Politics of Denmark

Christiansborg Palace is home to the executive, judicial and legislative branches of the Danish government.

The politics of Denmark function within a framework of a parliamentary, representative democracy. The Kingdom of Denmark is a constitutional monarchy, in which the monarch of Denmark, Queen Margrethe II, is head of state. Executive power is exercised by the cabinet of Denmark (regeringen), presided over by the Prime Minister (statsminister) who is first among equals. Legislative power is vested in both the executive and the national parliament (Folketinget). Members of the judiciary are nominated by the executive (conventionally by recommendation of the judiciary itself), formally appointed by the monarch and employed until retirement.

Denmark has a multi-party system, with two strong parties, and four or five other significant parties. No single party has held an absolute majority in the Folketing since the beginning of the 20th century.[1] Since only four post-war coalition governments have enjoyed a majority, government bills rarely become law without negotiations and compromise with both supporting and opposition parties. Hence the Folketing tends to be more powerful than legislatures in other EU countries. The Constitution does not grant the judiciary power of judicial review of legislation, however the courts have asserted this power with the consent of the other branches of government. Since there are no constitutional or administrative courts, the Supreme Court deals with a constitutional dimension.

On many issues the political parties tend to opt for co-operation, and the Danish state welfare model receives broad parliamentary support. This ensures a focus on public-sector efficiency and devolved responsibilities of local government on regional and municipal levels.

The degree of transparency and accountability is reflected in the public's high level of satisfaction with the political institutions, while Denmark is also regularly considered one of the least corrupt countries in the world by international organizations.[2]


Queen Margrethe II

Margrethe II (born 16 April 1940) has ruled as Queen Regnant and head of state since 14 January 1972.[3] In accordance with the Danish Constitution the Danish monarch, as head of state, is the theoretical source of all executive and legislative power.[4] However, since the introduction of parliamentary sovereignty in 1901, a de facto separation of powers has been in effect.[5]

The text of the Danish constitution dates back to 1849. Therefore, it has been interpreted by jurists to suit modern conditions. In a formal sense, the monarch retains the ability to deny giving a bill royal assent. In order for a bill to become law, a royal signature, and a countersignature by a government minister, is required.[4] The monarch also chooses and dismisses the Prime Minister, although in modern times a dismissal would cause a constitutional crisis. On 28 March 1920, King Christian X was the last monarch to exercise the power of dismissal, sparking the 1920 Easter Crisis. All royal powers called Royal Prerogative, such as patronage to appoint ministers and the ability to declare war and make peace, are exercised by the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, with the formal consent of the Queen. When a new government is to be formed, the monarch calls the party leaders to a conference of deliberation (known as a "dronningerunde"), where the latter advise the monarch. On the basis of the advice the monarch then appoints the party leader who commands a majority of recommendation to lead negotiations for forming a new government.[4]

According to the principles of constitutional monarchy, today the monarch has an essentially ceremonial role, restricted in his or her exercise of power by the convention of parliamentary democracy and the separation of powers. However, the monarch does continue to exercise three rights: the right to be consulted; the right to advise; and the right to warn. Pursuant to these ideals, the Prime Minister and the Cabinet attend the regular meeting of the Council of State.[6]

Political parties

Denmark has a multiparty system. Nine parties are represented in parliament. The four oldest and in history most influential parties are the Conservative People's Party, the Social Democrats, Venstre ("Left", a conservative-liberal party) and the Danish Social Liberal Party. However, demographics have been in favour of younger parties (such as the nationalist far-right Danish People's Party and the far-left Red-Green Alliance), which has led to a constant process of policy development and gradual renewal amongst the political parties.

No two parties have exactly the same organization. It is however common for a party to have: an annual convention which approves manifestos and elects party chairmen; a board of leaders; an assembly of representatives; and a number of local branches with their own organization. In most cases the party members in parliament form their own group with autonomy to develop and promote party politics in parliament and between elections.


