement that was established in 1979. The Self-Government Act is based on White Paper No. 1497 that was drawn up by the Greenlandic-Danish Self-Government Commission in 2008. The White Paper is accessible at www.naalakkersuisut.gl.
The Prime Minister's Office has issued guidelines on how the ministries should handle cases concerning Greenland. The guidelines describe the self-government arrangement and a number of matters of importance to ministries and agencies handling of cases concerning Greenland.
Together with the Danish Constitution, the Self-Government Act constitutes Greenland’s constitutional position in the Unity of the Realm. Two members of the Folketing (Danish Parliament) are elected in Greenland, cf. the Danish Constitution.
In the preamble to the Self-Government Act, it is recognised that the people of Greenland are a people with right to self-determination under international law. Accordingly, the Act is based on an agreement between the Greenland Government and the Danish Government as equal partners.
Prior to the entry into force of the Self-Government Act, a guiding referendum was held in Greenland on 25 November 2008. Of the votes cast, 75.5 per cent were for and 23.6 per cent were against the introduction of self-government.
The main purpose of introducing self-government has been to facilitate that the Self-Government can decide to take over authority and thus responsibility from the Danish authorities in fields where this is constitutionally possible and based on the principle of accordance between rights and obligations.
The Greenland Self-Government authorities comprise a democratically elected assembly – Inatsisartut (Greenland Parliament) – as well as an administration led by Naalakkersuisut (Greenland Government). The Self-Government Act does not contain specific rules and regulations regarding the composition, etc. of these bodies, but has left it up to the Self-Government authorities to lay down provisions in this regard. In the Self-Government Act, the Greenlandic terms for Parliament and Government are used.
In the Self-Government Act, the Greenlandic language is recognised as the official language in Greenland. Danish may still be used in official matters, cf. Greenland Parliament Act on case handling procedures in public administration. The question of educational instruction in Danish is not governed by the Self-Government Act, but it is assumed that the Self-Government authorities must ensure provision of education in Danish and other relevant languages that would enable Greenlandic youth to pursue further education in Denmark and other countries.
On 7 October 2009 Denmark submitted a notification on the Act on Greenland Self-Government to the Secretary-General of The United Nations.
The opportunities for the Greenland Self-Government authorities’ assumption of fields of responsibility
Pursuant to the Greenland Home Rule Act, Greenland has already assumed legislative and administrative responsibility in a substantial number of fields that affect the daily lives of Greenlandic citizens, including public finances.
The Self-Government Act provides for the Self- Government authorities to assume a number of new fields of responsibility, such as administration of justice, including the establishment of courts of law; the prison and probation service; the police; the field relating to company law, accounting and auditing; mineral resource activities; aviation; law of legal capacity, family law and succession law; aliens and border controls; the working environment; as well as financial regulation and supervision, cf. Schedule I and II in the Annex to the Self-Government Act.
In respect of the Unity of the Realm and special provisions in the Danish Constitution, responsibility for the following fields may not be transferred: the Constitution; nationality; the Supreme Court; foreign, defence and security policy as well as exchange rate and monetary policy.
The fields of responsibility not taken over by the Self-Government authorities fall within the jurisdiction of the central authorities of the Realm (Danish Government and Folketing).
Reference is made to a list updated by the Prime Minister’s Office with an overview of the fields where Greenland has assumed responsibility in accordance with the Home Rule Act and the Self-Government Act.
With the assumption of a field of responsibility, the Self-Government authorities assume legislative and executive power in the field as well as take over responsibility for the financing of the expenditure related to the attendance of the field.
The Self-Government authorities decide the time of assumption of fields of responsibility under the Self-Government Act. Certain fields that are listed in Schedule II to the Act (including the police, administration of justice, including the establishment of courts of law, aliens) require a higher degree of preparation, for which reason the time of assumption of these fields is decided by the Self-Government authorities after negotiation with the Danish authorities.
An Act passed by Inatsisartut and ratified by the Premier (landsstyreformanden) in fields of responsibility under the Self-Government authorities is called Act of Inatsisartut.
The Self-Government authorities’ own legal precepts enter into force, unless determined otherwise, at the beginning of the day following that day, where the precept has been made public on www.lovgivning.gl. Each entry at www.lovgivning.gl must contain information on the day of entry.
Special note on mineral resource activities
With the Self-Government Act, the Danish/Greenlandic relations regarding mineral resource activities in Greenland have radically changed. In November 2009 the Greenland Self-Government authorities have decided to take over responsibility for the mineral resource area on 1 January 2010, whereby the Self-Government authorities have assumed the right to utilise the mineral resources found in the subsoil.
Revenues from mineral resource activities in Greenland are to accrue to the Self-Government. Such revenues will have influence on the size of the Danish Government subsidy, cf. section below on the economic arrangement.
The economic arrangement
With the Self-Government Act, a economic arrangement has been introduced which entails that the Self-Government take over responsibility for the financing of the expenditure related to the attendance of the field. The Danish Government subsidy to the Self-Government authorities is fixed by the Self Government Act at DKK 3.4 billion kroner annually (2009 price and wage levels). Should the Self-Government authorities obtain revenues from mineral resource activities, the Danish Government subsidy to the Self-Government authorities is to be reduced by an amount equal to 50 per cent of such revenue exceeding DKK 75 million annually. When the Danish Government subsidy to the Self-Government authorities has been reduced to zero kroner, the subsidy will be discontinued and no further subsidy will be provided hereafter. In this situation, negotiations are to be initiated between the Danish Government and Naalakkersuisut regarding future economic relations between the Danish Government and the Self-Government authorities.
Act no. 463 of 12 June 2009 on certain personnel issues in connection with the Greenland Self - Government's takeover of fields of responsibility regulates the conditions for the staff, who are affected by a takeover.
Greenland has its own Economic Council (Aningaasaqarnermut Siunnersuisoqatigiit). The task of the Council is to make continuous assessments of economic trends and the sustainability of economic policy.
Foreign policy matters
According to the Danish Constitution, the Danish Government and the Folketing have the authority to enter into obligations under international law as well as responsibility for conducting foreign policy.
The Government, the Faroese Government and Naalakkersuisut share the desire for close, respectful and equal cooperation on matters related to foreign, security and defense policy with particular relevance to the Faroe Islands and Greenland. To promote this common purpose, a political Danish-Faroese-Greenlandic contact committee was established in October 2021. The exchange of classified information is a significant element within the committee.
The constitutional authority and powers of the Danish Government and the Folketing in the foreign policy field are, according to Section 19 of the Danish Constitution, not limited by the provisions set out in the Self-Government Act. The Self-Government Act contains a comprehensive set of rules and regulations governing foreign policy matters for Greenland. In this respect, the authorisation arrangement from 2005 has been incorporated into the Self-Government Act. In addition, existing agreements between the Danish Government and Naalakkersuisut, including the Itilleq Declaration from 2003, and practice concerning the inclusion of the Greenland Self-Government authorities in foreign policy questions have been integrated into the Self-Government Act.
The authorisation arrangement
The authorisation arrangement entails that Naalakkersuisut may, on behalf of the Realm, negotiate and conclude international agreements with foreign states and international organisations, including administrative agreements, which exclusively concern Greenland and entirely relate to fields of responsibility taken over by Greenland.
The arrangement does not cover agreements under international law affecting the defence and security policy, as well as agreements under international law that are to apply to Denmark, or which are negotiated within an international organisation of which the Kingdom of Denmark is a member.
An equivalent authorisation arrangement has been introduced for the Faroe Islands. Naalakkersuisut and the Government of the Faroes may decide to act jointly in connection with negotiating and concluding agreements under international law that concern both Greenland and the Faroe Islands, provided the other conditions are met.
Where international organisations allow membership of entities other than states and associations of states (typically associated membership) the Danish Government may, subject to a request by Naalakkersuisut, decide to submit or support such applications, where this is consistent with Greenland’s constitutional status.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has issued guidelines for the cooperation between the Danish Government and Naalakkersuisut regarding the authorisation arrangement and has sent a circular note to the UN and its Member States about the Authorisation Act from 2005, etc.
Agreements under international law concluded by the Danish Government
For agreements that fall outside the scope of the authorisation arrangement and which are thus concluded by the Danish Government, the Self-Government Act contains rules and regulations for the involvement of the Self-Government authorities. Accordingly, the Danish Government is required to notify Naalakkersuisut in advance of negotiations regarding agreements under international law which are of particular importance to Greenland. Such agreements must, before they are concluded or terminated, be submitted to Naalakkersuisut for comments. If the Danish Government deems it necessary to conclude the agreement without the consent of Naalakkersuisut, this must, to the widest extent possible, have no effect for Greenland.
Except for special areas, for example in relation to human rights or antiterrorism, it will normally be possible to accede to international agreements that exclusively affect Denmark, whereby Greenland may decide whether it wishes for the agreement in question to apply in relation to Greenland.
Agreements where Denmark and Greenland have jointly taken part in the negotiations must be signed by the Danish Government to the widest extent possible together with Naalakkersuisut.
Self-Government authorities are subject to the obligations that arise out of agreements under international law and other international rules applying to Greenland which are at any time binding on the Realm.
The Self-Government Act allows provision for representatives of Naalakkersuisut to be employed at the Kingdom of Denmark’s diplomatic missions abroad in order to attend to Greenland interests within fields of responsibility that have been entirely assumed by Naalakkersuisut.
Co-operation agreement on administrative matters
With the aim of easing and promoting the cooperation between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Foreign Affairs of Greenland, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Naalakkersuisut member for foreign affairs signed an administrative cooperation agreement in spring 2005.
Cooperation concerning statutes and administrative orders
According to the Act on Greenland Self-Government, the Danish Government’s Bills which comprise or may be brought into force for Greenland must, before being presented to the Folketing, be submitted to the Self-Government authorities for comments. The Danish Government must await the Self-Government authorities’ comments before presenting Bills to the Folketing which contain provisions that exclusively apply to Greenland or are of particular importance to Greenland. Corresponding consultation procedures apply to administrative orders.
The Act on the Danish Law Gazette (Lovtidendeloven) applies to Greenland. The legislation passed by the central authorities of the Realm that applies to Greenland must thus be promulgated in the Danish Law Gazette, and the promulgation is, in the same way as in Denmark, a precondition for the entry into force of the administrative orders for Greenland.
Greenland’s access to independence
The Self-Government Act contains a provision regarding Greenland’s access to independence. The provision stipulates that if the people of Greenland take a decision in favour of independence, negotiations are to commence between the Danish Government and Naalakkersuisut regarding the introduction of independence for Greenland. An agreement between the Danish Government and Naalakkersuisut regarding the introduction of independence for Greenland is to be concluded with the consent of Inatsisartut and is to be endorsed by a referendum in Greenland. Furthermore, the agreement is to be concluded with the consent of the Folketing, cf. Section 19 of the Danish Constitution. Independence for Greenland implies that Greenland assumes sovereignty over the Greenland territory.