Denmark | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2007

2007 Scores



Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


In 2006, despite an apology by the Copenhagen daily Jyllands-Posten , controversy continued surrounding 12 cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammad published by the paper in 2005. In May, two reporters were indicted for the 2004 publication of intelligence reports questioning the existence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Hundreds of youths were arrested during protests in Copenhagen’s Nørrebro district. Nationwide protests over budget cuts temporarily paralyzed the educational system in October.

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, Germany’s occupation of the country was met with little resistance. 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).

Post–World War II Danish politics have been dominated by the Social Democratic Party. However, in the November 2001 elections, a right-wing coalition led by Anders Fogh 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 voters rejected the treaty in a referendum. Since then, Denmark has opted out of participation in these areas. In 2000, it rejected the use of the euro as the country’s single currency. In 2003, the EU drafted a constitutional treaty, and polls indicate that the Danish population is slowly moving in favor of participation in EU defense and judicial cooperation. In June 2005, due to uncertainty raised by negative French and Dutch referendum results, Denmark postponed plans for its own national referendum on the EU constitution, which remained suspended throughout 2006.

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 in the 2001 elections. The opposition Social Democratic Party took almost 26 percent of the vote and 47 seats.

In February 2006, the conservative Copenhagen daily Jyllands-Posten apologized for offense caused by its 2005 publication of 12 cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed. The cartoons sparked a furor in Denmark’s Muslim community. Physical depictions of Mohammed are considered blasphemous by most Muslims, and one of the cartoons featured Mohammed wearing a turban in the form of a bomb. Freedom of speech was challenged again in October 2006, when two Danish television channels aired a video showing far-right Danish activists drawing cartoons of Mohammed. Prime Minister Rasmussen denounced the cartoons in an effort to prevent the reignition of protests and boycotts of Danish goods by Muslims abroad.

In 2006, Danish authorities’ previous efforts to ban the international Islamist organization Hizb ut-Tahrir were abandoned. However, in August, Hizb ut-Tahrir spokesman Fadi Ahmad Abdel Latif was convicted for threatening the life of Prime Minister Rasmussen as well as for threatening Jews and urging Muslims to assassinate leaders who prevent militants from traveling to Iraq to join the insurgency there. Some hope that the conviction will reignite efforts to ban the radical group.

An ongoing dispute with Canada over territorial ownership of Hans Island resurfaced in August 2006, when Canada’s Indian and Northern Affairs Department granted a Canadian geologist permission to conduct research there. 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.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Denmark is an electoral democracy. The current Danish constitution, which established a single-chamber Parliament (the Folketing), was adopted in 1953. Denmark is a constitutional monarchy, in which the monarch, currently Queen Margrethe II, has mostly ceremonial duties. The Parliament’s 179 representatives are elected 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, which were deemed free an fair, the center-right coalition led by Prime Minister Rasmussen won a second term. In March 2006, a Social Democratic councilor in the city of Herning was dismissed from his membership on the council when it was revealed that he supported the Sri Lankan rebel group known as the Tamil Tigers. The decision was reportedly due to a regulation banning participation in other political organizations.

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 163 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2006 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 May, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported that criminal charges had been brought against two Danish reporters and their editor for leaking state secrets. Journalists Michael Bjerre and Jesper Larsen and Editor-in–Chief Niels Lunde of the Copenhagen daily Berlingske Tidende published intelligence reports in 2004 questioning the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and revealing that Rasmussen ignored Danish intelligence in favor of supporting the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. It was the first time in Danish history that reporters have been indicted for leaking state secrets. All three men were acquitted in December.

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.

Academic freedom is guaranteed for all. However, the nation’s schools and day-care centers were temporarily shut down in October when upwards of 50,000 people went on strike to protest government budget cuts to education.

The constitution provides for freedom of assembly and association. Civil society is vibrant, and workers are free to organize. The labor market is mainly regulated by agreements between employers’ and employees’ organizations, and approximately 77 percent of workers are members of trade unions. During a series of protests against the closing of a youth collective in Copenhagen’s Nørrebro district, 263 people were arrested in September, 90 in November, and 300 in December. The Ungdom-shuset youth center had housed youths since 1982 and was turned over to its new owners, Faderhuset Christian Group, at year’s end.

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 monarch on government recommendation. Prisons generally meet 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 consequently 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 2006, strict review procedures were implemented for Chinese nationals seeking to enter Denmark on business visas after widespread misuse was revealed.

The tightening of immigration laws has led to a considerable drop in asylum seekers entering the country. In 2006, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reported that Denmark received its lowest number of asylum seekers since 1983. The country has also closed 47 asylum centers since the introduction of the new immigration law. In June 2006, the government secured reforms including tighter unemployment rules aimed at promoting job-seeking for immigrants in order to integrate them into the workforce.

There are no quotas for the representation of women in Parliament. During the February 2005 parliamentary elections, about 37 percent of the seats were filled by women. Women enjoy equal rights in Demark and represent half of the Danish labor force. However, disparities were reported in 2006 in the Faroe Islands and Greenland. Denmark is a destination and transit point for women and children trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation. In 2003, the government enacted legislation that defines and criminalizes such trafficking. In 2004, the government began working regularly with nongovernmental organizations in their trafficking-prevention campaigns. After the assault of a gay man in the Faroe Islands in September, lawmakers voted to add sexual orientation to the antidiscrimination law.