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Les réformes de politiques publiques au Danemark

Auteur : Pr. Phd Helle Krunke

I. General presentation - Denmark

Official name: Kingdom of Denmark (Kongeriget Danmark)

A. Geographic, Demographic and Economic Data on Denmark

 Geographic data

  • Area: 42 916 km2 (Greenland: 2 166 086 km2, Faroe Islands: 1 399 km2)
  • Coastline: 7 314 km.
  • Capital: Copenhagen (population: 1 268 million – 2015)
  • Important cities: Aarhus, Odense, Aalborg
  • Official language: Danish
  • Currency: Danish Kroner (DKK), EUR/DKK exchange rate: 7.4597 (13 October 2015)
  • National Day: Constitution Day (Grundlovsdag), 5 June (1849)

Demographic data

  • Population: 5 659 715 (1 January 2015) (Greenland: 56 370, Faroe Islands: 49 709)
  • Density: 130,5 citizens/km2
  • Population growth rate: 0,22% (2015)
  • Fertility rate: 1.73 children born/woman (2015)
  • Life expectancy at birth: 81.9 for women(2013), 78 for men (2013)
  • Literacy rate: 99%
  • Religion: Evangelical Lutheran (official) 80%, Muslim 4%, other (denominations of less than 1% each, includes Roman Catholic, Jehovah’s Witness, Serbian Orthodox Christian, Jewish Baptist, and Buddhist) 16% (2012)
  • Human Development Index: 0.900 ranked 10 in the world (2014)

Economic data

  • GDP: 1 921.5 billion DKK (2014)
  • GDP per capita: 340 500 DKK (2014)
  • Growth rate: +1 % (2014)
  • Unemployment rate: 6.5 % (2014)
  • Inflation rate: +0.6 % (2014)
  • Public debt: 45.2 % of GDP (2014)
  • Trade balance: 119.7 billion DKK (2014)
  • Principal trading partners:
  • Export: Germany 17.3%, Sweden 12.4%, UK 8.9%, Norway 6.2%, Netherlands 4.7% (2013)
  • Import: Germany 21.3%, Sweden 13.2%, Netherlands 7.8%, Norway 6.8%, China 6%, UK 5.4 (2013)
  • Composition by sector of origin, by percentage of GDP: Agriculture: 1.3%, Industry: 21.2%, Services: 77.5% (2014)
  • Current account balance: 34.6 billion DKK (2014) 

B. Political System

Denmark is a unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy. Queen Margrethe II is the monarch of Denmark. The monarchs role in Danish politics is, however, largely ceremonial and symbolic. Even though this is widely acknowledged to be true, the monarch still formally holds a variety of competencies. For example the monarch is responsible for appointing and naming the Prime Minister and the other Ministers and she is responsible for signing and validating new legislation (section 14 of the Constitution).

The Constitutional Act of the Kingdom of Denmark (Grundloven) was adopted 5 June 1849 (for an English version see The Constitution enshrines the principle of tripartition of the power and rests upon human rights and democratic values. 

Legislative Branch

The Parliament (Folketinget) is in conjunction with the King (the Government) entrusted with the power of legislation (§ 3 of the Constitution). This means that the Folketing has the power to propose laws in conjunction with the Government and to put them to a vote. The Government is therefore not able to enact laws without passing them in the Parliament in accordance with the procedure laid out in § 41 of the Constitution. This has been the uncontended balance of the legislative power since 1901. Until then, the royally controlled Ministers would pass provisional laws without reading them in the Parliament. As a consequence of this period the principle of negative parliamentarism was introduced in 1901.

The Parliament exerts control over the Government (Regeringen), mainly by being able to impeach any Minister with whom it has lost its confidence (§ 15 of the Constitution). It has been a withstanding discussion whether the Parliament through parliamentary decisions and such is able to legally obligate the Government to pursue certain policies. This is in particular the case of areas formally covered by the governmental prerogatives as will be mentioned in the following section. 

The Parliament has been unicameral since the constitutional amendment of 1953. The Danish Parliament is composed of 179 members. 175 MPs are elected from Denmark, 2 from Greenland and 2 from the Faroe Islands. The MP’s are elected for four year terms, but the Prime Minister ultimately possesses the competence to determine the timing of Parliamentary elections, which is why earlier elections may and often do occur.

Executive Branch

The executive authority is historically connected to the King. The wording of the Constitution underscores this point. However, the King or Queen of Denmark has not since 1920 made any substantial effort in terms of using any of his/her constitutional competencies. Thus for a long period of time the monarch has effectively let the Government carry out the executive authority. The Government has the responsibility to ensure the effective application of the laws.

The Government is at all times responsible to the Parliament. As previously stated any particular Minister as well as the whole Government may be impeached by the Parliament, if the Parliament can establish a majority stating its distrust of the Minister or Government. This principle marks the parliamentary boundary to the executive authority of the Government.

