Freedom in the World
Freedom in the World Scores
Denmark is a robust democracy with regular free and fair elections. Citizens enjoy full political rights, the government protects free expression and association, and the judiciary functions independently. However, Denmark has struggled to uphold all fundamental freedoms for immigrants and other newcomers.
Key Developments in 2017:
- In June, the Danish Helsinki Committee criticized the conditions of the Kærshovedgård detention center as offering worse conditions than Danish prisons. The center houses people whose asylum applications were rejected, but whom the government is for various reasons unable to deport.
- In December, lawmakers passed a measure stipulating that Denmark was no longer bound by a UN refugee resettlement quota.
POLITICAL RIGHTS: 40 / 40
A. ELECTORAL PROCESS: 12 / 12
A1. Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 4 / 4
The constitution retains a monarch, currently Queen Margrethe II, with mostly ceremonial duties. The monarch chooses the prime minister, usually the leader of the majority party or government coalition. Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen, representing the Liberal Party, was appointed by Queen Margrethe following competitive and free 2015 general elections.
A2. Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 4 / 4
The 179 members of Denmark’s unicameral parliament are elected to four-year terms through a system of modified proportional representation.
The most recent parliamentary elections were held in 2015. Rasmussen’s Liberal Party won 47 seats, and Rasmussen formed a minority government. The populist, anti-immigration, Euroskeptic Danish People’s Party had a successful showing, winning 37 seats to become the second-largest party in the parliament. The elections were considered credible and free, and their results were accepted by stakeholders and the public.
A3. Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 4 / 4
Robust electoral laws are upheld impartially by the various bodies tasked with implementation. A 2015 Organization for Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) preelection assessment mission reported a high level of public confidence in the country’s election laws and administration.
B. POLITICAL PLURALISM AND PARTICIPATION: 16 / 16
B1. Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings? 4 / 4
Numerous political parties compete freely.
B2. Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 4 / 4
The Danish political system is open to the rise of opposition parties through elections. In recent years, the most significant political ascent has been that of the Danish People’s Party, though it has never formally been in government.
B3. Are the people’s political choices free from domination by the military, foreign powers, religious hierarchies, economic oligarchies, or any other powerful group that is not democratically accountable? 4 / 4
Voters and political figures are generally free from undue influences by actors who are not democratically accountable.
B4. Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, religious, gender, LGBT, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 4 / 4
The electoral laws guarantee universal suffrage for citizens, as well as representation in regional and municipal elections for permanent residents. Refugees and other immigrants may vote in municipal and regional elections after having obtained permanent residence at least three years before an election date. Women, LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people, and members of ethnic and religious minorities are active in political life.
The territories of Greenland and the Faroe Islands each have two representatives in the parliament. They also have their own elected institutions, which have power over almost all areas of governance, except foreign and financial policy.
C. FUNCTIONING OF GOVERNMENT: 12 / 12
C1. Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 4 / 4
Denmark’s freely elected government is able to craft and implement policy. 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.
C2. Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 4 / 4
Anticorruption laws and bodies are generally effective, and corruption is not considered an urgent problem in Denmark. However, a scandal that arose in 2015, which revolved around the public procurement of computer equipment, continued to play out in 2017. By year’s end, several government workers had been convicted of bribery and embezzlement in connection with the scandal.
C3. Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 4 / 4
Government operations are generally transparent. However, the government has come under pressure to amend the Public Information Act to remove restrictions on certain information, including documents that are shared between ministers and their advisers.
CIVIL LIBERTIES: 57 / 60
D. FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AND BELIEF: 16 / 16
D1. Are there free and independent media? 4 / 4
Domestic media reflect a wide variety of political opinions and are frequently critical of the government.
D2. Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 4 / 4
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.
In 2015, a Danish citizen of Palestinian origin launched an attack on a freedom of expression event and then on a Copenhagen synagogue, killing several people. Since the attack, the government has provided security for Jewish religious and cultural facilities considered to be at risk of attack.
Representatives of Denmark’s Muslim community have reported that Muslims perceive increasing scrutiny by both the government and society at large. The Danish People’s Party in 2017 called on Muslims to celebrate Christmas and Easter as a means of proving that they are Danish, prompting widespread criticism. Hate speech against Muslims has been increasingly present in political discourse. A number of Muslim graves were vandalized in February 2017, and police were unable to identify the perpetrators.
