What Is Greenland? | Is Greenland a Country?

What Is Greenland?

What is Greenland?

In the northern part of the globe, passing through the Arctic Circle, sits the island of Greenland. It is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean in the southeast, the Greenland Sea to the east, the Arctic Ocean in the north, and Baffin Bay to the west. This cold, frigid place is physiographically part of North America, though has been politically and culturally associated with Europe for a millennium.

Greenland is the world’s largest island, with Australia and Antarctica typically considered continental landmasses rather than islands. Despite its name, Greenland isn’t very green at all. The majority of Greenland is covered in ice, including the only permanent ice sheet outside of Antarctica. This harsh environment makes Greenland one of the least densely populated places in the world.

Still, despite this seemingly inhospitable climate, Greenland has been inhabited by Native Arctic peoples for over 4,000 years. In the 10th century, Norsemen settled the southern part of Greenland, reaching North America some 500 years before Columbus. Today, the majority of the population of Greenland is made up of Greenlandic Inuit, with a smaller percentage of people of European descent also living on the island. About a third of the population resides in Nuuk, the capital city.

Is Greenland a Country?

The short answer: No!

Greenland is not an independent country, but rather, an autonomous territory within the Kingdom of Denmark. Greenland receives nearly two-thirds of its budget revenue from Denmark (the rest comes from fishing), and its head of state is Margrethe II, Queen regnant of Denmark. Still, Greenland does enjoy a sizable degree of self-government, an autonomy that is only growing.

Greenland first became a colony of Denmark in 1775, and was made a province of Denmark in 1953. In 1979, Greenland was granted home rule. This gave Greenland its own legislature, which was able to control internal policies. The Parliament of Denmark continued to exert control of external policies, security, and natural resources.

In 2008, Greenlanders took another step towards further autonomy with the passing of the Self-Government Act, which transferred even more power away from the Danish government and to Greenland’s local government. Today, Greenland is responsible for their own policing, judicial system, aviation, mineral resource activities, border controls, working environment, and more. All that’s really left for the Danish government is control of foreign affairs and defense.

All signs point to possible independence for Greenland in the future, especially following the Self-Government Act. Still, while Greenland ultimately maintains a great deal of autonomy, it is not yet a fully independent country.

Greenland and Denmark

Greenland is not a sovereign country, but it can be considered a constituent country within the Kingdom of Denmark. As such, citizens of Greenland do have representation in the Folketing, which is Denmark’s 179 member Parliament. Greenlanders elect a total of two representatives to the Folketing.  

Greenland also has its own Parliament, the 31 member Inatsisartut. The Danish government is represented in the Inatsisartut by a High Commissioner (called the Rigsombudsmand in Danish), who is appointed by Queen Margrethe II. The Rigsombudsmand can speak in Greenland’s Parliament, but cannot vote.

Greenland also has their own Prime Minister, officially referred to as Premier, who serves as the head of government. This individual is usually the leader of the majority party in Parliament.

Clearly, Greenland straddles a fine line between being Danish and its own country.

Curious to learn more about Geography? The Sporcle Blog is home to many interesting Geography articles. Click here to read more!


Note About Greenland on Sporcle:

While Greenland certainly has a large amount of autonomy from Denmark, at the end of the day, it is still considered an integral part of the Kingdom of Denmark. Because of this, the massive size of Greenland should also be considered part of Denmark. On Sporcle quizzes, like this one, Denmark is counted as one of the largest countries in the world because of the size that Greenland adds.

Things get a bit more complicated when considering the largest countries in Europe. While Denmark is unquestionably in Europe, Greenland is closer to North America. Is Denmark among the largest countries in Europe then? On Sporcle quizzes, the standard way to address this issue is through a game note, like was done here.

Mark Heald

Mark Heald is an Associate Product Manager and Sporcle Admin. He enjoys spending time with his family, traveling, and bemoaning the fact the Sonics left Seattle.

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Mark Heald
About Mark Heald 152 Articles
Mark Heald is an Associate Product Manager and Sporcle Admin. He enjoys spending time with his family, traveling, and bemoaning the fact the Sonics left Seattle.

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