Freedom in the World
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Danish authorities made several arrests involving alleged terrorist plots in 2007, one of which was linked to al-Qaeda in Pakistan. Parliamentary elections were held in November reinstating Anders Fogh Rasmussen as prime minister. Also during the year, the demolition of a youth center in Copenhagen’s Norrebro district sparked a series of riots, leading to hundreds of arrests.
Denmark has been a monarchy since the Middle Ages, but after the promulgation of its first democratic constitution in 1849, the monarch’s role became largely ceremonial. The country was occupied by Nazi Germany during World War II despite its attempts to maintain neutrality, and in 1949 it joined NATO. In 1973, Denmark became a member of the European Economic Community (EEC), 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 pledges to reduce immigration and lower 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 jurisdiction into justice, foreign, and monetary policy, Danish voters rejected it in a referendum. Since then, Denmark has opted out of participation in those areas, although polls show that the population is slowly moving toward support for Danish participation in EU defense and judicial cooperation. In 2000, Denmark rejected the use of the euro as the country’s sole currency. In June 2005, due to uncertainty raised by negative French and Dutch referendum results on a new EU constitutional treaty, Denmark postponed plans for its own referendum on the charter, which remained suspended throughout 2007.
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 continued to be supported externally by the Danish People’s Party, which won 24 seats, 2 more than in the 2001 elections. The opposition Social Democratic Party took almost 26 percent of the vote and 47 seats.
A series of violent protests erupted in 2006 over the fate of a youth center in the Norrebro district of Copenhagen, and the clashes with police continued in March 2007, when squatters were evicted and the building was demolished. Rioting broke out again in September and October, as demonstrators marked the passage of six months since the building’s destruction and then attempted to occupy another structure. Hundreds were arrested during the several months of protests in 2007.
Also in 2007, eight men were arrested in September for an alleged terrorist plot against Denmark. The suspects, the first in a Danish terrorism case to be accused of direct links to the Pakistan-based leadership of al-Qaeda, were said to have been producing explosives for a pending attack. Six of the men were released after questioning, fueling suspicion that the threat was overstated, though two others remained in custody at year’s end. In March, four men had been arrested for acquiring explosive-producing chemicals often used by suicide bombers. Separately that year, a 17-year-old Palestinian was sentenced to seven years in prison after his 2005 arrest on terrorism charges. Denmark has become a target for Islamic extremists due to its participation in the Iraq war and a Danish newspaper’s 2005 publication of cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad.
In the run-up to the November 2007 parliamentary elections, the Danish People’s Party was threatened by a Palestinian terrorist group, Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, for its use of images of the prophet Muhammad in campaign materials. The party enjoyed a minor victory in the election gaining one seat, which was subsequently lost when MP Pia Christmas-Møller left the party to serve as an independent. The Socialist People’s Party doubled their number of seats from 11 to 23. Victory was claimed by the Liberal Party when incumbent Anders Fogh Rasmussen was reinstated as prime minister. Asama Abdol-Hamid, a Muslim television show host, made waves in April 2007 when she announced that she would run in the next parliamentary elections.
Denmark is an electoral democracy. The current Danish constitution, adopted in 1953, established a single-chamber parliament (the Folketing) and retained a monarch, currently Queen Margrethe II, with mostly ceremonial duties. The parliament’s 179 representatives are elected at least once every four years through 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 most often control a minority of seats in parliament, ruling 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, which have power over almost all areas of governance.
Levels of corruption in Denmark are very low. The country tied with Finland and New Zealand as the best performers among 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2007 Corruption Perceptions Index. In one recent case, former Farum mayor Peter Brixtofte was found guilty in April 2007 of abuse of power and misuse of funds for lavish dinners. Brixtofte was previously convicted of funneling money to a handball team, bringing his sentence to a total of four years in prison.
The constitution guarantees freedom of expression. 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 2007, journalist Katherine Krone was fired from Greenland’s public broadcaster, KNR, for reporting on a state-owned tannery using clubs to hunt seals. Managers were acting on pressure from Krone’s fellow employees, who apparently feared that the news story would hurt the country’s image. Academic freedom is guaranteed for all.
Freedom of worship is legally protected. 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.
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. In November 2007, truck drivers began a strike that halted the transportation of goods into Norway and Sweden in order to protest EU regulations on working hours.
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 the government’s recommendation. A 2007 report by the International Commission of Jurists found ethnic bias in “a limited scope” of Danish court rulings and suggested mandatory training courses on discrimination for judges and lawyers. Prisons generally meet international standards, and 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 measure restricts citizens’ ability to bring foreign spouses into the country, requiring both partners to be aged 24 or older. The law also requires the Dane to pass a solvency test, prove that he or she has not drawn social security for at least a year, and 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 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. This tension is seen as related to the string of terrorism arrests in recent years.
Denmark has closed 47 asylum centers since the introduction of the new immigration law, although in 2007, a record number of immigrant residency papers were issued, mostly to Poles and Swedes. In June 2006, the government secured reforms including tighter unemployment rules designed to promote job-seeking and greater workforce integration on the part of immigrants. However, in the 2007 Migrant Integration Policy Index, Denmark was ranked the second-worst performer out of 28 mostly EU countries for migrant eligibility to enter the labor market.
Women enjoy equal rights in Demark and represent half of the Danish labor force. However, disparities have been reported in the Faroe Islands and Greenland. Denmark is a destination and transit point for women and children trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Following the adoption in 2003 of legislation that defined and criminalized such trafficking, the government began working regularly with nongovernmental organizations in their trafficking-prevention campaigns.