Notwithstanding the parliamentary control, the Government controls a number of specific prerogatives. Among these prerogatives are the general authority in all matters that isn’t constitutionally placed under any other authority (see § 12 of the Constitution), the appointment and dismissal of Ministers and the general organizing of the Government (see § 14 of the Constitution) and the competency to act on behalf of Denmark in international affairs, with some modifications allowing the Parliament to veto major decisions or actions of war (see § 19 of the Constitution). The general theoretical conception has been that the Parliament on matters relating to the prerogatives is without competence to give the Government legally binding instructions. However, still there is an ongoing discussion as to whether this applies to some of the prerogatives. One of the more substantial discussions is whether the Parliament effectively can oblige the Government to pursue certain policies in matters of international affairs.

Recent political events have raised a debate about the Ministers’ obligations to truthfully, openly and sufficiently inform the Parliament about relevant matters of political importance. This debate culminated in the summer of 2014 as the former Minister of Justice were forced to resign after receiving heavy criticism after concealing the truth about a cancellation of a political excursion to Christiania and instead telling a lie about the reasons for the cancellation. The real reason for the cancellation was that the Department of Justice received intelligence indicating an immediate danger to one of the participants of the excursion. The Minister therefore excused the lie as being one of emergency. This notion of “emergency lies” was denied by the later appointed Committee on the Follow-up of the Christiania-case.

Judicial Branch

The judicial authority lies with the courts and tribunals of Denmark. The judicial system of Denmark consists first and foremost of 24 District Courts (Byretterne), 2 High Courts (Østre og Vestre Landsret) and the Supreme Court (Højesteret). Moreover there is a number of specialized courts, namely the Maritime and Commercial court (Sø- og Handelsretten), the Land Registration court (Tinglysningsretten) and the Special Court of Indictment and Revision (Den Særlige Klageret).

Most cases will be tried in a District Court or in one of the special courts, if the subject of the case concerns one of their areas of expertise. Any case may be tried in at least two different courts. However, only cases that raise significant legal issues or are generally of public interest will be appealable to the Supreme Court. Whether a case raises issues of legal merit or concerns matters of great public interest allowing it to be appealed to the Supreme Court is determined by the Appeals Permission Board.

The courts are independent from the Government and the Parliament both functionally and individually. Every judge is individually protected against dismissals and other changes of employment conditions from the Government and/or the Parliament. A judge can only be dismissed by a judgement of the Special Court of Indictment and Revision, see § 64 of the Constitution. The judicial system is furthermore functionally independent from the Government and the Parliament in the sense that no Minister or MP can interfere in an ongoing case. The independence was strengthened with the reform of the judicial system in 1999 especially with the introduction of The Danish Court Administrations. Up until then the appointment of judges were primarily done in the Department of Justice. With the reform the appointment was moved to the Court Administration. Where the Court Administration is formally and structurally placed under the Department of Justice, the Minister of Justice has no instructive power towards the Court Administration. 

The judicial authority encompasses the power of judicial review of legislation. This includes the ability to nullify legislation as unconstitutional. This competency of the courts is relatively newly founded, as it was first established and practiced in 1999 in the Supreme Court ruling of the so called “Tvind”-case (UfR 1999.841 H). The case concerned a law enacted by the Parliament that exempted a certain list of independent schools (the Tvind-schools) from public funding as a consequence of distrust from the Ministry of Education. The law unequivocally barred these schools to try their entitlement to funding at the courts.  By that reasoning the Supreme Court found that the Parliament had reached beyond their power as legislator and effectively decided a concrete case, violating the tripartition of power.

More information on the Danish judicial system can be accessed here:

Current political situation (October 2015)

As a result of the parliamentary election of 18 June 2015 Denmark got a new Prime Minister and a new administration lead by Lars Løkke Rasmussen of Venstre, the liberal party of Denmark. Venstre was able to form a majority in the Parliament backing Lars Løkke Rasmussen as Prime Minister even though Venstre ended up being only the third biggest party after the Social Democrats and the Danish Peoples Party.

C. Denmark’s Administrative Organization

Denmark is governed and administrated on multiple levels. The main administrative organs are found in the central administration, containing the ministerial departments and the ministerial agencies. In these bodies the overall management of the country is performed. Furthermore the central administration will oversee the regional and municipal authorities as they perform their administrational responsibilities.

Apart from the central administration, Denmark is divided into 5 regions (Regioner): Capital Region of Denmark, Region Zealand, Region of Southern Denmark, Central Denmark Region, and North Denmark Region. The main responsibilities of the regions are the running of the health care system, special educations and social institutions. The regions are organized by a regional council that decides matters of the mentioned areas of administration. The council is elected for a four year term and must appoint a chairperson for the regional council by majority vote among the elected council members.

