Faroe islands

Faroese: Føroyar, meaning "Sheep Islands", Danish: Færøerne, Icelandic: Færeyjar) are a group of islands in Northern Europe, between the Norwegian Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, roughly equidistant between Iceland, Scotland, and Norway. They have been an autonomous region of the Kingdom of Denmark since 1948, making it a member of the Rigsfællesskab. The Faroese have, over the years, taken control of most matters except defence (though they have a native coast guard), foreign affairs and the legal system. These three areas are the responsibility of Denmark.

The Faroes have close traditional ties to Iceland, Shetland, Orkney, the Outer Hebrides and Greenland. The archipelago was politically detached from Norway in 1814. The Faroes are represented in the Nordic Council as a part of the Danish delegation.


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Faroese stamp commemorating the arrival of Christianity in the islands
The early history of the Faroe Islands is not well known. Irish hermits (monks) settled in the sixth century, introducing sheep and oats to the islands. Saint Brendan, who lived circa 484–578, is said to have visited the Faroe Islands on two or three occasions, naming two of the islands Sheep Island and Paradise Island of Birds.

Later the Vikings replaced the Irish settlers, bringing the Old Norse language to the islands, which locally evolved into the modern Faroese language spoken today. The settlers are not thought to have come directly from Norway, but rather from the Norwegian settlements in Shetland, Orkney, and around the Irish Sea, and to have been so-called Norse-Gaels.

According to Færeyinga Saga, emigrants who left Norway to escape the tyranny of Harald I of Norway settled in the islands about the end of the ninth century. Early in the eleventh century, Sigmund, whose family had flourished in the southern islands but had been almost exterminated by invaders from the northern islands, escaped to Norway and was sent back to take possession of the islands for Olaf Tryggvason, king of Norway. He introduced Christianity and, though he was subsequently murdered, Norwegian supremacy was upheld. Norwegian control of the islands continued until 1380, when Norway entered the Kalmar Union with Denmark, which gradually evolved into Danish control of the islands. The reformation reached the Faroes in 1538. When the union between Denmark and Norway was dissolved as a result of the Treaty of Kiel in 1814, Denmark retained possession of the Faroe Islands.

The trade monopoly in the Faroe Islands was abolished in 1856 and the country has since then developed towards a modern fishing nation with its own fleet. The national awakening since 1888 was first based on a struggle for the Faroese language, and thus more culturally oriented, but after 1906 was more and more politically oriented with the foundation of the political parties of the Faroe Islands.

On April 12, 1940, the Faroes were occupied by British troops. The move followed the invasion of Denmark by Nazi Germany and had the objective of strengthening British control of the North Atlantic (see Second Battle of the Atlantic). In 194243 the British Royal Engineers built the only airport in the Faroes, Vágar Airport. Control of the islands reverted to Denmark following the war, but in 1948 a home-rule regime was implemented granting a high degree of local autonomy. The Faroes declined to join Denmark in entering the European Community (now European Union) in 1973. The islands experienced considerable economic difficulties following the collapse of the fishing industry in the early 1990s, but have since made efforts to diversify the economy. Support for independence has grown and is the objective of the government.


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Tinganes in Tórshavn, seat of the government

The government of the Faroes holds the executive power in local government affairs. The head of the government is called the Løgmaður or prime minister in English. Any other member of the cabinet is called a landsstýrismaður.

Today, elections are held in the municipalities, on a national level for the Løgting, and inside the Kingdom of Denmark for the Folketing. For the Løgting elections there are seven electoral districts, each one comprising a sýsla, while Streymoy is divided into a northern and southern part (Tórshavn region).

The Faroes and Denmark

The Treaty of Kiel in 1814 terminated the Danish-Norwegian union. Norway came under the rule of the King of Sweden, but the Faroe Islands, Iceland, and Greenland remained as possessions of Denmark. Subsequently, the Løgting was abolished (1816), and the Faroe Islands were to be governed as a regular Danish amt, with the Amtmand as its head of government. In 1851 the Løgting was resurrected, but served mainly as an advisory power until 1948.