D3. Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 4 / 4
Academic freedom is generally respected.
D4. Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 4 / 4
Private discussion is vibrant and unrestricted.
E. ASSOCIATIONAL AND ORGANIZATIONAL RIGHTS: 12 / 12
E1. Is there freedom of assembly? 4 / 4
The constitution provides for freedom of assembly, which is upheld in practice. A number of demonstrations took place peacefully in 2017.
E2. Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 4 / 4
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) operate freely in Denmark, and frequently inform policy debates.
E3. Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 4 / 4
Workers are free to organize and bargain collectively.
F. RULE OF LAW: 14 / 16
F1. Is there an independent judiciary? 4 / 4
The judiciary is independent. Judges are formally appointed by the monarch, but are recommended by the justice minister, in consultation with the independent Judicial Appointments Council.
F2. Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 3 / 4
Citizens enjoy full due-process rights. However, individuals who were denied asylum in Denmark, but whom the government is for various reasons unable to deport, may be subject to administrative measures parallel to those imposed on people who have been convicted of crimes. For example, many such individuals must live at isolated centers with poor facilities where they are subject to travel restrictions, and have no legal option to challenge their placement. In June 2017, the Danish Helsinki Committee criticized the conditions of one detention center in particular, Kærshovedgård, for offering worse conditions than Danish prisons.
F3. Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 4 / 4
People in Denmark are generally free from violent crime and physical abuse by state authorities.
F4. Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 3 / 4
Danish immigration laws have long been some of the harshest in Europe, and immigration laws and asylum policies were further tightened in response to the massive influx of refugees and asylum seekers entering Europe beginning in 2015; the influx has since waned, with Denmark accepting roughly 3,500 asylum applications in 2017, compared to more than 20,000 in 2015. A 2016 measure permits the confiscation of valuables carried by asylum seekers when they enter the country. In December 2017, lawmakers passed a measure stipulating that Denmark—which was among the first signatories to the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees—was no longer bound by a UN refugee resettlement quota. Denmark’s annual quota since 1989 had been 500 refugees. In apparent response to the influx of foreign-born students, a school in Aarhus began segregating students by ethnicity in 2016, and in 2017 continued to draw criticism over the policy.
Discrimination, including based on gender identity or sexual orientation, is prohibited by law. Under a 2016 law, the state of identifying as transgender is no longer considered a mental disorder. However, procedures related to legally changing one’s gender remain lengthy.
The Greenlandic Inuit community faces social marginalization, though the government has implemented programs to address this issue.
G. PERSONAL AUTONOMY AND INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS: 15 / 16
G1. Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 4 / 4
Freedom of movement is protected by law and generally respected by the government.
In 2015, a new law entered into force allowing police to confiscate the passport of any individual suspected of planning to leave Denmark to engage in armed conflict abroad. Critics said the law, which arose from concerns about Danish nationals traveling to Syria and Iraq in particular, has a low evidentiary threshold, allows room for arbitrary decisions, and requires only minimal judicial oversight. In a 2016 follow-up measure, the government made it illegal for Danish citizens to enter and reside in certain parts of Iraq and Syria controlled by the Islamic State (IS) militant group. A number of people have seen their passports revoked under the measures.
G2. Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 4 / 4
Private business activity is free from undue influence by government officials or nonstate actors.
G3. Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 3 / 4
Refugees and other newcomers face lengthy waiting times for family reunification, including in cases involving small children, and restrictions on family reunification were tightened in the wake of the 2015 refugee crisis. The continued enforcement of restrictions on family reunification for refugees drew concern from the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) in 2017.
In 1989, Denmark became the first country in the world to adopt same-sex civil unions, and in 2012, the parliament overwhelmingly passed same-sex marriage legislation enabling couples to wed in the Lutheran state church of their choosing. Priests are not obligated to officiate but, when requested to do so, must find a colleague who will.
G4. Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 4 / 4
Public- and private-sector workers are generally free from exploitation by employers. However, migrants engaged in forced labor can be found in some sectors, including the agricultural and service industries. Women and children, also primarily migrants, can be found engaged in forced sex work. The government and NGOs work, frequently in conjunction, to identify and prevent human trafficking and to provide aid to victims.