The government performs the executive functions of the kingdom. The affairs of government are decided by the Cabinet, headed by the Prime Minister. The Cabinet and the Prime Minister are responsible for their actions to the Folketing (the parliamentary system).

Members of the Cabinet are given the title of "minister" and each hold a different portfolio of government duties. The day to day role of the cabinet members is to serve as head of one or more segments of the national bureaucracy, as head of the civil servants to which all employees in that department report.

Head of government

Enjoying the status of primus inter pares, the Prime Minister is head of the Danish government (as taken to mean the Cabinet). The Prime Minister and members of the Cabinet are appointed by the Crown on basis of the party composition in the Folketing. No vote of confidence is necessary to begin the government after election. If the Folketing expresses its lack of confidence in the Prime Minister, the entire cabinet must step down, unless a new parliamentary election is called.

Lars Løkke Rasmussen was the prime minister from April 2009 until September 2011. He headed a right-wing government coalition consisting of Venstre and the Conservatives, with parliamentary support from the Danish People's Party. Following the September 2011 election the right wing lost by a small margin to the opposing center-left coalition, led by Helle Thorning-Schmidt who on 3 October 2011 formed a new Cabinet government consisting of the Social Democrats, the Danish Social Liberal Party and the Socialist People's Party. The government has parliamentary support from the Red-Green Alliance.

Cabinet government

Further information: Cabinet of Denmark and Current cabinet

According to section 14 of the constitution, the king sets the number of ministers and the distribution of cases between them. The Monarch formally appoints and dismisses ministers, including the Prime Minister.[7] That means that the number of cabinet positions and the organisation of the state administration into agencies are set by law, but subject to change without notice. A coalition of many parties usually means a large cabinet and many ministries, while a small coalition or the rare one party government means fewer, larger ministries.

In June 2015 in the wake of the parliamentary election, the cabinet had 17 members including the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister leads the work of the Cabinet and is minister for constitutional affairs, overseas territories and for the affairs of the press.

The seventeen cabinet ministers hold different portfolios of duties, including the day-to-day role as head of one or more segments of the government departments.

Government departments

As Prime Minister, Lars Løkke Rasmussen heads the Department of State and the Cabinet.

The Danish executive consists of a number of government departments known as Ministries. These departments are led by a cabinet member and known as Minister for the relevant department or portfolio. In theory all Ministers are equal and may not command or be commanded by a fellow minister. Constitutional practice does however dictate, that the Prime Minister is primus inter pares, first among equals. Unlike many other countries, Denmark has no tradition of employing junior Ministers.

A department acts as the secretariat to the Minister. Its functions comprises overall planning, development and strategic guidance on the entire area of responsibility of the Minister. The Minister's decisions are carried out by the permanent and politically neutral civil service within the department. Unlike some democracies, senior civil servants remain in post upon a change of Government. The head of the department civil servants is the Permanent Secretary. In fact, the majority of civil servants work in executive agencies that are separate operational organizations reporting to the Minister. The Minister also has his own private secretary and communications personnel. Unlike normal civil servants, the communications staff is partisan and do not remain in their posts upon changes of government.

