Denmark | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2014

2014 Scores



Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


In municipal elections held in November 2013, the ruling Social Democrat Party maintained its leadership positions in Copenhagen, Aarhus, Odense, and Aalborg, but lost several other mayorships. Social Democrats won 29.5 percent of votes overall, while the opposition Liberal Party won 26.6 percent. 

The year also saw the continuation of the so-called Taxgate scandal, which concerned the 2011 leaking of a tax audit of Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt when she was opposition leader. Meanwhile, in February, well-known media personality Lars Hedegaard survived an assassination attempt in his home due to his support of anti-Muslim cartoons published by the newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2005.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 


Political Rights:  40 / 40 [Key]

A. Electoral Process:  12 / 12 

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.

Denmark has had a conflicted relationship with the European Union (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 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, except foreign and financial policy. In 2009, Greenland passed the Self-Government Act, which gave it greater control over government functions, including its security apparatus and judicial system. 

Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen of the Liberal Party 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.


B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 16 / 16

Postwar Danish politics were 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 served for two terms, also included the Conservative People’s Party and was supported by the anti-immigrant and Euroskeptic Danish People’s Party.

The Social Democrats have historically been firmly anchored in the working class, but as their traditional voters were hollowed out due to structural changes in the Danish economy during the post-war period, they lost their once-dominant position in Danish politics. Many of their core positions on social services and an expansive public sector were adopted by parties across the spectrum during the post-war period. The Liberal Party has experienced a similar dynamic, with their positions on the importance of economic competitiveness spreading for example to the Social Democrats and other parties. The differences between the two major parties are thus differences of degree and emphasis, rather than deeply held ideological differences.


C. Functioning of Government: 12 / 12

Levels of corruption are generally very low in Denmark, which was ranked 1 out of 177 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index. However, the so-called Taxgate scandal, in which information regarding a 2010 tax audit of then-opposition leader Helle Thorning-Schmidt was leaked to the press, continued to unfold throughout 2013. The leak occurred just one week before the 2011 general election and had allegedly been carried out by Thorning-Schmidt’s political opponents. Throughout 2013, an independent commission investigated whether Troels Lund Poulsen, at the time tax minister of the then-ruling Venstre party, was involved in leaking the information to the press. Poulsen and other Venstre party members had also been accused of interfering in the audit itself; Thorning-Schmidt was found not to have violated any tax laws. The commission faced some criticism for spending large amounts of money while yielding few results.


Civil Liberties: 58 / 60

D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 16 / 16

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.

Since the September 2005 publication of the controversial cartoons by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten depicting the Prophet Muhammad, Denmark has been hit with a string of attempted terrorist attacks. In February 2013, controversial public intellectual and journalist Lars Hedegaard—an outspoken supporter of the publication of the cartoons and critic of Muslim immigration and integration—survived an assassination attempt in his home when an assailant rang his doorbell and shot at him at close range, but missed. At year’s end no organization or individual had claimed responsibility for the attack, and the police were without leads. The cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, who had drawn the most contentious of the cartoons, was attacked in his home in January 2010 by a Somali assailant with ties to the Al-Shahab. Westergaard escaped unharmed, and the intruder, Mohamed Geele, was apprehended by police and sentenced to 9 years in 2011. 

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 with promoting the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which the EU and the United States consider a terrorist organization. In August 2013, the station declared bankruptcy, citing fines imposed by the Copenhagen City Court in 2012 of 5.2 million kroner ($885,000), which were doubled by the Eastern High Court in July. 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. Denmark denies religious worker visas, thereby restricting access to missionaries entering the country from abroad.


E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 12 / 12

The constitution provides for freedoms of assembly and association. Demonstrations during 2013 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.

In April 2013, there was a four-week lockout of 50,000 elementary and middle-school teachers affecting more than 500,000 students. The dispute between the teachers’ union (DFL) and the Local Authorities Association (KL) centered on a new reform that would end the national collective bargaining mechanism for deciding the ratio of hours teaching and preparing for class, instead leaving it to individual schools to negotiate. The government ended the lockout in May 2013 by passing legislation in Parliament defining teaches’ working conditions that effectively sided with the Local Authorities Associations.


F. Rule of Law: 15 / 16

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. Asylum seekers and immigration remained divisive issues in 2013. Strict immigration laws introduced in 2002 were tightened further in 2010 and 2011. However, Helle Thorning-Schmidt’s socialist government did honor one of its campaign pledges when new, less restrictive, immigration laws regarding family reunification cases and permanent residency came into effect in 2012. The reforms included the elimination of a fee to apply for family reunification and the replacement of an immigration test with a Danish language exam. Denmark continues to have some of the harshest immigration laws in Europe.

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; a binding decision from the Strasbourg court was pronounced in January 2011, compelling Denmark to stop the practice.


G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 15 / 16

Women enjoy equal rights in Denmark and represent half of the workforce. However, disparities have been reported in the Faroe Islands and Greenland. Denmark was the first country in the world to adopt same-sex civil unions in 1989 and in 2012 parliament overwhelmingly passed same-sex marriage legislation enabling same-sex couples to wed in the Lutheran state church of their choosing. Priests are not obligated to officiate, but must find a colleague who will.

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.


Scoring Key: X / Y (Z)

X = Score Received

Y = Best Possible Score

Z = Change from Previous Year

Full Methodology