Denmark | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2010

2010 Scores



Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Several riots and violent protests occurred in 2009, including in Copenhagen’s Noerrebro neighborhood and during the December UN Climate Change Conference in the Danish capital. In October, two men were arrested in connection with a terrorist plot targeting the offices of the newspaper Jyllands-Posten. Meanwhile, a controversy erupted over the military’s attempt to prevent the publication of a book on the grounds that it would reveal sensitive military information.

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).
Postwar Danish politics have been dominated by the Social Democratic Party. However, in the 2001 elections, a right-wing coalition led by Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s Liberal Party won control by pledging 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, rejecting the bloc’s 1992 Maastricht Treaty on justice, foreign, and monetary policy and opting not to adopt the euro as its sole currency in 2000.
The Liberals won reelection in 2005, maintaining their coalition with the Conservatives and receiving external support from the Danish People’s Party. Prime Minister Rasmussen was returned to office again in the 2007 elections, with the Liberals, Conservatives, and Danish People’s Party receiving 45, 18, and 25 seats, respectively. The Social Democrats captured 45 seats, and the Socialist People’s Party, one of the smaller opposition parties, more than doubled its share of seats, from 11 to 23. Rasmussen officially resigned his post on April 5, 2009 after being named NATO secretary general; he was replaced by finance minister Lokke Rasmussen (no relation).
In October 2009, two men, David Coleman Headley and Tahawwur Hussain Rana, were arrested in Chicago in connection with a terrorist bombing plot against the offices of the newspaper Jyllands-Posten; the paper had printedcontroversial cartoons of the prophet Mohammad in 2005. Authorities retrieved surveillance video of the buildings showing the men visiting two Jyllands-Posten offices over the course of the year. The men are alleged to have had ties to the terror attacks in Mumbai, India in 2008.
A major controversy arose in 2009 when the country’s military tried to prevent a former Danish soldier from publishing a memoir about his combat experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan on the grounds that it would reveal military secrets and endanger Danish soldiers. A leading Danish newspaper, Politiken, published the book in its entirety and included it as a “free supplement” on September 16. A Copenhagen court subsequently ruled that the military could not ban the book since the information had already been released to the public.
Several violent clashes between law enforcement officials and protestors occurred during 2009. In August, police raided a church in the Noerrebro neighborhood of Copenhagen sheltering a group of Iraqis who had been denied asylum. Some 300 protestors attacked the police vehicle transporting the refugees, and police responded with pepper spray and batons. Also in August, a riot broke out in Copenhagen’s Noerrebro district, the site of numerous violent clashes in recent year, prompted by a violent altercation between a police officer and a demonstrator, the exact nature of which remains contested.

During the UN Climate Change Conference held in December in the Danish capital, a series of small-scale protests culminated in a much larger demonstration on December 12, in which nearly 1,000 protestors were held under Denmark’s controversial preventive detention law, which allows demonstrators to be administratively detained on the mere suspicion of disturbing the peace. Some demonstrators were kettled, a controversial police tactic in which a large group of protestors is contained in a limited area without access to food, water, or toilets. Law enforcement officials used pepper spray and tear gas against some of the activists. An investigation by the country’s ombudsman into these incidents was ongoing at year’s end.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Denmark is an electoral democracy. The current 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, helping to create a tradition of compromise.
The territories of Greenland and the Faeroe Islands each have two representatives in the Folketing. They also have their own elected institutions, which have power over almost all areas of governance.
Levels of corruption in Denmark are very low. The police began investigating a case in 2008 concerning the pharmaceutical company Missionpharma, which was suspected of bribing two consultants to secure a UN contract in the Democratic Republic of Congo; the charges were dropped in January 2009. Denmark was ranked 2 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2009Corruption Perceptions Index.
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. Internet use in Denmark is among the world’s highest in terms of the percentage of the population with access.
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 are exempted from the catechism taught in public schools. On May 29, the parliament amended the Administration of Justice Act to ban religious or political symbols from judicial attire.
The constitution provides for freedoms 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. Several protests in 2009 turned violent, including demonstrations against police harassment in the Copenhagen district of Norrebro and protests during an international climate conference in the Danish capital.
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 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.
Discrimination is prohibited under the law. However, Denmark introduced one of Europe’s strictest immigration laws in 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 posta bond of almost $10,000. A reunified family’s husband and wife must both prove “close ties to Denmark.” The law came under scrutiny after the European Court of Justice ruled in July 2008 that a similar Irish law, which requires foreign spouses to prove residence in an EU country before taking up residence in Ireland, was incompatible with a 2004 EU directive allowing foreign spouses to live in EU member states regardless of prior residence. Denmark also denies religious worker visas, which restricts access to missionaries entering the country from abroad.
Denmark has closed many of its asylum centers since the introduction of the restrictive 2002 immigration law. In September 2009, Denmark was criticized by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights for deporting 22 Iraqis even though Iraq had been deemed “dangerous”.
Women enjoy equal rights in Demark and represent half of the workforce. However, disparities have been reported in the Faeroe Islands and Greenland. Denmark is a destination and transit point for women and children trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Following the 2003 adoption of legislation that defined and criminalized such trafficking, the government began working regularly with nongovernmental organizations in their trafficking-prevention campaigns. In March 2009, the Supreme Court handed down its first human trafficking convictions; a Croatian national and a Czech citizen received prison sentences of three and a half and two and a half years, respectively, for trafficking women from the Czech Republic to Denmark.