At the end of the Second World War a portion of the population favoured independence from Denmark, and on September 141946 a public election was held on the question of secession. It is not considered a referendum, as the parliament was not bound to follow the decision of the vote. This was the first time that the Faroese people were asked if they favoured independence or if they wanted to continue as a part of the Danish kingdom. The outcome of the vote produced a small majority in favour of secession, but the coalition in parliament could not reach a resolution on how this election should be interpreted and implemented, and because of these irresolvable differences the coalition fell apart. A parliamentary election was held just a few months later, in which the political parties that favoured staying in the Danish kingdom increased their share of the vote and formed a coalition. Based on this increased share of the votes, they chose to reject secession. Instead, a compromise was made and the Folketing passed a home-rule law, which came into effect in 1948. The Faroe Islands' status as a Danish amt was brought to an end with the home-rule law; the Faroe Islands were given a high degree of self-governance, supported by a substantial annual subsidy from Denmark.

The islanders are about evenly split between those favouring independence and those who prefer to continue as a part of the Kingdom of Denmark. Within both camps there is, however, a wide range of opinions. Of those who favour independence, some are in favour of an immediate unilateral declaration. Others see it as something to be attained gradually and with the full consent of the Danish government and the Danish nation. In the unionist camp there are also many who foresee and welcome a gradual increase in autonomy even as strong ties to Denmark are maintained.

The Faroes and the European Union

As explicitly asserted by both Rome treaties, the Faroe Islands are not part of the European Union. Moreover, a protocol to the treaty of accession of Denmark to the European Communities stipulates that Danish nationals residing in the Faroe Islands are not to be considered as Danish nationals within the meaning of the treaties. Hence, Danish people living in the Faroes are not citizens of the European Union. (Other EU nationals living there remain EU citizens.) The Faroes are not covered by the Schengen free movement agreement, but there are no border checks when travelling between the Faroes and any Schengen country .

Regions and municipalities

Administratively, the islands are divided into 34 municipalities within which 120 or so cities and villages lie.

Traditionally, there are also the six sýslur ("regions"; Norðoyar, Eysturoy, Streymoy, Vágar, Sandoy and Suðuroy). Although today sýsla technically means "police district", the term is still commonly used to indicate a geographical region. In earlier times, each sýsla had its own ting (assembly), the so-called várting ("spring ting").


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Faroe Islands NASA satellite image.
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The uninhabited island Lítla Dímun.

The Faroe Islands are an island group consisting of eighteen islands off the coast of Northern Europe, between the Norwegian Sea and the north Atlantic Ocean, about halfway between Iceland and Norway; the closest neighbours being the Northern and Western Isles of Scotland. Its coordinates are .

Its area is 1,399 square kilometres (540 sq. mi), and has no major lakes or rivers. There are 1,117 kilometres (694 mi) of coastline, and no land boundaries with any other country. The only island that is uninhabited is Lítla Dímun.

Distances to nearest countries and islands


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Faroese sheep, Tvøroyri.
After the severe economic troubles of the early 1990s, brought on by a drop in the vital fish catch and poor management of the economy, the Faroe Islands have come back in the last few years, with unemployment down to 5% in mid-1998.In 2006 unemployment declined to 3%, one of the lowest rates in Europe. Nevertheless, the almost total dependence on fishing means that the economy remains extremely vulnerable. The Faroese hope to broaden their economic base by building new fish-processing plants. As an agrarian society, other than fishing, the raising of sheep is the main industry of the islands. Petroleum found close to the Faroese area gives hope for deposits in the immediate area, which may provide a basis for sustained economic prosperity.

Since 2000, new information technology and business projects have been fostered in the Faroe Islands to attract new investment. The introduction of Burger King in Tórshavn was widely publicized and a sign of the globalization of Faroese culture. It is not yet known whether these projects will succeed in broadening the islands' economic base. While having one of the lowest unemployment rates in Europe, this should not necessarily be taken as a sign of a recovering economy, as many young students move to Denmark and other countries once they are finished with high school. This leaves a largely middle-aged and elderly population that may lack the skills and knowledge to fill newly developed computing positions on the Faroes.


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The new ferry Smyril enters the Faroe Islands
Vágar Airport has scheduled service to destinations from Vágoy Island. The largest Faroese airline is Atlantic Airways.

Due to the rocky terrain and relatively small size of the Faroe Islands, its transportation system was not as extensive as other places of the world. This situation has changed, and today the infrastructure has been developed extensively. Some 80% of the population in the islands is connected by under-ocean tunnels, bridges, and causeways which bind the three largest islands and three other large islands to the northeast together, while the other two large islands to the south of the main area are connected to the main area with new fast ferries. There are good roads that lead to every village in the islands, except for seven of the smaller islands with only one village each.


The vast majority of the population are ethnic Faroese, of Norse and Celtic descent.[1]

Recent DNA analyses have revealed that Y chromosomes, tracing male descent, are 87% Scandinavian.[2] The studies show that mitochondrial DNA, tracing female descent, is 84% Scottish / Irish.[3]

Of the approximately 48,000 inhabitants of the Faroe Islands (16,921 private households (2004)), 98% are realm citizens, meaning Faroese, Danish, or Greenlandic. By birthplace one can derive the following origins of the inhabitants: born on the Faroes 91.7%, in Denmark 5.8%, and in Greenland 0.3%. The largest group of foreigners is Icelanders comprising 0.4% of the population, followed by Norwegians and Polish, each comprising 0.2%. Altogether, on the Faroe Islands there are people from 77 different nationalities.

Faroese is spoken in the entire country as a first language. It is not possible to say exactly how many people worldwide speak the Faroese language. This is for two reasons: Firstly, many ethnic Faroese live in Denmark and few who are born there return to the Faroes with their parents or as adults. Secondly, there are some established Danish families on the Faroes who speak Danish at home.

The Faroese language is one of the smallest of the Germanic languages. Faroese grammar is most similar to Icelandic and Old Norse. In contrast, spoken Faroese differs much from Icelandic and is closer to Norwegian dialects from the west coast of Norway. In the twentieth century, Faroese became the official language and since the Faroes are a part of the Danish realm Danish is taught in schools as a compulsory second language.

Faroese language policy provides for the active creation of new terms in Faroese suitable for modern life.

Population Trends (1327-2004)

If the first inhabitants of the Faroe Islands were Irish monks, then they must have lived as a very small group of settlers. Later, when the Vikings colonised the Islands, there was a considerable increase in the population. However, it never exceeded 5000 until the eighteenth century. Around 1349, about half of the islands' people died of the plague.

Only with the rise of the deep sea fishery (and thus independence from difficult agriculture) and with general progress in the health service was rapid population growth possible in the Faroes. Beginning in the eighteenth century, the population increased tenfold in 200 years.

At the beginning of the 1990s, the Faroe Islands entered a deep economic crisis with heavy, noticeable emigration; however, this trend reversed in subsequent years to a net immigration.

Faroe Islands
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Flag of Faroe Islands
FlagCoat of arms
Tú alfagra land mítt
You, my most beauteous land

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Location of Faroe Islands
(and largest city)
Official languagesFaroese, Danish
 - MonarchMargrethe II
 - Prime MinisterJóannes Eidesgaard
Autonomous province of the Kingdom of Denmark
 - Home rule 1948 
 - Water (%)0.5
 - December 2006 estimate48,317  (214th)
 - 2004 census48,470 
GDP (PPP)2005 estimate
 - Total$1.0 billion (not ranked)
 - Per capita$22,000 (2001 estimate) (not ranked)
HDI (2006)0.9431 (high) (15th)
CurrencyFaroese króna2 (DKK)
Time zoneGMT
 - Summer (DST)EST (UTC+1)
Internet TLD.fo
Calling code+298
1Information for Denmark including the Faroe Islands and Greenland.
Year Inhabitants
1327ca. 4,000
1350ca. 2,000
1911ca. 18,800
Year Inhabitants
1970ca. 38,000

Urbanization and regionalization

The Faroese population is spread across most of the country; it was not until recent decades that significant urbanization occurred. Industrialisation has been remarkably decentralised, and the country has therefore maintained quite a viable rural culture. Nevertheless, villages with poor harbour facilities have been the losers in the development from agriculture to fishing, and in the most peripheral agricultural areas, also known as the the outer islands, there are scarcely any young people left. In recent decades, the village-based social structure has nevertheless been placed under pressure; instead there has been a rise in interconnected "centres" that are better able to provide goods and services than the badly connected periphery. This means that shops and services are now relocating en masse from the villages into the centres, and in turn this also means that slowly but steadily the Faroese population concentrates in and around the centres.

In the nineties the old national policy of developing the villages (Bygdamenning) was abandoned, and instead the government started a process of regional development (Økismenning). In the nineties the term "region" referred to the large islands of the Faroes. Nevertheless the government was not able to press through the structural reform of merging the small rural municipalities in order to create sustainable, decentralized entities that could drive forward the regional development. As the regional development has been difficult on the administrative level, the government has instead made heavy investments in infrastructure, interconnecting the regions.

Altogether it becomes less meaningful to perceive the Faroes as a society based on various islands and regions. The huge investments in roads, bridges and sub-sea tunnels (see also Transportation in the Faroe Islands) have tied together the islands, creating a coherent economic and cultural sphere that covers almost 90% of the entire population. From this perspective it is reasonable to perceive the Faroes as a dispersed city or even to refer to it as the Faroese Network City.


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Church of Viðareiði from 1892
According to Færeyinga Saga, Sigmundur Brestisson brought Christianity to the islands in 999. However, archaeology from a site in Leirvík suggests that Celtic Christianity may have arrived 150 years earlier, or more. The Faroe Islands' church Reformation was completed on 1 January 1540. According to official statistics from 2002, 84.1% of the Faroese population are members of the state church, the Faroese People's Church (Fólkakirkjan), a form of Lutheranism. Faroese members of the clergy who have had historical importance include V. U. Hammershaimb (1819-1909), Frederik Petersen (1853-1917) and, perhaps most significantly, Jákup Dahl (1878-1944), who had a great influence in making sure that the Faroese language was spoken in the church instead of Danish.

In the late 1820s, the Christian Evangelical religious movement, the Plymouth Brethren, was established in England. In 1865, a member of this movement, William Gibson Sloan, travelled to the Faroes from Shetland. At the turn of the nineteenth century, the Faroese Plymouth Brethren numbered thirty. Today, approximately 10% of the Faroese population are members of the Open Brethren community (Brøðrasamkoman). About 5% belong to other Christian churches, such as the Adventists, who operate a private school in Tórshavn. Jehovah's Witnesses also number four congregations (approximately 80 to 100 members). The Roman Catholic congregation comprises approximately 170 members. The municipality of Tórshavn operates their old Franciscan school. There are also around fifteen Bahá'ís who meet at four different places. Unlike Iceland, there is no organized Ásatrú community.

The best known church buildings in the Faroe Islands include St. Olafs Church and the unfinished Magnus Cathedral in Kirkjubøur; the Vesturkirkjan and the Maria Church, both of which are situated in Tórshavn; the church of Fámjin; the octagonal church in Haldarsvík; Christianskirkjan in Klaksvík and also the two pictured here.

In 1948, Victor Danielsen (Plymouth Brethren) completed the first Bible translation. It was translated into Faroese from different modern languages. Jacob Dahl and Kristian Osvald Viderø (Fólkakirkjan) completed the second translation in 1961. The latter was translated from the original languages into Faroese.



The national holiday, Ólavsøka, is on the 29 July, commemorating the death of Saint Olaf. The celebrations are held in Tórshavn. They commence on the evening of the 28th, and carry on until the 31 July.

The official part of the celebration starts on the 29th, with the opening of the Faroese Parliament, a custom which dates back some 900 years.[4] This begins with a service held in Tórshavn Cathedral, all members of parliament as well as civil and church officials walk to the cathedral in a procession. All of the parish ministers take turns giving the sermon. After the service, the procession returns to the parliament for the opening ceremony.

Other celebrations are marked by different kind of sports competitions, the rowing competition (in Tórshavn harbour) being the most popular, art exhibitions, pop concerts, and the famous Faroese dance. The celebrations have many facets, and only a few are mentioned here.

Another way many people mark the occasion is to wear the national Faroese dress.