Portfolio Minister Tookoffice Leftoffice Party
Prime Minister's Office
Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen28 November 2016IncumbentVenstre
Minister for Foreign Affairs Anders Samuelsen28 November 2016IncumbentLiberal Alliance
Minister for Finance Kristian Jensen28 November 2016IncumbentVenstre
Minister of Economy and Home Affairs Simon Emil Ammitzbøll28 November 2016IncumbentLiberal Alliance
Minister for Justice Søren Pape Poulsen28 November 2016IncumbentConservative People's
Minister for Commerce, Business and Growth Brian Mikkelsen28 November 2016IncumbentConservative People's
Minister for Defence Claus Hjort Frederiksen28 November 2016IncumbentVenstre
Minister for Employment Troels Lund Poulsen28 November 2016IncumbentVenstre
Minister for Immigration and Integration Inger Støjberg28 November 2016IncumbentVenstre
Minister for Education Merete Riisager28 November 2016IncumbentLiberal Alliance
Minister for Health Ellen Trane Nørby28 November 2016IncumbentVenstre
Minister for Culture and Church Mette Bock28 November 2016IncumbentLiberal Alliance
Minister for Science, Technology,
Information and Higher Education
 Søren Pind28 November 2016IncumbentVenstre
Minister for Children and Social Security Mai Mercado28 November 2016IncumbentConservative People's
Minister for Transport, Building and Housing Ole Birk Olesen28 November 2016IncumbentLiberal Alliance
Minister for Taxation Karsten Lauritzen28 November 2016IncumbentVenstre
Minister for Elderly Affairs Thyra Frank28 November 2016IncumbentLiberal Alliance
Minister for Energy Supply and Climate Affairs Lars Christian Lilleholt28 November 2016IncumbentVenstre
Minister for Development Cooperation Ulla Tørnæs28 November 2016IncumbentVenstre
Minister for the Environment and Food Esben Lunde Larsen28 November 2016IncumbentVenstre
Minister for Public Innovation Sophie Løhde28 November 2016IncumbentVenstre
Minister for Equality and
Minister for Nordic Cooperation
 Karen Ellemann28 November 2016IncumbentVenstre

Tradition of minority governments

As known in other parliamentary systems of government, the executive (the Cabinet) is accountable to the parliament (the Folketing). Under the Danish constitution, no government may remain in office with a majority against it. This is called negative parliamentarianism, as opposed to the principle of positive parliamentarianism—as in Germany and some other parliamentary systems—a government needs to achieve a majority through a vote of investiture in parliament. It is due to the principle of negative parliamentarianism and its proportional representation system that Denmark has a long tradition of minority governments. Nevertheless, minority governments in Denmark sometimes have strong parliamentary majorities with the help of one or more supporting parties.[1] The previous government of Venstre and Conservatives thus had stable parliamentary support from the Danish People's Party even though this party was not a member of the government.

Danish politics are based upon consensus.[1] The former coalition government between the Social Democrats, the Danish Social Liberal Party and the Socialist People's Party was a minority government, based on the support of Enhedslisten (Red-Green Alliance) and a handful of independent members of parliament. Because of this tradition it has been common practice for the two sides to cooperate in the parliament.


Main article: Folketing
The Folkting chamber inside Christiansborg Palace.

The Folketing performs the legislative functions of the Kingdom. As a parliament, it is at the centre of the political system in Denmark, and is the supreme legislative body, operating within the confines of the constitution. The Prime Minister is drawn from parliament through the application of the Danish parliamentary principle (a majority must not exist in opposition to the government), and this process is also generally the case for the government also. The government is answerable to parliament through the principle of parliamentary control (question hour, general debates and the passing of resolutions or motions). Ministers can be questioned by members of Parliament regarding specific government policy matters.

General debates on broader issues of government policy may also be held in parliament and may also be followed by a motion of "no-confidence". The opposition rarely requests motions of no-confidence, as the government is usually certain of its majority; however, government policy is often discussed in the plenary assembly of Parliament. Since 1953, the year that marked the reform of the Danish constitution, parliament has been unicameral.


With the implementation of the first democratic constitution in 1849, Denmark's legislature was constituted as a bicameral parliament, or Rigsdag, composed of Folketinget (a lower house of commoners) and Landstinget (an upper house containing lords, landowners and industrialists).[8] With the constitutional reform of 1953 the Landstinget was abolished, leaving only Folketinget.

1943 dissolution of government

During the occupation of Denmark during the Second World War, on 29 August 1943, the German authorities dissolved the Danish government following the refusal of that government to crack down on unrest to the satisfaction of the German plenipotentiary. The cabinet resigned in 1943 and suspended operations (although the resignation was never accepted by King Christian X).[9]—all day-to-day business had been handed over to the Permanent Secretaries, each effectively running his own ministry. The Germans administered the rest of the country, and the Danish Rigsdag did not convene for the remainder of the occupation[10] until a new one was formed following the liberation on 5 May 1945.


The Folketing is composed of 179 seats, of which two are reserved for the Faroe Islands and two for Greenland. The remaining 175 seats are taken up by MPs from elected in Denmark. All 179 seats are contested in elections held at least every four years and in the present parliament, all seats are taken up by members belonging to a political party.

All parties receiving more than 2% of the votes are represented in parliament. Comparatively, this is quite low; in Sweden the minimum level of support necessary for getting into parliament is 4%. Often, this has led to the representation of many parties in parliament, and correspondingly complex or unstable government majorities. However, during the last decade the political system has been one of stable majorities and rather long government tenures.

Proportional representation and elections

Denmark does not use a first-past-the-post voting system based on constituencies. Instead a system of constituency based proportional representation as well as a system of allotment is indirectly prescribed in the constitution, ensuring a balanced distribution of the 179 seats. 135 members are elected by proportional majority in constituencies while the remaining 40 seats are allotted in proportion to the total number of votes a party or list receives. The Faroe Islands and Greenland elect two members each.

All parties and lists receiving more than 2% of the total vote are guaranteed parliamentary representation. As a consequence of the system, the number of votes required to be elected to parliament varies across the country; it generally requires fewer votes to be elected in the capital, Copenhagen, than it does being elected in less populous areas. The participation of the electorate in general elections normally lies above 85%.

 Summary of the 18 June 2015 Parliament of Denmark election results[11][12][13]
Parties Leaders Votes Seats
# % ± # ±
Denmark proper
Social Democrats (Socialdemokraterne) (A) Helle Thorning-Schmidt 925,288 26.3 Increase 1.5 47 Increase 3
Danish People's Party (Dansk Folkeparti) (O) Kristian Thulesen Dahl 741,173 21.1 Increase 8.8 37 Increase 15
Liberals (Venstre, Danmarks Liberale Parti) (V) Lars Løkke Rasmussen 684,223 19.5 Decrease 7.2 34 Decrease 13
Red-Green Alliance (Enhedslisten) (Ø) Collective leadership 273,870 7.8 Increase 1.1 14 Increase 2
Liberal Alliance (Liberal Alliance) (I) Anders Samuelsen 264,449 7.5 Increase 2.5 13 Increase 4
The Alternative (Alternativet) (Å) Uffe Elbæk 168,585 4.8 New 9 New
Danish Social Liberal Party (Det Radikale Venstre) (B) Morten Østergaard 160,672 4.6 Decrease 4.5 8 Decrease 9
Socialist People's Party (Socialistisk Folkeparti) (F) Pia Olsen Dyhr 148,027 4.2 Decrease 5.0 7 Decrease 9
Conservative People's Party (Det Konservative Folkeparti) (C) Søren Pape Poulsen 118,015 3.4 Decrease 1.5 6 Decrease 2
Christian Democrats (Kristendemokraterne) (K) Stig Grenov 29,148 0.8 Steady 0 0 Steady 0
Candidates without parties 3,027 0.2 Increase 0.1 0 Steady 0
Blue Alliance (O, V, I, C, K) Lars Løkke Rasmussen 1,837,008 51.7 Increase 1.9 90 Increase 4
Red Alliance (A, Ø, Å, B, F) Helle Thorning-Schmidt 1,676,442 47.1 Decrease 3.1 85 Decrease 4
Invalid votes 40,068
Subtotal(Turnout: 85.8% – electorate: 4,145,321) 3,556,545 100.0 175
Faroe Islands
Republic (Tjóðveldi) (E) Høgni Hoydal 5,730 24.5 Increase 5.1 1 Increase 1
Social Democratic Party (Javnaðarflokkurin) (C) Aksel V. Johannesen 5,666 24.3 Increase 3.3 1 Steady 0
Union Party (Sambandsflokkurin) (B) Kaj Leo Johannesen 5,500 23.5 Decrease 7.3 0 Decrease 1
People's Party (Fólkaflokkurin) (A) Jørgen Niclasen 4,368 18.7 Decrease 0.3 0 Steady 0
Progress (Framsókn) (F) Poul Michelsen 749 3.2 New 0 New
Centre Party (Miðflokkurin) (H) Jenis av Rana 605 2.6 Decrease 1.6 0 Steady 0
Self-Government Party (Sjálvstýrisflokkurin) (D) Jógvan Skorheim 403 1.6 Decrease 0.7 0 Steady 0
Candidates without parties 345 1.5 Decrease 1.8 0 Steady 0
Invalid votes 210
Subtotal(Turnout: 65.6% – electorate: 35,614) 23,576 100.0 2
Inuit Community (Inuit Ataqatigiit) (IA) Sara Olsvig 7,904 38.5 Decrease 4.2 1 Steady 0
Forward (Siumut) (S) Kim Kielsen 7,831 38.2 Increase 1.1 1 Steady 0
Democrats (Demokraatit) (D) Anda Uldum 1,753 8.5 Increase 4.1 0 Steady 0
Feeling of Community (Atassut) (A) Knud Kristiansen 1,526 7.4 Decrease 0.1 0 Steady 0
Partii Naleraq (PN) Hans Enoksen 962 4.7 New 0 New
Invalid votes 538
Subtotal(Turnout: 50.0% – electorate: 41,048) 20,514 100.0 2
Blue Alliance (O, V, I, C, K) Lars Løkke Rasmussen 1,837,008 51.0 Increase 1.7 90 Increase 3
Red Alliance (A, Ø, Å, B, F, Tjóðveldi, Javnaðarflokkurin, Inuit Ataqatigiit, Siumut) Helle Thorning-Schmidt 1,703,573 47.3 Decrease 2.9 89 Decrease 3
Total(Turnout: 85.3% – electorate: 4,221,983) 3,600,635 100.0 179

