Denmark | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2002

2002 Scores



Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


The fortunes of Prime Minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen's fragile coalition seemed to improve throughout 2001, as his government managed to gain back support lost after the referendum on the euro last year. Citing the need for political unity after the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, Rasmussen called for a snap election to be held on November 20. However, following a campaign dominated by a debate on immigration, his party was defeated by the opposition Venstre (Liberal) Party, led by Anders Fogh Rasmussen, which won the largest number of seats in Parliament and joined with the Conservative Party to form a rightist coalition government. The new government's program, outlined in late November, contained proposals for new welfare spending and tax reductions, as well as a much stricter policy on immigration.

Denmark is the oldest monarchy in Europe. Queen Margrethe II, whose reign began in 1972, performs mostly ceremonial functions. The 1953 constitution established a unicameral parliament, or Folketing, in which 135 of the 179 members are elected in 17 mainland districts. Two representatives from each of the semiautonomous regions of the Faeroe Islands and Greenland are also elected. The remaining seats are allocated on a proportional basis to parties receiving more than two percent of the vote. An extensive system of local representation includes both regional and local councils. Poul Nyrup Rasmussen's coalition government, comprising his Social Democrats, the smaller Social Liberal Party, and two other left-wing parties, had been in power since January 1993.

Rasmussen's coalition suffered a setback in a September 2000 referendum, when Danes voted by a wide margin against adopting the euro. The outcome of the referendum reflected popular concerns about preserving democracy, national sovereignty, and Denmark's generous welfare state. It also gave a boost to Pia Kjaersgaard's ultranationalist Danish People's Party (DPP), which has seen its popularity nearly double since the 1998 general election.

In voting against the euro, Danes defied the government, main opposition parties, big business, major trade unions, and economists, all of whom support monetary union. Some opponents of the euro say that monetary union will weaken Denmark's welfare system. Others cite European sanctions against Austria following the electoral success of Jorg Haider's Freedom Party as proof of the EU's undemocratic tendencies. Also, nationalists like Kjaersgaard oppose European integration along with immigration as a threat to national identity.

The DPP's anti-Europe, anti-immigrant platform has gained significant support among Danes. It received 12 percent of the vote in the recent elections, winning 22 of the 179 seats in Parliament. Although direct DPP participation in government is unlikely, as most parties refuse to align themselves with a party that they consider to be xenophobic, their influence will be felt more strongly in the new rightist government.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Danes can change their government democratically. Representatives are elected to the Folketing at least once every four years in a modified system of proportional representation. In the most recent elections, 87 percent of Danes participated in the polls. The autonomous territory of Greenland held a general election in 1999 for its 31-seat parliament. Prime Minister Jonathan Motzfeldt's social-democratic Siumut Party has dominated politics on the island since 1979, when Greenland won home rule from Denmark. A proposed referendum on independence for the Faeroes, scheduled for May, was called off in early March after the island's government backed down on the issue in the face of the Danish government's insistence that a vote for independence would mean the ending of Denmark's annual subsidy payment by 2005. Denmark ranks highly on the annual Corruption Perceptions Index published by Transparency International; in 2001, it was in second place with a score of 9.5 out of 10.

The judiciary is independent, and citizens enjoy full due process rights. The court system consists of 100 local courts, 2 high courts, and a 15-member supreme court with judges appointed by the queen on recommendation of the government.

Denmark's constitution guarantees freedom of expression. Danish media reflect a wide variety of political opinions and are frequently critical of the government. The state finances radio and television broadcasting, but state-owned television companies have independent editorial boards. Independent radio stations are permitted but tightly regulated. In November, Radio Oasen (Oasis), Europe's only legal neo-Nazi radio station, had its license permit removed by local authorities after it violated laws regarding the incitement of racial hatred.

The rights of racial, ethnic, and religious minorities are widely respected. In the recent elections, a Dane with an immigrant background was elected to parliament for the first time. However, the Danish People's Party (DPP) has tapped into public fears about crime and national identity to rally opinion against immigrants. In August, the DPP placed a full-page ad in Jyllands-Posten, the country's leading newspaper, publishing the names of about 4,700 immigrants who had recently been granted Danish citizenship. The ad drew heavy criticism from rights activists and politicians, who called the ad "distasteful." Nevertheless, anti-immigrant sentiment has risen, and in 2000 the government responded with legislation barring immigrants under age 25 from bringing foreign spouses to Denmark. Another measure makes learning Danish a requirement for receiving some forms of welfare.

Freedom of worship is guaranteed to all. More than 90 percent of the population belongs to the state-supported Evangelical Lutheran Church, although with more than 170,000 adherents, Islam is the country's second biggest religion. The Evangelical Lutheran faith is taught in public schools, although students are not required to attend religious classes.

Denmark is among the countries most tolerant of homosexuals. In 1989, Denmark became the first country to grant legal recognition to same-sex partnerships. In May 2000, Denmark passed legislation granting homosexuals in registered partnerships the right to adopt each other's children.

Women constitute approximately 45 percent of the Danish labor force. According to the Swiss-based Inter-Parliamentary Union, Denmark ranks behind only Sweden in its percentage of women in parliament; currently 37 percent of Danish members of parliament are women.

Workers are free to organize, bargain collectively, and strike. The vast majority of wage earners belong to trade unions and their umbrella organization, the Danish Federation of Trade Unions.