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Political Overview


Denmark is a constitutional monarchy and is among the world’s most politically stable democracies. The Constitution dates from 1849, when the King renounced absolutism. The latest and most comprehensive amendments to the Constitution date from 1953. The current monarch, Queen Margrethe II, nominally rules through the Prime Minister and his Cabinet. The Prime Minister is accountable to the Folketing, Denmark’s unicameral parliament. The Queen “chooses” the Prime Minister based on recommendations from the leaders of political parties. The monarch can, on rare occasions, grant pardons; judicial power rests solely with the courts. Denmark has a history of minority coalition governments. The Parliament is elected for a four-year term and has 179 members. Greenland and the Faeroe Islands, home rule territories of the Danish realm, have two Members of Parliament each among the total 179 members. Parliamentary elections are often held before the full four-year terms are up, either because the Government is toppled in a “vote of no confidence” or because the Prime Minister calls an election to improve the ruling coalition’s parliamentary position.

Voter participation in general and municipal elections frequently exceeds 80%. Cabinet ministers need not be members of Parliament. Ministers have no political Deputy Ministers or Secretaries of State as in other parliamentary democracies. Rather, they have a Permanent Under Secretary (in some instances more than one), who is the highest-ranking civil servant within the ministry. There are very few political appointees among the civil servants, who remain largely unaffected by changes of government. Four Danish political parties have a parliamentary history of 80 years or longer. Political parties play a much greater role in Danish politics than they do in the United States.

Parliamentary seats are allocated following elections based on proportional representation. Members of Parliament strongly represent their political party’s policies and are supported by their constituents based on the party platform. Members of Parliament do not have staffs provided by the state (nor, for that matter, do parliamentary committees), only secretarial assistance. As a result, Danish parliamentarians must rely on their parties for support and technical expertise on legislative issues. Party discipline, as a consequence, is very tight.

For more information on the Danish political system and current situation: