Denmark | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2006

2006 Scores



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Civil Liberties
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Political Rights
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In elections in February 2005, the center-right coalition, led by Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen of the Liberal Party, won a second term. A furor emerged over the publication of 12 cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammad in the Copenhagen daily Jyllands-Posten in September. In July, a visit by Bill Graham, the Canadian defense minister, to Hans Island raised the hackles of officials in Denmark.
Denmark has been a monarchy since the fourteenth century. Since the country's first democratic constitution was written in 1849, the monarchy has been largely ceremonial. During World War II, the country was occupied by Germany, which met little resistance in its invasion. However, the determined Danish resistance movement ended the country's policy of collaboration and forced Germany to take full control of Danish affairs until Germany's surrender in 1945. In 1949, Denmark abandoned its traditional neutrality and joined NATO, and in 1973, it joined the European Economic Community (EEC), the forerunner to the European Union (EU). Prior to a May 5, 2005, anniversary of the country's liberation by the Allies, the prime minister officially apologized for the extradition of innocent people from Denmark to Germany during World War II.

Post-World War II Danish politics has been dominated by the Social Democratic Party. However, in the November 2001 elections, a right-wing coalition led by Rasmussen's Liberal Party won control of the government on a platform that focused on reducing immigration and lowering taxes. The coalition, which also included the Conservative People's Party, was supported by the anti-immigrant and euroskeptic Danish People's Party.

Denmark has had a conflicted relationship with the EU. When the Maastricht Treaty 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 the Danish population is slowly moving in favor of participation in EU defense and judicial cooperation, although support for the euro is less clear. In June 2005, Denmark postponed plans for a national referendum on the EU constitution because of the uncertainty raised by the French and Dutch rejections over the summer.

Denmark has an active foreign policy that includes 530 troops stationed in Iraq. However, The Economist reports that there is growing dissatisfaction in the country with the situation in Iraq. The opposition Social Democratic Party wants to pull Danish troops out of Iraq, and the Danish People's Party, which supports the government, has aired concerns about the financial resources that are being allocated to the war. A visit by U.S. president George Bush in July sparked protests in Copenhagen; many protestors voiced their opposition to the Iraq War.

In parliamentary elections in February 2005, the Liberal Party won 29 percent of the vote and 52 seats, gaining a second term in office. The Liberals continued their coalition with the Conservative People's Party, which won 10 percent of the vote and 18 seats. The coalition is supported externally by the Danish People's Party, which won 24 seats, two more than previous elections in 2001. The opposition Social Democratic Party gained almost 26 percent of the vote and 47 seats.

A July 2005 visit by Bill Graham, the Canadian defense minister, to Hans Island provoked officials in Denmark. The tiny island, which sits between Canada's Ellesmere Island and Greenland (a semiautonomous Danish region), has been a disputed territory between the two countries for more than 30 years.

In September 2005, 12 cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammad published in the conservative Copenhagen daily Jyllands-Posten sparked a furor in Denmark's Muslim community; physical depictions of Mohammed are considered blasphemous by most Muslims, and one of the cartoons depicted Mohammed wearing a turban in the form of a bomb. In October, up to 5,000 people staged a protest outside the offices of Jyllands-Posten. Despite the criticism, the newspaper refused to apologize for the cartoons, and Prime Minister Rasmussen-citing Denmark's robust tradition of press freedom-declined to either intervene in the matter or grant a meeting requested by ambassadors from 10 Muslim-majority states. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned the drawings during a visit to Denmark in November.

Particularly since the July 2005 terrorist bombings in London, extremist Islamist groups have threatened to attack Denmark if the country did not withdraw its troops from Iraq. The Danish justice ministry was looking into legal ways to ban the international Islamist organization, Hizb ut-Tahrir, an action that Sweden and Germany have already taken.

Further signs of increasing ethno-religious tensions within Danish society emerged in 2005. In August, a radio station in Copenhagen had its broadcasting license taken away for three months after a radio presenter Kaj Wilhelmsen called for the extermination of Muslim extremists; Wilhelmsen was also charged with breaking the country's antiracism laws. The BBC reported that Queen Margrethe spoke out against radical Islam in a new authorized biography, disapproving of "these people for whom religion is their entire life."