Every region contains a varying number of municipalities (Kommuner). In total there are 98 municipalities in Denmark. The responsibilities of the municipalities are mainly focused on the general management of the local community with exceptions to the tasks of the regions. The municipalities are similar to the regions organized by a local council elected for four year terms and appointing a mayor among the members of the local council. The day of election is always the same as the day of election for regional councils.

For more information about the regions and municipalities see:

II. Denmark’s Public Policy Reforms

On Constitution Day (5 June) 2015, Denmark celebrated the 100th anniversary for the constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote in 1915.

A. Recent Reforms

  • Access to Public Administration Files Act of 12 June 2013

The Act introduced a number of changes to the existing paradigm of public access to administration file; some areas were subject to a strengthened openness and transparency while other areas were undergoing limitations in terms of public access. The act widened the already existing principle of “extended openness”, but it also exempted files of internal information, documents shared between public authorities intended to serve a Minister and files on legislation that has not yet been read to the Parliament from public access.

A summary of the preparing Commission’s recommendations and draft of the act is found here:

B. Current or Planned Reforms

  • Citizens’ initiative in Denmark

During the summer the Danish political party Alternativet suggested that the people should be given the competence to propose new legislation directly to the Parliament. It was suggested that 50 000 citizens in unison should be able to propose legislation directly to the Parliament. As of October 2015 there has not been established a majority of the Parliament in favor of such an initiative. The three largest parties (The Social Democrats, Venstre and the Danish Peoples Party, 87 MP’s in total) are still opposed while all other parties (Alternativet, SF, Radikale Venstre and Liberal Alliance, 88 MP’s in total) are in favor except Konservative (4 MP’s) who aren’t decided on the matter.

  • Revision of the Accounts of Political Parties Act

The regulation on private contributions to political parties has been evaluated and a variety of recommendations have been published from the Committee on Transparency of Party Funding.  The conclusions of the Committee have not yet been subject to any political reactions, but they are pointing out some central problems in the existing regulation and are recommending certain reactions in order to improve the transparency of private funding and donations of political parties.

For a more comprehensive presentation see the English summary in chapter 10 of the Committee’s recommendations:


On matters relating the Constitutional balance of the powers:

  • Henrik Zahle, Dansk Forfatningsret I, 2001 DJØF Publishing, chapters 12, 13, 21 and 27.
  • Henrik Zahle, Dansk Forfatningsret II, 2007 Christian Ejlers’ Forlag, chapters 37, 40 and 49.
  • White Paper no. 1319 of 1996 of the Committee on Judicial Matters
  • White Paper no. 1550 of 2015 of the Committee on Transparency of Party Funding.
  • White Paper no. 1557 of 2015 of the Committee on the Follow-up of the Christiania-case.

 On economic data:

On geographic and demographic data:

  • Various statistics and information from Statistics 


Thanks to the research assistants Jens Christian Dalsgaard and Sofia Rasmussen for the contribution.

Comment citer :  Pr. Phd Helle Krunke , Les réformes de politique publique au Danemark, IMODEV (, année de consultation du site Internet, ISSN en cours. 

Pr. Phd Helle Krunke




Professor Dr. Helle Krunke is Professor of Constitutional Law and Head of Centre for Comparative and European Constitutional Studies (CECS) at the Faculty of Law, University of Copenhagen.

She is a member of the Executive Committee of the International Association of Constitutional Law (IACL).

Her research interests lie within Constitutional Law, Comparative Constitutional Law and EU Law with a specific focus on the interplay between these fields.

Her latest publications include:

  • Helle Krunke: ‘Case note the Danish Lisbon Case’ in European Constitutional Law Review, Cambridge University Press, 2014, pp. 542-570,
  • Martin Scheinin, Helle Krunke and Marina Aksenova (ed.): ‘Judges as Guardians of Constitutionalism and Human Rights’, Edward Elgar Publishing, 2016 (forthcoming)
  • Helle Krunke: ‘Sovereignty, constitutional identity, direct democracy? Direct democracy as a national strategy for upholding the nation state in EU integration’ in Jörg Gerkrath and Xenophon Contiades (ed.): ‘Participatory Constitutional Change: The people as amenders of the Constitution’, Ashgate Publishing, 2016 (forthcoming).

As regards IMODEV she has so far contributed with the following publications:  

  • Helle Krunke: ‘Open Government: Challenges arising from Europeanization and Internationalization’ in Irene Bouhadana, William Gilles and Iris Nguyen-Duy (ed.): ’Parliaments in the Open Government Era’, Les Éditions IMODEV, Paris, 2015,
  • Helle Krunke: ‘Freedom of information and open government in Denmark: Progress or deterioration?’ in Irene Bouhadana, William Gilles and Russel Weaver (ed.): ’Freedom of Information and Governmental Transparency in the Open Government Era’, Les Éditions IMODEV, Paris, 2016  (forthcoming).