Freedom in the World
With the drafting of a new EU constitution in 2003, Denmark had to rethink its often troubled relationship with the European Union. Danes had to weigh their skepticism of the EU against the isolation resulting from opting out of its provisions. On the domestic front, the most pressing issue was Denmark's strict immigration laws, which continued to create controversy.
Denmark has been a monarchy since the fourteenth century, but the monarch's power became ceremonial with the first democratic constitution, written in 1849. Denmark was occupied by Germany during World War II, but its sizable resistance movement earned it recognition as part of the Allied powers. In 1949, Denmark abandoned its traditional neutrality and joined NATO, and in 1973, it joined the European Economic Community, forerunner to the European Union. The current Danish constitution, which established a single-chamber parliament, was adopted in 1953.
After World War II, Denmark's politics were dominated by the Social Democrats. However, in the November 2001 elections, immigration became the main issue, and the results brought to power a right-of-center government. The ruling coalition of Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen's Liberal Party and the Conservative People's Party, which together hold 40 percent of the seats, is supported by the populist Danish People's Party (DPP). The DPP is in favor of withdrawing from the EU and reducing the number of immigrants in Denmark. Although it does not have mainstream Danish support, it does reflect more widespread fears of a threat to the Danish welfare system. Since the election, Denmark has passed a series of stricter immigration and asylum laws.
Denmark has always had a conflicted relationship to the European Union. When the Treaty of Maastricht was written in 1992, extending the EU's competence into justice, foreign, and monetary policy, Denmark's population rejected the treaty in a referendum. Since then, Denmark has opted out of participation in these areas. However, with the EU writing a new constitution in 2003, Denmark began to reconsider its position. Today, the population is slowly moving in favor of participating in EU defense and judicial cooperation, although support for the euro is less clear. The prime minister is committed to holding a referendum on both the new constitution and the "opt-outs" in 2004. Denmark has an active foreign policy that included troop deployments in 2003 to postwar Iraq and to Liberia.
Danes can change their government democratically. Denmark is a constitutional monarchy, in which Queen Margrethe II has mostly ceremonial duties. The 179 representatives are elected to the unicameral parliament, called the Folketing, at least once every four years in a system of modified proportional representation. Danish governments are most often minority administrations, governing with the aid of one or more supporting parties. Since 1909, no single party has held a majority of seats, helping create a tradition of interparty compromise.
The semiautonomous territories of Greenland and the Faeroes each have two representatives in the Folketing. They also have their own, elected, home rule governments that have power over almost all areas of governance. Greenland formed a new coalition government in September after the previous government had collapsed as a result of a budget scandal.
In the past, there was a concern that power no longer rested with elected representatives but with EU bureaucrats and pressure groups. However, the Power and Democracy Report, launched by the previous prime minister and released in October 2003, found that democracy in Denmark is robust and political institutions have adapted well to the global changes of the 1990s.
Levels of corruption in Denmark are very low. Transparency International rated Denmark second in the world in its 2003 Corruption Perceptions Index, as did the Institute for Public Relations in its 2003 International Index of Bribery for News Coverage.
Denmark's constitution guarantees freedom of expression. Danish 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.
Freedom of worship is guaranteed to all. 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. While 95 percent of the population belongs to the Church, membership and church attendance are on the decline, and Danes are widely disgruntled with the Church's basic teachings. In June, Pastor Thorkild Grosboell of Taarbeck was suspended for publicly stating that he does not believe in God, but the suspension was lifted in July. Academic freedom is ensured for all.
The constitution provides for freedom of assembly and association, and workers are free to organize. Rather than being controlled by legislation, the Danish labor market is mainly regulated by agreements between employers' and employees' organizations. If they cannot agree, however, the Folketing will pass laws. Membership in trade unions is around 80 percent.
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 queen on government recommendation. Torture is not defined as an offense in Danish law, and Denmark has thus been criticized, although there have not been reports of torture taking place. The Danish-based International Rehabilitation Center for Torture Victims was awarded the prestigious Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Award in September.
Discrimination is prohibited under Danish law. Although Denmark has not seen the kind of neo-Nazi movements that have emerged elsewhere in Scandinavia, human rights groups have noted an increase in hate speech in Denmark and in harassment of Muslims. The rise of the anti-immigrant Danish People's Party since its strong electoral showing in 2001 has sparked more public examination of the position in Denmark of citizens and residents of non-Danish descent. After Prime Minister Rasmussen complained in his 2003 New Year's speech of some Muslim imams preaching what he considered to be non-Danish values, the government agreed to form a committee to investigate continuing problems of integration of minorities in Denmark. In addition, members of Rasmussen's Liberal Party have called for a zero-tolerance policy on immigrant crime. More than half of all adults accused of a criminal act in Copenhagen were of foreign origin in 2002, even though immigrants account for just 17.6 percent of the city's population.
The Alien Act, which took effect in 2002, has continued a trend of tightening standards for granting asylum. It also decreased welfare for immigrants to well below the rate for most Danes, which has resulted in many families living below the poverty line. In September, the government agreed to relax restrictions on Danish citizens living in Denmark with their foreign-born spouses after considerable criticism from advocacy groups. Greenlanders are being actively discouraged from moving to Denmark through a new information campaign.
Danish law requires equal pay for equal work, but Danish men earn about 14 percent more than women in blue collar jobs and 20 percent more in professional positions, according to the Confederation of Danish Labor Unions and the Danish Employer Association. Part of the disparity is explained by differences in education level, experience, and work status, but the remainder is "inexplicable," the groups said when publishing their findings; this may be the result of discrimination or Denmark's sexually segregated job market. The number of women in management positions in county and local government rose in 2003.