Greenland Political System

State and politics


Greenland has been a self-governing part of the Danish empire since 1979. In 2009, self-government was expanded following a referendum. Greenland has a people-elected parliament, the Inatsisartut (‘the County Council’), and a government, the Naalakkersuisut (‘the Government’). The Chairman of the National Board is Greenland’s Prime Minister.

Having been a Danish colony since the 18th century, Greenland became an integrated and equal part of Denmark on June 5, 1953. This new order was introduced by the Danish Parliament, and in agreement with the Greenlandic Council, so that Greenland would not be included in the UN list of “non-autonomous territories”. This meant that Danish laws enacted by the Folketing automatically gained validity in Greenland, unless otherwise specified in the law.

Greenland’s highest political body, the popularly elected National Council, had only advisory status. Legislative proposals and administrative provisions that applied exclusively to Greenland were to be submitted to the National Council for an opinion before being considered by the Folketing. In practice, the Council’s position was followed. The Danish government’s representative was the governor. Until 1967, he was a member of the National Council. In addition, as now, Greenland elected two representatives to the Folketing.

A Home Rule Commission with the participation of both Greenlanders and Danes in 1977 presented a proposal for home rule in Greenland. The following year, the House Rule Act was passed by the Folketing, and in 1979 it was approved by the Greenlanders in a referendum. The elected parliament (31 members elected in four years) is the parliamentary basis for the National Board (the government, then seven, today eight members). Foreign and defense policy would continue to be pursued by Denmark, while other areas of interest were gradually transferred to the Home Rule. See for Greenland travel guide.


Following a referendum in 1982 (75 percent turnout), it was decided by a small majority that Greenland would withdraw from the EC, which happened in 1985. However, Greenland has a very favored position as “overseas country and territory” with payment for the fishing quotas that the individual EC members received.

The debate on home rule created the basis for the first political parties in Greenland. In 1975, the Social Democratic Siumut was formed, and in 1976 the liberal Atassut was formed, both of which, especially Atassut, seem to maintain ties with Denmark. The strong nationalist and leftist Inuit Ataqatigiit (IA), on the other hand, wants total independence from Denmark. In 2002, the Social Liberal Party, the Democrats, was formed and before the new election in 2014, the Party Partii Naleraq was formed by the former chairman of the National Board Hans Enoksen, who previously belonged to Siumut.

In the first election to the County Council in 1979, Siumut 13 and Atassut received 8 seats, while the other parties remained unrepresented. Siumut’s leader, Jonathan Motzfeldt (1938–2010), became chairman of both the National Board and the County Council.

Due to financial difficulties during the 1980s, as a result of an international boycott campaign against the trade in sealskins, a new election was held in 1987. Lars Chemnitz from Atassut became the new chairman of the County Council the following year, while Motzfeldt remained as head of government. Siumut is today the largest party and formed the Government in 1979–2009, either alone or with the support of Inuit Ataqatigiit. The Chairman of the National Board was Jonathan Motzfeldt (1979–91), Lars Emil Johansen (1991–2002) and Hans Enoksen (2002–09).

Siumut’s long holding of power has contributed to the party being accused of corruption and nepotism. In the 2009 election, this resulted in Siumut losing power to IA who could form the National Board. Kuupik Kleist (2009-13) became the new chairman. In the 2013 election, however, Siumut regained power after an election movement characterized by the debate on foreign investment in raw material extraction. Aleqa Hammond (born 1965) was appointed as new leader of the National Board, which has led Siumut since 2009. She thus became Greenland’s first female head of government. After Hammond was accused of wasting her, in October 2014, she was replaced as party leader and the Chairman of the National Board by Kim Kielsen (born 1966). Following Hammond’s departure, a new election was held in October 2014.

At the 2014 election, Siumut backed by almost 9 percentage points and received 34 percent of the vote, giving eleven seats. IA gained 33 percent, which also gave eleven seats. The Democrats received nearly 12 percent of the vote, which lasted for four terms, while 11.6 percent gave the newly formed Partii Naleraq three seats. Siumut, under the leadership of Kim Kielsen, was able to form government together with Atassut and the Democrats.

After a lengthy and sometimes fierce political debate, on November 25, 2008, a referendum was held on an extension of Greenland’s self-government, following a proposal that was thoroughly by a Danish-Greenlandic self-government commission. The proposal was voted on by an overwhelming majority of 75.5 percent of the vote. The only party that invited voters to vote no was the Democrats.

One result of this new autonomy is that Greenland itself can determine the extent and timing of the takeover of new administrative areas such as police, justice, criminal justice, energy, the environment and natural resources. The exceptions are foreign and defense policy, as well as currency and monetary policy, which will continue to be classified as joint Danish-Greenlandic affairs.

Unlike earlier, the takeover of new administrative areas will result in a corresponding reduction in the Danish contribution to the Greenland administration. In 2013, this included DKK 4.5 billion.

In the 2018 election to the County Council’s 31 seats, Siumut continued to be the largest party, though with reduced support. The party received about 27 percent of the vote compared to 2014, when the corresponding figure was 34 percent. IA also backed up and received a total of about 25 percent.

The Democrats increased in the election and gained about 19 percent compared to the previous election when the corresponding figure was 12 percent. Before the election, two new parties were established, the Cooperative Party (SA) and Nunatta Qitornai (NQ), who entered Parliament for the first time.

Administration and municipalities

The government has its seat in Nuuk (Danish God-Hope), and the administration is divided into eight areas, plus a Cabinet of Ministers, each with its own directorate: housing and infrastructure; financial; fishing and agriculture; business and labor market issues; people’s health; culture, family and gender equality; education and nature and the environment. A university, Llisimatusarfik, was established in 1987 in Nuuk.

In 2009, the administrative division of Greenland was changed and 18 municipalities were merged into four major municipalities. These are Kujalleq (Greenland’s southern tip, main city of Qaqortoq), Qaasuitsup (northwest Greenland, main city of Ilulissat), Qeqqata (western Greenland, main city of Sisimiut) and Sermersooq (central Greenland, main city of Nuuk). Greenland’s large northeastern part is an unpopulated national park. Each municipality is led by a people elected municipal council. The largest municipality is Sermersooq with 20,863 residents (of which 16,818 are in Nuuk) and the smallest is Kujalleq with 6,056 residents (2014).

Since 1975, when income tax was introduced in Greenland, the municipalities have the control and responsibility for social and health care, the school and the construction and civil engineering activities. Municipalities have the right to comment on the issues they cannot decide for themselves.