Freedom in the World
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Parliamentary elections in September 2011 resulted in Helle Thorning-Schmidt, leader of the Social Democratic Party, becoming Denmark’s first female prime minster, ousting Lars Løkke Rasmussen’s center-right coalition. Thorning-Schmidt formed a governing coalition with the Social Liberal Party and the Socialist People’s Party.
Denmark has been a monarchy since the Middle Ages, though the monarch’s role became largely ceremonial after the promulgation of the first democratic constitution in 1849. 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, forerunner of 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, securing opt-outs from the bloc’s 1992 Maastricht Treaty on justice, foreign, and monetary policy, and opting not to adopt the euro in 2000.
The Liberal Party won reelection in 2005, maintaining its coalition with the Conservative People’s Party and receiving external support from the Danish People’s Party. Prime Minister Rasmussen was returned to office in the 2007 elections, but resigned in April 2009 after being named NATO secretary general; he was replaced by finance minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen (no relation).
Parliamentary elections in September 2011 led to a change of government, with Helle Thorning-Schmidt leading the Social Democratic Party to power after forming a coalition with the Social Liberal Party, the Socialist People’s Party, and the Red-Green Party. Although Thorning-Schmidt’s coalition was able to narrowly defeat Rasmussen’s center-right coalition, the Social Democratic Party itself suffered its worst electoral result since 1903 and won fewer seats in Parliament than Rasmussen’s Liberal Party. As a result of the election, Thorning-Schmidt became Denmark’s first female prime minister. The new government faces internal divisions on issues such as welfare reform and early retirement benefits; it also inherited the weakest economy in Scandinavia.
In 2009, two men were arrested in Chicago in connection with a plot to bomb the offices of the newspaper Jyllands-Posten, which had printed controversial cartoons of the prophet Muhammad in 2005. One of those arrested, Pakistani American David Headley, pleaded guilty in 2010 to planning the attack, as well as participating in the planning of the 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai, India. In September 2011, his accomplice, Tahawur Rana, was found guilty of planning to attack Jyllands-Posten, but had not been sentenced by year’s end.
The cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, who had drawn the most contentious of the Muhammad cartoons, was attacked in his home in January 2010 by a Somali assailant wielding an axe and a knife. Westergaard escaped unharmed, and the intruder, Mohamed Geele, was apprehended by police. Geele, who was believed to have ties to the Shabaab, an Islamist militant group based in Somalia, was sentenced in June 2011 to nine years in prison.
In September 2011, a small bomb exploded in a hotel in central Copenhagen, causing little material damage but injuring the alleged bomber. Danish police apprehended the suspect, Chechen national Lors Dukajev, several hours later. He was found guilty of carrying out a terrorist attack and sentenced to 12 years in prison. The intended target was Jyllands-Posten, particularly its former editor, Flemming Rose, who commissioned the cartoons.
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 government coalition is usually chosen to be prime minister by the monarch. Danish governments most often control a minority of seats in the 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 Faroe 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 are very low in Denmark, which was ranked 2 out of 183 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2011 Corruption 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. After complaints from the Turkish Ambassador to Denmark in March 2010, the Danish attorney- general charged the Danish-based, Kurdish-language satellite television station Roj-TV for promoting the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which the EU and United States consider a terrorist organization. A trial, which began in August 2011, continued through year’s end. The station was the first Danish media organization to face prosecution for promoting terrorism, and the trial has been criticized across the political spectrum for harming freedom of speech and being unduly influenced by Turkish political pressure on the Danish government. Access to the internet is not restricted, and Denmark’s internet penetration rate is among the highest in the world.
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, though 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. In 2009, religious and political symbols were banned from judicial attire.
The constitution provides for freedoms of assembly and association. Demonstrations during 2011 were peaceful. Civil society is vibrant, and workers are free to organize. The labor market is mainly regulated by agreements between employers’ and employees’ organizations.
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. Prisons generally meet international standards.
Discrimination is prohibited under the law. However, strict immigration laws introduced in 2002 were tightened further during 2010, adding more obstacles for citizens attempting to bring foreign spouses into the country. The Danish partner is required to pass a solvency test, post a bond of $12,000, and be at least 24 years of age. A new point system aimed at facilitating the reunification of spouses favors visa candidates who are considered attractive to the Danish economy and society. The rules were criticized by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination for unfairly penalizing vulnerable refugees seeking asylum. 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 laws. In 2009, the government was criticized by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights for deporting 22 Iraqis even though their home country had been deemed “dangerous.” The European Court of Human Rights in 2010 called on Denmark to stop deporting asylum seekers to Greece, their point of entry to the EU, on the grounds that the Greek asylum system no longer functioned effectively and could not process cases. Nevertheless, Denmark continued the policy throughout 2010. A binding decision from the Strasbourg court was pronounced in January 2011, compelling Denmark to stop the practice; Denmark changed its policy accordingly. In June 2011, the Rasmussen-led government imposed border controls with Germany, and EU authorities questioned whether these were in compliance with Denmark’s membership of the Schengen free-movement area. The Thorning-Schmidt government abolished the changes in September.
Women enjoy equal rights in Demark and represent half of the workforce. 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 2003 adoption of legislation that defined and criminalized such trafficking, the government began working regularly with nongovernmental organizations in their trafficking-prevention campaigns.