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Citizens of Denmark can change their government demo-cratically. The current Danish constitution, which established a single-chamber parliament, was adopted in 1953. Denmark is a constitutional monarchy, in which the monarch has mostly ceremonial duties. The 179 representatives are elected to the parliament (the Folketing) at least once every four years by a system of modified proportional representation. The leader of the majority party or coalition is usually chosen to be prime minister by the monarch.

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. In elections in February 2005, the center-right coalition led by Prime Minister Rasmussen won a second term. Rasmussen's coalition-the Liberal Party and Conservative People's Party-continues its alliance with the Danish People's Party, which increased its share of support from 12 to 13.3 percent of the vote. The opposition party-the Social Democrats-won 47 seats.

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, which have power over almost all areas of governance.

Levels of corruption in Denmark are very low. Denmark was ranked 4 out of 159 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2005 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 August, a radio station in Copenhagen had its broadcasting license taken away for three months after it called for the extermination of Muslim extremists. Kaj Wilhelmsen, the radio presenter who made the statements, was also charged with breaking the country's antiracism laws. In October, Prime Minister Rasmussen declined to intervene in the Mohammed cartoon controversy, saying that he has "no tool whatsoever to take actions against the media" and, furthermore, does not "want that kind of tool." The government did not restrict internet access.

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. At present, about half of all schoolchildren in Denmark are exempted from the catechism taught in public schools. However, in February, the education minister stated that all schoolchildren in the country should be required to read the Bible, regardless of their religion. The law has not yet been put into effect. In February 2004, 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 guaranteed for all. However, in 2004 the Council of Europe expressed concerns about the segregation of bilingual immigrant students in different classes and schools.

The constitution provides for freedom of assembly and association. Civil society is vibrant. Workers are free to organize. The labor market is mainly regulated by agreements between employers' and employees' organizations, and approximately 80 percent of workers are members of trade unions. In April 2004, 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 Danish People's Party and the Social Democrats.

The judiciary is independent, and citizens enjoy full due process rights. The court system consists of 100 local courts, 2 high courts, and the 15-member Supreme Court, with judges appointed by the queen on government recommendation. Prisons generally met international standards. Police brutality was not an issue during the year.

Discrimination is prohibited under the law. However, Denmark introduced what it has described as one of Europe's strictest immigration laws in May 2002. The law was influenced by the anti-immigrant Danish People's Party; since elections in November 2001, the Liberal-Conservative government has relied on the support of that party for a parliamentary majority. The immigration law restricts the ability of a Dane to bring a foreign spouse into the country, as it requires both partners to be aged 24 or older. The law also requires the Dane to pass a solvency test to prove that he or she has not drawn social security for at least a year, and to post a bond of almost $10,000. A reunified family's husband and wife must both prove "close ties to Denmark." Many Copenhagen-based Danes with foreign spouses have chosen to live in the nearby southern Swedish city of Malmoe and commute back to Copenhagen for work. The law primarily affects Denmark's Muslim immigrant community, which has increasingly complained of social and economic discrimination and burgeoning anti-immigrant sentiment in the country. In April 2005, the Danish Supreme Court ruled that the family reunification rules of the country's 2002 immigration law do not violate human rights.

The tightening of immigration laws has led to a considerable drop in asylum seekers entering the country. The Associated Press reported that the number of people seeking shelter in Denmark dropped from around 12,500 in 2001 to only about 3,200 in 2004. The country has also closed 47 asylum centers since the introduction of the new immigration law. In May 2005, the government introduced a new plan to secure more jobs for immigrants, while simultaneously reducing their access to welfare and unemployment benefits.

There are no quotas for the representation of women in parliament. During the national elections over the year, about 37 percent of the seats were filled by women. Denmark is a destination and transit point for women and children trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation. In 2002, the government introduced legislation that defines and criminalizes trafficking. In 2004, the government began working regularly with nongovernmental organizations in their trafficking-prevention campaigns. In its 2005 report on trafficking in persons, the U.S. State Department reports that during the year a Danish research center under the Ministry of Social Affairs and Gender Equality created a pamphlet that gives trafficking victims legal information in several languages.