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Politics of Denmark

The Politics of Denmark takes place in a framework of a parliamentary, representative democratic, constitutional monarchy, in which the Prime Minister is the head of government, and of a multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government, with the prime minister acting as primus inter pares. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the Danish Parliament, Folketinget.

Political forces

Denmark has a multi-party system and no single party has held an absolute majority in the Folketing since the beginning of the 20th century. Since only four post-war governments have enjoyed a majority in parliament, government bills rarely become law without negotiations and compromise with both supporting and opposition parties. Hence the Danish parliament 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.

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.

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

Monarchy

Queen Margrethe II (Margrethe Alexandrine Þórhildur Ingrid), born 16 April 1940, is since 14 January 1972 Queen Regnant and head of state.

Accordant to the Danish Constitution the Danish Monarch, as head of state, is the theoretical source of all executive, judicial and legislative power. However, since the introduction of parliamentary sovereignty in 1901 a de facto separation of powers has been in effect.

The Monarch retains the ability to deny giving a bill royal assent as well as choosing and dismissing the Prime Minister, although in modern times this becomes increasingly more unlikely, as it would cause a constitutional crisis. King Christian X was the last Monarch to exercise the power of dismissal on his own will, which he did so on March 28, 1920 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.

Today the Sovereign has an essentially ceremonial role restricted in exercise of power by convention and public opinion. However the monarch does continue to exercise three essential rights: the right to be consulted, the right to advise and the right to warn. As a consequence of these ideals, the Prime Minister and Cabinet attends the regular meeting of the Council of State.

However, the real powers of position of the monarch in the Danish constitution should not be downplayed. The Monarch does indeed retain some power, but it has to be used with discretion. She fulfils the necessary constitutional role as head of state, and acts as a final check on executive power. If a time came to pass, for instance, when a law threatened the freedom or security of her subjects, the queen could decline Royal Assent, free as she is from the eddies of party politics and prosecution.

Executive

The Government performs the executive functions of the Kingdom. In appointing the Prime Minister, the Monarch consults the will of the people, represented by parliamentary leaders, in determining who should hold the office. As always, the person who has the broadest support from the members of parliament is chosen by the Monarch and confirmed by a vote of confidence by the Folketing. However, before the parliamentary confirmation, the Prime Minister-elect together with the leaders of his coalition partners selects the other Ministers which make up the Governments and acts as political heads of the various government departments. Cabinet members are occasionally recruited from outside the Folketing.

Since 27 November 2001, the economist Anders Fogh Rasmussen has been Prime Minister to Denmark.

As known in other parliamentary systems of government, the executive, i.e. the Government, is answerable to the Folketing. Under the Danish constitution, no government may exist with a majority against it, as opposed to the more common rule of government needing a majority for it. It is because of this rule, Denmark often sees minority governments.

Government departments

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 Ministry is the secretariat to the Minister. Its functions comprises overall planning, development and strategic guidance on the entire area of responsibility of the Minister. The Ministers' decisions are carried out by the permanent and politically neutral civil service within the Ministry. Unlike some democracies, senior civil servants remain in post upon a change of Government. The head of the ministry civil servants is the Permanent Secretary. The majority of civil servants in fact work in executive agencies which are separate operational organizations reporting to the Minister.

Also the Minister has his own private secretariat as well as communications personnel. Unlike normal civil servants, the communication staff is partisan and do not remain in their posts upon changes of Government.

Legislative

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 and ultimate legislative body answerable to no one. The Prime Minister and the Government in general draws from it, as well as being answerable to it. The Folketing has since 1953 been unicameral.

History – in short

With the implementation of the first democratic constitution in 1849, Denmark was given a bicameral parliament, known as the Rigsdag, consisting of the Folketing (a house of commons) and the Landsting (a house of lords, landowners and industrials). With the constitutional reform of 1953 the Landsting was abolished leaving only a 179 member Folketing to take its place.

Composition

The Folketing is composed of 179 seats, whereof 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 the Folketing. 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 the Folketing, and correspondingly complex/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 elects 2 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 more votes to be elected in the capital of Copenhagen than it does being elected in less populous areas. The voting system ensures a multi-party parliament with currently seven parties represented in the Folketing. The Prime Minister's liberal party received 29% of the total vote in the 2005 general elections, making it the largest party with 52 seats. The smallest party in parliament is the Red-Green Alliance which received 3.4% of the total vote, equivalent to 6 seats.

The participation of the electorate in general elections normally lies above 85%.

Political Parties

Denmark has a multiparty system with currently seven parties represented in parliament. The four oldest and in history most influential parties are the Conservative People's Party, the Social-Democratic Party, the Liberal Party and the Social-Liberal Party. However, demographics have been in favor of other and younger parties, which has led to a constant process of policy development and gradual renewal amongst, but not limited to, the four old parties.

None of the 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 as well as 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.

Elections

Judiciary

Denmark has an independent and highly professional judiciary. Unlike the vast majority of civil servants, Danish judges are appointed directly by the Monarch. 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, statues and practices), the procedure on appointments is only a formality. Until 1999 appointment of judges was a de facto responsibility of the Ministry of Justice, who, as well, was charged with the overall administration of the justice system. On accusations of nepotism and in-group bias, the Ministry in 1999 setup two quasi-autonomous non-governmental organizations responsible for appointments and administration. Judges may only be removed from office on grounds of gross misconduct or lasting physical or psychological illnesses.

Notes

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