The Nordic House in the Faroe Islands

The Nordic House in the Faroe Islands (in Faroese Norðurlandahúsið) is the most important cultural institution in the Faroes. Its aim is to support and promote Nordic and Faroese culture, locally and in the Nordic region. Erlendur Patursson (1913-1986), Faroese member of the Nordic Council, brought forward the idea of a Nordic cultural house in the Faroe Islands. A Nordic competition for architects was held in 1977, in which 158 architects participated. Winners were Ola Steen from Norway and Kolbrún Ragnarsdóttir from Iceland. By staying true to folklore, the architects built the Nordic House to resemble an enchanting hill of elves. The house opened in Tórshavn in 1983. The Nordic House is a cultural organization under the Nordic Council of Ministers. The Nordic House is run by a steering committee of eight, of which three are Faroese and five from the other Nordic countries. There is also a local advisory body of fifteen members, representing Faroese cultural organizations. The House is managed by a director appointed by the steering committee for a four-year term.


The Faroe Islands have a very active music scene. The islands have their own symphony orchestra, the classical ensemble Aldubáran and many different choirs; the most well-known being Havnarkórið. The most well-known Faroese composers are Sunleif Rasmussen and the Dane Kristian Blak.

The first Faroese opera ever was by Sunleif Rasmussen. It is entitled Í Óðamansgarði (The Madman´s Garden), and it opened on the October 12, 2006, at the Nordic House. The opera is based on a short story by the writer William Heinesen.

Young Faroese musicians who have gained much popularity recently are Eivør (Eivør Pálsdóttir), Lena (lena Andersen), Teitur (Teitur Lassen), Høgni Lisberg and Brandur Enni.

Well-known bands include Týr, Goodiepal, Gestir, Marius, 200 and the former band Clickhaze.

The festival for contemporary and classical music, Summartónar, is held each summer. Large open-air music festivals for popular music with both local and international musicians participating are G! Festival in Gøta in July and Summarfestivalurin in Klaksvík in August.

Traditional food

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Traditional Faroese food: Dried mutton and whale meat and blubber.
Traditional Faroese food is mainly based on meat and potatoes and uses few fresh vegetables. Mutton is the basis of many meals, and one of the most popular treats is skerpikjøt, well aged, wind-dried mutton which is quite chewy. The drying shed, known as a hjallur, is a standard feature in many Faroese homes, particularly in the small towns and villages. Other traditional foods are ræst kjøt (semi-dried mutton) and ræstur fiskur, matured fish. Another Faroese specialty is Grind og spik, pilot whale meat and blubber. Well into the last century meat and blubber from the pilot whale meant food for a long time. Fresh fish also features strongly in the traditional local diet, as do seabirds, such as Faroese puffins, and their eggs.

Further information: Whaling in the Faroe Islands

Public holidays

:See also: Public holidays in Denmark
New Year's Day, January 1
Maundy Thursday
Good Friday
Easter Sunday
Easter Monday
Flag day, 25 April
General Prayer Day (Store Bededag), 4th Friday after Easter
Ascension Day
Whit Sunday, 4 June
Whit Monday, 5 June
Constitution Day, 5 June (½ day holiday)
St.Olav’s Eve, 28 July (½ day holiday)
St.Olav’s Day, 29 July (National holiday)
Christmas Eve, 24 December
Christmas Day, 25 December
Boxing Day, 26 December
New Year’s Eve, 31 December (½ day holiday)


The Faroe Islands generally have cool summers and mild winters, with a usually overcast sky and frequent fog and heavy winds. The fog often causes air traffic delays. The islands are rugged and rocky with some low peaks; the coasts are mostly bordered by cliffs. The highest point is Slættaratindur, 882 metres (2,894 ft) above sea level. There are areas below sea level.


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Marsh marigold (Caltha palustris) very common in the Faroe Islands in May-June. - @Faroenature/Finn

The natural vegetation of the Faroe Islands is dominated by Arctic-alpine plants, wild flowers, grasses, moss and lichen. Most of the lowland area is grassland and some is heather, mainly Calluna vulgaris.

The Faroese nature is characterized by the lack of trees, and resembles that of Connemara and Dingle in Ireland and the Scottish islands.

A few small plantations consisting of plants collected from similar climates like Tierra del Fuego in South America and Alaska have been planted and are doing fine.



