5.1 General context
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Denmark has no main concepts related to youth participation.
Institutions of representative democracy
Denmark is a constitutional monarchy, which means that the power of the monarch is limited by the the Danish constitution (grundloven). The Danish constitution is the most important piece of legislation in Denmark, and all other laws must comply with it.
Denmark has three levels of government:
- The national level (the monarch, the parliament (legislative power), the government (executive power) and the courts (judicial power)
- Regional level
- Municipal level
The reigning monarch in Denmark
The reigning monarch, Queen Margrethe II has no political power. She does not interfere in political life or express political opinions. However, she does perform certain official functions related to political life, such as attending the opening of the Danish parliament, signing bills that have been passed in parliament and formally appointing the prime minister.
The Parliament in Denmark
The Danish parliament is called Folketinget. It is the legislative assembly in Denmark. The four major tasks and responsibilities of the Danish parliament are to pass bills, to exercise control over the government, to adopt the state budget, and to take part in international cooperation.
The parliament has 179 members, of which two are elected on the Faroe Islands and two in Greenland.
The Presidium of the Danish Parliament
The Presidium of the Danish Parliament is the supreme authority of the Danish parliament. It comprises a speaker and up to four deputy speakers, who are elected by the parliament at the beginning of the parliamentary year or after a general election. The chief task of the Presidium is to make sure that the work of the Danish parliament is organised and performed in a satisfactory manner. This includes ensuring that parliamentary regulations are complied with, both when it comes to political work in committees and in the chamber and when it comes to the administrative work of the parliament.
Parliamentary committees in Denmark
The chamber of the Danish parliament is where members of parliament (MPs) debate political issues and vote on bills. The committees are where these decisions are prepared. Each committee has its own political sphere of work, called a remit. A committee exercises parliamentary scrutiny and handles bills and motions or proposals within its remit.
As of 2023, the Danish parliament has 38 committees.
As a rule, the parties are represented in the committees in proportion to their size in parliament.
The government in Denmark
The government exercises executive power and governs the country in accordance with the laws enacted by the parliament. The Danish government normally comprises about 20 ministers and is headed by the prime minister.
The prime minister determines the composition of the government with respect to the number of ministers and their remits. Each minister has a specific area of responsibility: the minister for the environment is responsible for environmental issues, the minister for taxation is responsible for matters involving taxation, and so on. Ministerial responsibilities are relatively fixed, but sometimes ministries are combined or remits are changed. The prime minister can also appoint new ministers for policy areas that the government considers particularly important.
In the majority of cases, ministers are members of parliament, but this is not a requirement. If a minister is appointed who is not an MP, the minister may, of course, speak in the chamber during debates, but is not entitled to vote.
The Danish system of government is known as negative parliamentarianism, which means that the government does not need to have a majority in the parliament – but it must not have a majority against it. If there is a majority against it, the government must resign. The system of negative parliamentarianism means that Denmark can be run by a minority government. In fact, most Danish governments have been minority governments, where the government parties have held less than 90 of the 179 seats in parliament.
Aside from the control carried out by the Danish parliament, Danish ministries and ministers are subject to supervision by the Courts of Denmark, the National Audit Office of Denmark, and the Danish Parliamentary Ombudsman.
Courts of Denmark
The Danish courts are composed of the Supreme Court, the two high courts, the Maritime and Commercial Court, the Land Registration Court, 24 district courts, the Appeals Permission Board, the Special Court of Indictment and Revision, the Danish Judicial Appointments Council, and the Danish Court Administration.
Among other powers, the courts are authorised to rule on whether the decisions of the executive branch (the government) are in accordance with the law, and whether the laws enacted by the parliament are in accordance with the Constitutional Act.
The Supreme Court is the highest judicial body for Denmark. As the country’s highest court, it must contribute to clarification in cases where the state of the law is unclear. The Supreme Court is also within the statutory framework responsible for the development of the law.
The Court of Impeachment (Rigsretten) is authorised to rule on whether a minister has violated the rules that apply to the minister’s office, the Constitutional Act, or legislation in general. Only the parliament or the government can demand a trial in the Court of Impeachment, which has only happened six times since 1849 – most recently in 2021.