All turnout figures include invalid votes, subtotals and totals exclude invalid votes

Judicial system

Denmark has an independent and highly professional judiciary.[14] Unlike the vast majority of civil servants, Danish judges are appointed directly by the Monarch.[15] However, since the constitution ensures the independence of the judiciary from Government and Parliament in providing that judges shall only take into account the laws of the country (i.e., acts, statutes and practices),[16] the procedure on appointments is only a formality.

Until 1999 appointment of judges was the responsibility of the Ministry of Justice, which was also charged with the overall administration of the justice system. On accusations of nepotism and in-group bias, the Ministry in 1999 set up two autonomous boards: the Judicial Appointments Council and the Danish Courts Administration, responsible for court appointments and administration, respectively.[17][18]


The Danish Parliamentary Ombudsman, Jørgen Steen Sørensen,[19] is a lawyer who is elected by parliament to act as a watchdog over the government by inspecting institutions under government control, focusing primarily on the protection of citizens' rights.[20] The Ombudsman frequently inspects places where citizens are deprived of their personal freedom, including prisons and psychiatric hospitals.[19] While the Ombudsman has no power to personally act against the government, he or she can ask the courts to take up cases where the government might be violating Danish law.

The Ombudsman can criticize the government after an inspection and bring matters to public attention, and the government can choose to act upon or ignore his/her criticism, with whatever costs it might have towards the voters and the parliament

Domestic and foreign relations

Danish Realm

Main article: Danish Realm

Iceland, Greenland, and the Faroe Islands used to be colonies of Denmark. The Danish–Icelandic Act of Union (1918) changed the status of Iceland into that of a kingdom in personal union with Denmark. Iceland remained subordinate to Denmark until independence in 1944 amidst World War II. In the nineteenth century Greenland and the Faroe Islands were given the status of counties, and their own legislatures were disbanded, becoming integral parts of a unitary state.[21] They later gained home rule; the Faroe Islands in 1948 and Greenland in 1979.[21]

Today Greenland and the Faroe Islands are effectively self-governing in regards to domestic affairs,[21] with their own legislatures and executives. However, the devolved legislatures are subordinate to the Folketing where the two territories are represented by two seats each. This state of affairs is referred to as the rigsfælleskab. In 2009 Greenland received greater autonomy in the form of "self-rule".