The bird fauna of the Faroe Islands is dominated by sea-birds and birds attracted to open land like heather, probably due to the lack of woodland and other suitable habitats. Many species have developed special Faroese sub-species: Eider, Starling, Wren, Guillemot, and Black Guillemot. ).[5]


Only a few species of wild land mammals are found in the Faroe Islands today, all introduced by man.

Grey Seals (Halichoerus grypus) are very common around the Faroese shores.

Several species of whales live in the waters around the Faroe Islands. Best known are the Short-finned Pilot Whales (Globicephala melaena), but the more exotic Killer whales (Orcinus orca) sometimes visit the Faroese fjords.

Natural history and biology

A collection of Faroese marine algae resulting from a survey sponsored by NATO, the British Museum (Natural History) and the Carlsberg Foundation, is preserved in the Ulster Museum (catalogue numbers: F3195—F3307). It is one of ten exsiccatae sets.

See also


1. ^ Highly discrepant proportions of female and male Scandinavian and British Isles ancestry within the isolated population of the Faroe Islands, [1] Thomas D Als, Tove H Jorgensen, Anders D Børglum, Peter A Petersen, Ole Mors and August G Wang, 25 January 2006
2. ^ The origin of the isolated population of the Faroe Islands investigated using Y chromosomal markers, [2] Tove H. Jorgensen, Henriette N. Buttenschön, August G. Wang, Thomas D. Als, Anders D. Børglum and Henrik Ewald1, April 8 2004.
3. ^ Wang, C. August. 2006. Ílegur og Føroya Søga. In: Frøði pp.20-23
4. ^ Schei, Kjørsvik Liv and Moberg, Gunnie. 1991. The Faroe Islands. ISBN 0-7195-5009-2
5. ^ [3] The Faroese Fauna.
  • Irvine, D.E.G. 1982. Seaweeds of the Faroes 1: The flora. Bull. Br. Mus. nat. Hist. (Bot.) 10: 109 - 131.
  • Tittley, I., Farnham, W.F. and Gray, P.W.G. 1982. Seaweeds of the Faroes 2: Sheltered fjords and sounds. Bull. Br. Mus. nat. Hist. (Bot.) 10: 133 - 151.
  • Irvine, David Edward Guthrie. 1982. Seaweed of the Faroes 1: The flora. Bull. Br. Mus. nat. Hist. (Bot.) 10(3): 109 - 131.

External links

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For the Radiohead song, see "The National Anthem".
A national anthem is a generally patriotic musical composition that evokes and eulogizes the history, traditions and struggles of its people, recognized either by a country's government as the official
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Mítt alfagra land, usually called "Tú alfagra land mítt" is the National anthem of the Faroe Islands.
  • Lyrics: Símun av Skarði (1872-1942)
  • Melody: Peter Alberg (1885-1940)


Mítt Alfagra land

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capital (also called capital city or political capital — although the latter phrase has a second meaning based on an alternative sense of "capital") is the center of government.
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Population: 48,700 (July 2004 est.)

Age structure:
0-14 years: 23% (male 5,233; female 5,163)
15-64 years: 63% (male 15,270; female 13,382)
65 years and over: 14% (male 2,788; female 3,460) (2000 est.
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The Tinganes peninsula, in Tórshavn, is the seat of the Faroese government.
Nickname: Havn

City coat of arms   Location in Faroe Islands
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Official language of:  Faroe Islands
Regulated by: Føroyska málnevndin
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Faroese (føroyskt
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Official language of:  Denmark
 Faroe Islands
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    currency is a unit of exchange, facilitating the transfer of goods and/or services. It is one form of money, where money is anything that serves as a medium of exchange, a store of value, and a standard of value. A currency is the dominant medium of exchange.
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    Faroese króna
    færøsk krone (Danish)
    føroysk króna (Faroese)

    ISO 4217 Code None
    User(s) Faroe Islands
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    ISO 4217 is the international standard describing three letter codes (also known as the currency code) to define the names of currencies established by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).
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    time zone is a region of the Earth that has adopted the same standard time, usually referred to as the local time. Most adjacent time zones are exactly one hour apart, and by convention compute their local time as an offset from UTC (see also Greenwich Mean Time).
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