The Faroe Islands have an ancient constitutional history. Norse settlers established here their own parliament called “thing” around the year 800. So the Faroe “Løgting” can call itself the oldest continuously functioning parliament in the world.
Norse emigrés settled on the fringes of Europe in the British Isles, Faroe, Iceland and Greenland. Gradually from the 11th till late in the 13th century these lands were forced to recognize the sovereignty of the Norwegian King. But they kept their own social stuctures, laws, and increasingly their own languages and cultures.
A row of historical events, in particular the union of the Norwegian and Danish royal families, the pawning of Orkney and Shetland to pay dowry to the Scottish King James VI’s Danish bride, and the loss of Norway led to the Faroes at length finding themselves tied to Denmark.
Iceland, the closest comparison to Faroe, attained independence gradually by getting its own constitution and home rule bill, and in 1918 recognition of the country’s sovereignty in a personal union with Denmark, which Iceland eventually left in 1944 in accordance with the stipulations of the union.
The demand for reformations in the relations to Denmark became particularly strong during the 2nd World War, when Denmark surrendered to Germany, while the Faroes were occupied by Great Britain. During these years the people developed a taste for self governing, which even lead to a majority for independence in a referendum in 1946.
After a snap election to the Løgting in late 1946 and as a result of lengthy negotiations the Faroe Home Rule Bill was enacted in 1948 in the parliaments of both countries. With it a formula was established for the transfer of various political affairs from Danish to Faroe responsiblity.
The Danish Constitution mentions “all parts of the Kingdom of Denmark”. The Faroes have through its ancient recognition of the Royal powers become part of the Kingdom, though not of Denmark itself. The Home Rule Bill establishes an agreement of dividing the powers between the country of Faroe and the Danish Kingdom.
Today Faroe controls most political and administrative public affairs, and only a few sensitive issues such as defence are explicitly exempt from the option of transfer. The most recent reform of the Home Rule System even provides for the eventuality that courts of law up to appellate level may be taken over by Faroe. Likewise certain aspects of foreign policy is the responsibility of the Faroe national government, which for years now has negotiated its own fishing and trade agreements.
The Faroes chose to stay outside the EEC (EU) in 1973. This has led to an increasing difference between Danish and Faroe jurisdiction and has led to Faroe in certain areas having greater self-determination than Denmark.
Even in affairs of state where Danish authorities formally have the competence, the Faroe government wields a decisive influence as most laws enacted in Faroe are a result of the Løgting deciding to put them into effect as common jurisdiction.
The Faroe internal constitution was in the days of old enacted through tradition. But more recently internal constitutional matters were regulated through various decrees issued by the King. In 1948 the Løgting enacted a constitutional document, statutes, which was later replaced by a new law of similar character (and name, “Stýrisskipan”). Thus a division of powers was put into effect between the Løgting as legislative and Landstýri as executive organs with Løgmaður, (“lawman”, i.e. Prime Minister) as leader of the Faroe Government.
Since 1998 a constitutional commission with representatives from all the political parties has prepared a new constitutional document. This will be turned into a full-fledged constitution stipulating Faroe self-determination, i.a. the procedures for terminating the present attachment to Denmark, in addition to a reform of governmental structures, as well as some of the most important human rights, which have not been enacted in Faroe before.
The Faroe Islands are an autonomous country associated with the Kingdom of Denmark, but increasingly capable of looking after its own affairs. The Faroes have almost all the functions and emblems characteristic of a state, everything from the symbol of a national flag, stamps and money notes, to the international manifestations of membership or associated membership of several international organizations, to internal constitutional and administrative organs such as parliament, government, national bank and other institutions.