Denmark | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2005

2005 Scores



Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Denmark's right-of-center coalition government maintained its hold on power in 2004 despite experiencing stringent criticism of Danish involvement in the U.S.-led war in Iraq and a significant setback in June's European Parliament elections. The government initiated legislation to radically reform the country's administrative structure of counties and municipalities. The government also continued to enforce and strengthen strict immigration laws in spite of domestic and European protestations.

Denmark has been a monarchy since the fourteenth century, but the monarch's power became ceremonial with the first democratic constitution, written in 1849. The country was occupied by Germany during World War II, yet its sizable resistance movement earned it recognition as part of the Allied powers. In 1949, Denmark abandoned its traditional neutrality and joined NATO, and in 1973, it joined the European Economic Community, forerunner to the European Union (EU).

After World War II, Danish politics were dominated by the Social Democrats. However, in the November 2001 elections, popular concerns with increased immigration brought a right-of-center government to power. The ruling coalition of Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen's Liberal Party and the Conservative People's Party, which together hold 40 percent of the seats, is supported by the populist, euroskeptic Danish People's Party (DPP).

Denmark has a conflicted relationship within the EU. When the Treaty of Maastricht was written in 1992, extending the EU's competence into justice, foreign, and monetary policy, Denmark's population rejected the treaty in a referendum. Since then, Denmark has opted out of participation in these areas. In 2003, the EU constructed a constitutional treaty, and polls indicate that the population is slowly moving in favor of participating in EU defense and judicial cooperation, although support for the euro is less clear. The prime minister is committed to holding a referendum on both the new constitution and the "opt-outs" in September 2005.

Danish citizens vote in European Parliamentary elections. The June 14 poll saw the opposition Social Democrats garner 32.7 percent of the vote, compared to 19.4 percent for the Liberal Party. In addition, the euroskeptic parties suffered a significant defeat.

Government-sponsored administrative reform, expected to be implemented in January 2007, will replace the country's 13 counties with 5 federally funded regions responsible for health and transportation but unable to levy taxes. In addition, Denmark's 271 municipalities will be consolidated into 100 with a variety of new public service mandates.

Denmark has an active foreign policy that includes 500 troops stationed in Iraq. Unsubstantiated intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and the recall of several senior commanders amidst allegations of prisoner abuse have fueled criticism of Rasmussen's decisions to support the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and maintain the Danish troop presence until Iraqi elections, scheduled for January 2005.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Danes can change their government democratically. The current Danish constitution, which established a single-chamber parliament, was adopted in 1953. Denmark is a constitutional monarchy, in which Queen Margrethe II has mostly ceremonial duties. The 179 representatives are elected to the unicameral parliament, called the Folketing, at least once every four years in a system of modified proportional representation. Danish governments are most often minority administrations, governing with the aid of one or more supporting parties. Since 1909, no single party has held a majority of seats, a history that has helped create a tradition of interparty compromise.

The semiautonomous territories of Greenland and the Faeroe Islands each have two representatives in the Folketing. They also have their own elected home rule governments that have power over almost all areas of governance. In February, a new, cross-party governing coalition was formed in the Faeroe Islands, agreeing to continue devolution from Denmark while remaining firmly within the Danish North Atlantic Commonwealth.

Levels of corruption in Denmark are very low. Denmark was ranked third out of 146 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2004 Corruption Perceptions Index.

The constitution guarantees freedom of expression, and the 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 April, two journalists from the conservative daily Berlingske Tidende were charged with publishing confidential military information after quoting Danish military intelligence reports in a series of articles.

Freedom of worship is guaranteed to all. However, the Evangelical Lutheran Church is subsidized by the government as the official state religion. The faith is taught in public schools, although students may withdraw from religious classes with parental consent. In February, the government introduced plans to monitor Muslim imams' Friday sermons to prevent the preaching of anti-Western propaganda and to institute strict Danish language requirements for imams who wish to perform marriages. Academic freedom is ensured for all, and consistent efforts are made to ensure that local policies of segregating bilingual children into separate classes are repudiated by the state.

The constitution provides for freedom of assembly and association, and workers are free to organize. The labor market is mainly regulated by agreements between employers' and employees' organizations, and membership in trade unions is around 80 percent. In April, a Council of Europe expert subcommittee ruled that union exclusivity agreements are a violation of the right to free organization. Government efforts to ban exclusivity agreements have been opposed by the DPP and the Social Democrats.

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

In March, Danish police staged a massive raid into the communal Copenhagen enclave of Christiania, aimed at rooting out the neighborhood's infamous cannabis industry and instituting a legal system of property rights. After almost 50 arrests and resistance from residents, lawmakers in June agreed on a new law allowing an independent committee to take charge of Christiania, reform the housing market, and make residents pay for utilities such as gas and electricity.

Discrimination is prohibited under the law. Although Denmark has not seen the kind of neo-Nazi movements that have emerged elsewhere in Scandinavia, human rights groups have noted an increase in hate speech in Denmark and in harassment of Muslims and Jews. According to the Vienna-based European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia, anti-Semitic attacks and rhetoric are increasingly common in Denmark.

The rise of the anti-immigrant DPP since its strong electoral showing in 2001 has sparked more public examination of the position in Denmark of citizens and residents of non-Danish descent. The Alien Act, which took effect in 2002, has continued a trend of tightening immigration and asylum laws, particularly in the area of family unification. Despite the easing of such restrictions in September 2003 due to advocacy group pressure, Danish family reunification laws were harshly criticized in July 2004 by the Council of Europe's Human Rights Commissioner, who specifically cited the country's 24-year age minimum and financial requirements for foreign spousal residency permits. The Danish Institute for Human Rights echoed these concerns in a publicly funded report, released in October, which also took issue with the stipulation that a reunified family's husband and wife must both prove "close ties to Denmark." In February, the government announced plans to increase fines for individuals found harboring rejected asylum seekers and to restrict the entry of radical Muslim imams by way of strict educational and financial qualifications. In addition, members of Rasmussen's Liberal Party have called for a zero-tolerance policy on immigrant crime.

The law requires equal pay for equal work, but men in Denmark earn about 14 percent more than women in blue collar jobs and 20 percent more in professional positions, according to the Confederation of Danish Labor Unions and the Danish Employer Association. Trafficking in women and children for the purposes of prostitution is a problem in Denmark, and the government introduced legislation in 2002 defining and criminalizing trafficking. However, the fact that prostitution is legal in Denmark limits the legal tools available. Strict immigration rules limiting residence permits for foreign-born sex trade workers, some of whom are children, have been severely criticized by women's advocacy groups.