Foreign policy

Under former Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Denmark supported many of the United States' foreign policies

Danish foreign policy is based on its identity as a sovereign nation in Europe. As such its primary foreign policy focus is on its relations with other nations as a sovereign independent nation. It is a member of NATO and the European Union; membership in the latter organization has brought forward questions regarding the sovereignty of Denmark and its parliament.

Greenland and the Faroe Islands have been guaranteed a say in foreign policy issues such as fishing, whaling, and geopolitical concerns.

See also


  1. 1 2 3 Government of Denmark (2011). "About Denmark > Government & Politics". Retrieved 2011-12-28.
  2. Corruption Perceptions Index 2012 from Transparency International
  3. The Danish Monarchy (2011). "Her Majesty The Queen Margrethe 2". The Danish Monarchy. Retrieved 2012-01-12.
  4. 1 2 3 The Danish Monarchy (2011). "The Monarchy today". The Danish Monarchy.
  5. Gunther, Richard; José R. Montero; Juan José Linz (2002-05-16). Political Parties: Old Concepts and New Challenges. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-924674-8.
  6. Denmark.; Bent Rying (1970). Denmark: An Official Handbook (14th ed.). Copenhagen: Krak. ISBN 978-87-7225-011-3.
  7. "Section 14". Constitution of Denmark. ICL. Retrieved 6 September 2012.
  8. Dickinson, Reginald (1890). "Denmark". Summary of the Constitution and Procedure of Foreign Parliaments. Vacher & sons. pp. 34–45.
  9. Kaarsted, Tage (1976) De danske ministerier 1929–1953 (Danish). Pensionsforsikringsanstalten, p. 220. ISBN 87-17-05104-5.
  10. Jørgen Hæstrup (1979), "Departementschefstyret" in Hæstrup, Jørgen; Kirchhoff, Hans; Poulsen, Henning; Petersen, Hjalmar (eds.) Besættelsen 1940–45 (Danish). Politiken, p. 109. ISBN 87-567-3203-1.
  11. http://www.valg-2015.dk/valgresultat-valg-2015/
  12. http://kvf.fo/greinar/2015/06/18/tjodveldi-og-javnadarflokkurin-storstir
  13. http://qinersineq.gl/
  14. Domstolsstyrelsen (2009-03-20). "The Danish judicial system". domstol.dk. Retrieved 2012-01-13.
  15. Danmarks Domstole (2010). A Closer Look at the Courts of Denmark (PDF). Copenhagen: The Danish Court Administration. ISBN 978-87-92551-14-6. Retrieved 2012-01-13.
  16. "The administration of justice shall always remain independent of the executive power. Rules to this effect shall be laid down by Statute..." The Constitution of Denmark – Sections/Articles 62 and 64.
  17. "The Judical Appointments Council". Danmarks Domstole. Retrieved 24 October 2016.
  18. Domstolsstyrelsen (2009-03-20). "The Danish Court Administration". domstol.dk. Retrieved 2012-01-13.
  19. 1 2 Folketingets Ombudsmand. "The Danish Parliamentary Ombudsman". Retrieved 2012-11-29.
  20. Gøtze, Michael (2010). "The Danish ombudsman A national watchdog with selected preferences". Utrecht Law Review. 6 (1): 33–50.
  21. 1 2 3 The unity of the Realm – Statsministeriet – stm.dk. Retrieved 31 August 2012.
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