The National Audit Office
The National Audit Office (Rigsrevisionen) is an independent institution placed under the parliament. The National Audit Office determines whether the public accounts are correct (financial audit). The National Audit Office also examines whether government-funded agencies and enterprises comply with current laws and regulations (compliance audit) and whether the administration has a focus on economy, efficiency, and effectiveness (performance audit).
The Danish Parliamentary Ombudsman
The Danish Parliamentary Ombudsman is elected by the parliament. The ombudsman investigates complaints about public administration. The jurisdiction of the ombudsman extends to all parts of public administration, except for the courts. If any deficiencies in existing laws or administrative regulations come to the attention of the ombudsman in particular cases, he or she must notify the parliament and the responsible minister.
The regional level in Denmark
Denmark is divided into five regions (regioner).
The main task of the regions is administering and setting the frames for the health services in Denmark (somatic hospital service, health insurance, mental health treatment, practice sector).
Furthermore, the regions perform tasks concerning regional development (including business promotion, education, culture, the environment, public transport) and social services and special education (especially the operation of institutions for exposed groups).
The council is the top-level regional authority. Each regional council has 41 members elected by the citizens in the region. A chairman and two vice chairmen are elected by and among the 41 council members. The chairman is elected with a simple majority vote among the present members.
The regional council must set up a business committee or finance committee and can choose to set up permanent committees like the municipalities do (see below). The business committee manages tasks relating to finances, budget, and accounts.
The municipal level in Denmark
Denmark is divided in 98 municipalities.
The municipalities are responsible for the close-to-home welfare, such as public schools, unemployment services, care for the elderly, child care, social services, integration, etc.
The municipalities are governed by a municipal council, which is the top-level municipal authority. The chair of the municipal council is the mayor. The mayor is elected in the council’s constituent meeting but does not have a greater say than the other members. The mayor is elected by simple majority among the members present.
The municipal council must set up a finance committee and at least one permanent committee. Normally, there are four to six permanent committees (e.g. the technical and environmental committee, children and youth committee, culture and leisure committee, and employment committee).
The local council members are elected for 4 years.
Main legal principles concerning elections in Denmark
According to the Danish constitution, general elections must be held at least once every 4 years. The prime minister is responsible for calling a general election before the electoral period expires (i.e. within 4 years), but an election may also be called earlier at the prime minister’s discretion.
In Denmark, it is voluntary to vote, and the voting is cast either by secret ballot on election day or by advance voting before election day.
Voters will receive a polling card by post well in advance of election day. The polling card will tell them when and where to vote.
Voters hand in their polling cards at the polling station and receive a long ballot paper listing the names of the parties and the candidates running for election. The ballot is secret and votes are cast in polling booths so that nobody can see who people vote for.
Voters mark the ballot paper with an X beside the name of a person or a party.
An alternative to voting in person is advance voting. An advance vote must be cast prior to election day, either at the municipal citizen service centre or at other appointed public institutions. It is also possible to vote from hospital if a voter is hospitalised, from prisons, nursing homes, or from one’s home if a voter is sick or physically unable to leave the home. Prior to voting from home, the voter must have applied to the municipality. Advance votes from abroad can be cast at Danish embassies and must be cast well in advance for them to reach the municipalities in Denmark before election day.
Parties that win very few votes will not be represented in the parliament. There is a lower limit, an election threshold, of 2% to the number of votes a party must win to be elected to the parliament. However, if the party has won a constituency seat, the party will enter the parliament nonetheless. In practice, this is extremely rare.
Due to the low election threshold, Denmark has a multi-party system with a relatively large number of parties in the Danish parliament.
As of 2022, the following political parties are represented in the Danish parliament.
- The Social Democratic Party
- The Liberal Party
- The Moderates
- The Green Left
- The Denmark Democrats
- The Liberal Alliance
- The Conservative Party
- The Red-Green Alliance
- The Social Liberal Party
- The New Right
- The Alternative
- The Danish People's Party
- Inuit Ataqatigiit