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Danish Political and Social Affairs

Danes, as most other Scandinavians, tend to be liberal-minded people, and this outlook on life is reflected in our country's political and social affairs. The post-war development of Denmark has been one based on consensus, allowing the country to retain the best of its old world institutions while meeting all the demands of a modern democratic state. The result is a fusion of monarchy, democracy, and a market economy, underpinned by one of the most generous social welfare systems in the world.

 

Political system

Denmark is a constitutional monarchy, with the Queen fulfilling the role of head of state, and the government formed out of the parliament, or Folketing. Denmark has a unicameral (single chamber) parliament, with deputies elected through a system of proportional representation, though each member also represents a constituency. Four of the 179 Members of Parliament are elected from Greenland and the Faroe Islands. In general, Danish governments tend to be minority governments (not comprising a parliamentary majority), which means that Danish politics tends to be characterised by compromises among the various political parties. In the event that the Folketing passes a vote of no confidence in a government, the government must resign or call an election.

Under the terms of the Constitution, elections must be held every four years. If the distribution of seats after an election points clearly to a specific party or parties, the monarch appoints them to form the government. In the event of there being no clear result after an election, the Queen initiates a series of meetings at which  elected parties tend their advice to her. The Queen then appoints a royal investigator to chair the negotiations between the parties on the formation of a government; and at the end of this another meeting is held with the Queen, after which the monarch appoints the new prime minister.

 

Courts

The independent courts constitute a part of the division of power in Denmark. Generally speaking, cases are dealt with in the first instance by a local or city court; appeals against the judgements of city courts are made to one of the country's two High Courts. A few big cases and cases touching on administrative matters are dealt with by one of the high courts in the first instance. The highest court in Denmark is the Supreme Court, and the Queen appoints judges.

 

Denmark in the EU

Denmark, along with Great Britain, Norway and Ireland, applied for admission to the then European Community (EC) in 1961 and 1967. In both cases, however, French President Charles de Gaulle vetoed British membership, and Denmark, unwilling to join the Community without Great Britain, also remained outside the EC. Finally, on Jan. 1 1973, Denmark, together with Britain and Ireland, became a member of the EC.

Despite its small size, Denmark is a fiercely independent country, and this has been reflected in its sometimes fractious relations with the EU/EC. The most spectacular instance of this came when the country voted down the Maastricht Treaty - seen as a vote to slow the move to a united Europe - at a referendum in 1992 (the Treaty was subsequently ratified the following year after negotiations). More recently, Denmark voted against joining the single European currency, the Euro, at a referendum in 2000.

 

The Nordic Countries

The Nordic Countries have been and remain an important ideological partners for cooperation, as can be seen in the work of the Nordic Council and the new Baltic Sea Council. A cross-section of cultural interests - as well as the Nordic passport union and free internal labour market - have created close ties between Denmark and the other Nordic countries. One of the great challenges to Denmark has been to combine this community with its European policy. Following the accession of Sweden and Finland to the EU, Denmark is no longer the only Nordic member country; however, Norway, Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands remain outside the EU.

 

NATO

Denmark has worked to maintain NATO as the central institution for political security in Europe, and it has been important to Denmark that the USA has continued as an active participant in NATO. In security policy Denmark has positioned herself close to the USA; Denmark is also a member of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

 

Religion in Denmark

Religious matters in Denmark are subject to the Constitution, the main principles of which are the stipulations that the Evangelical Lutheran Church - as the established Church of Denmark - is to be supported by the State, and also by provisions on freedom of religion, speech and assembly. The support provided by the state is partly moral and political (Sunday observance legislation and legislation on church matters), partly financial and administrative (contributions to clergy salaries and pensions, the collection of church taxes, the maintenance of the national church governance by means of a Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs and diocesan administration, supervision, advisory services, etc.).

 

The Scandinavian Welfare Model

The Scandinavian welfare model is often used as a generic term to describe the way in which Denmark, Sweden and Norway organise and finance their social security systems, health services and education.

The principle behind the welfare model is that benefits should be provided to all citizens who fulfil its conditions, regardless of their employment or family circumstances. The system is universal and benefits are provided to the individual, so that, for example, married women have rights independent of their husbands. In the areas of sickness and unemployment, the right to benefit is, however, dependent on former employment and at times, also on trade union membership and the payment of contributions. Still, the largest share of the financial burden is carried by the state and financed through general taxation - levied over a broad base and at a high level - rather than from special contributions.

In political terms, all Scandinavian countries have a parliamentary democracy, and there is a close relationship between the political system and the organisations representing the interests of both employers and employees. In addition, the relaxed attitude of the population towards both the central government and other public authorities is a fundamental characteristic of the political system, and helps facilitate the Scandinavian welfare model.

That said, in recent years there has been a growing debate about the sustainability of the welfare model, which was designed four decades ago at a time of low unemployment and strong growth. The increasing burden on public finances of supporting such a generous system has led to some modifications of the welfare model, in line with changes in the economy and society.

 

The Family

Since the 1960s, living arrangements in Denmark have been undergoing substantial change, as the number of marriages has declined, the number of divorces risen, and the number of people living together also increased.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of this are the statistics, which show that of those who do choose to marry, many are doing so much later in life, with the average age for marriage in 2011 being 35 for men and 32 for women. Part of this is explained by the popularity of living together, an arrangement particularly widespread among young couples without children; in 2011 around 22 percent of all couples living together were unmarried.

The average size of a Danish family is 2.2 persons - and despite the radical changes in the pattern of living arrangements, in 2011 72% of all children under 18 were living at home with both of their biological parents. That said, there has been a tendency toward an increase in the number of children living with single parents.

 

Education

The Danish educational system is provided by either the local authority 'folkeskole' or private elementary schools, which have the same structure and are also known as free elementary schools. The folkeskole comprises a one-year nursery class, a nine-year basic school and a one-year 10th class. The nursery class and the 10th class are not covered by the compulsory education requirement, but almost all children attend nursery classes, and about half of all pupils in the 9th class go on into the 10th.

The folkeskole is a unified school in which there is no streaming at any level. The curriculum is determined by the Primary Education Act, while regulations concerning the aims of the different subjects etc. are drawn up by the Minister in accordance with the law. On completing the 9th and 10th classes the pupils can, if they so wish, take the final folkeskole examination.

As an alternative to the top classes of the folkeskole pupils can choose to go to efterskoler (continuation schools), which are private boarding schools for 14-18 year-olds. In 1992, these schools were catering for 10.6 percent of pupils in the top three classes. As a supplement to the folkeskole pupils in this age group can also attend local authority day continuation schools for general training with an emphasis on practical and social subjects.