Denmark (01/00)

For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.


Kingdom of Denmark

Area: 43,094 sq. km. (16,640 sq. mi.); slightly smaller than Vermont and New Hampshire combined.
Cities: Capital--Copenhagen (pop. 1.4 million in Greater Copenhagen). Other cities--Aarhus (281,000), Odense (184,000), Aalborg (160,000). Terrain: Low and flat or slightly rolling; highest elevation is 173 m. (568 ft.).
Climate: Temperate. The terrain, location, and prevailing westerly winds make the weather changeable.

Nationality: Noun--Dane(s). Adjective--Danish.
Population (1997): 5.3 million.*
Annual growth rate: 0.4%.
Ethnic groups: Scandinavian, Inuit, Faroese, German.
Religion: Evangelical Lutheran (about 97%).
Languages: Danish, Faroese, Greenlandic (an Inuit dialect), some German. English is the predominant second language.
Education: Years compulsory--9. Attendance--100%. Literacy--100%.
Health: Infant mortality rate (1996, est.)--5.5/1,000. Life expectancy--men 72 yrs., women 78 yrs.
Work force (2.9 million): Industry and construction--22%; government--31%; services--38%, agriculture and fisheries--4%, unemployed--8%.

Type: Constitutional monarchy.
Constitution: June 5, 1953.
Branches: Executive--queen (chief of state), prime minister (head of government), cabinet. Legislative--unicameral parliament (Folketing). Judicial--appointed Supreme Court.
Political parties: Social Democratic, Venstre (Liberal), Konservative, Socialist People's, Progress, Radikale, Unity List, Center Democratic, Danish People's, Christian People's.
Suffrage: Universal adult.
Administrative subdivisions: 14 counties and 275 municipalities.

GDP (1997): $170 billion.
Annual growth rate: 3.4%.
Per capita income: $32,000.
Agriculture (and related production, 4% of GDP): Products--meat, dairy products, fish.
Industry (18% of GDP): Types--industrial and construction equipment, electronics, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, furniture, textiles, ships. Natural resources: North Sea--oil and gas, fish.
Greenland--fish, zinc, lead, molybdenum, uranium, gold, platinum. The Faroe Islands--fish.
Trade (1997): Exports--$49 billion: machinery and instruments 26%; other industrial products 47%; agricultural products, including canned meat and milk 9%; fish and fish products 3%; raw furs 1%. Imports--$44 billion: machinery12%; raw materials and semimanufactures for manufacturing industries 36%; for building and construction 8%; for agruculture 3%; transport equipment, including automobiles 7%. Partners--Germany 22%, Sweden 12%, U.K. 9%, U.S. 5%, eastern European countries 5%; *Excluding Greenland and the Faroe Islands.

The Danes, a homogenous Gothic-Germanic people, have inhabited Denmark since prehistoric times. Danish is the principal language. A small German-speaking minority lives in southern Jutland; a mostly Inuit population inhabits Greenland; and the Faroe Islands have a Nordic population with its own language. Education is compulsory from ages seven to 16 and is free through the university level.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church is state supported and accounts for about 97% of Denmark's religious affiliation. Denmark has religious freedom, however, and several other Protestant denominations and other religions exist.

During the Viking period (9th-11th centuries), Denmark was a great power based on the Jutland Peninsula, the Island of Zealand, and the southern part of what is now Sweden. In the early 11th century, King Canute united Denmark and England for almost 30 years.

Viking raids brought Denmark into contact with Christianity, and in the 12th century, crown and church influence increased. By the late 13th century, royal power had waned, and the nobility forced the king to grant a charter, considered Denmark's first constitution. Although the struggle between crown and nobility continued into the 14th century, Queen Margrethe I succeeded in uniting Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, and Greenland under the Danish crown. Sweden and Finland left the union in 1520; however, Norway remained until 1814. Iceland, in a "personal union" under the king of Denmark after 1918, became independent in 1944.

The Reformation was introduced in Denmark in 1536. Denmark's provinces in today's southwestern Sweden were lost in 1658, and Norway was transferred from the Danish to the Swedish crown in 1814, following the defeat of Napoleon, with whom Denmark was allied.

The Danish liberal movement gained momentum in the 1830s, and in 1849 Denmark became a constitutional monarchy. After the war with Prussia and Austria in 1864, Denmark was forced to cede Schleswig-Holstein to Prussia and adopt a policy of neutrality. Toward the end of the 19th century, Denmark inaugurated important social and labor market reforms, laying the basis for the present welfare state.

Denmark remained neutral during World War I. Despite its declaration of neutrality at the beginning of World War II, it was invaded by the Germans in 1940 and occupied until it was liberated by the Allied forces in May 1945. Denmark became a charter member of the United Nations and was one of the original signers of the North Atlantic Treaty.

Cultural Achievements
Denmark's rich intellectual heritage contributes to the cultural achievements of the modern world. The astronomical discoveries of Tycho Brahe (1546-1601) and the brilliant contributions to atomic physics of Niels Bohr (1885-1962) indicate the range of Danish scientific achievement. The fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen (1805-75), the philosophical essays of Soren Kierkegaard (1813-55), and the short stories of Karen Blixen (penname Isak Dinesen, 1885-1962) have earned international recognition, as have the symphonies of Carl Nielsen (1865-1931). Danish applied art and industrial design have won awards for excellence. The name of Georg Jensen (1866-1935) is known worldwide for outstanding modern design in silver, and "Royal Copenhagen" is among the finest porcelains.

Visitors to Denmark will discover a wealth of cultural activity. The Royal Danish Ballet, an exceptional company, specializes in the work of the great Danish choreographer August Bournonville (1805-79). Danes have distinguished themselves as jazz musicians, and the Copenhagen Jazz Festival has acquired an international reputation. International collections of modern art enjoy unusually attractive settings at the Louisiana Museum north of Copenhagen and at the North Jutland Art Museum in Aalborg. The State Museum of Art and the Glyptotek, both in Copenhagen, contain treasures of Danish and international art. The Museum of Applied Art and Industrial Design in Copenhagen exhibits the best in Danish design. The Royal Danish Porcelain Factory and Bing & Grondahl, renowned for the quality of their porcelain and ceramics, export their products worldwide. Ceramic designs by Bjorn Wiinblad also are well known and popular.

Among today's Danish writers, probably the most well-known to American readers is Peter Hoeg (Smilla's Sense of Snow; Borderliners) and the most prolific is Klaus Rifbjerg--poet, novelist, playwright, and screenwriter. Benny Andersen writes poems, short stories, and music. Poems by both writers have been translated into English by the Curbstone Press. Kirsten Thorup's Baby, winner of the 1980 Pegasus Prize, is printed in English by the University of Louisiana Press. The psychological thrillers of Anders Bodelsen also appear in English. Suzanne Brogger and Vita Andersen focus largely on the changing roles of women in society. In music, Hans Abrahamsen and Per Norgaard are the two most famous living composers. Hans Abrahamsen's works have been performed by the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, DC.

Cultural Policy
The Ministry of Cultural Affairs was created in 1961. Cultural life and meaningful leisure time were then and remain subjects of debate by politicians and parliament as well as the general public. The democratization of cultural life promoted by the government's 1960s cultural policy recently has come to terms with the older "genteel culture;" broader concepts of culture now generally accepted include amateur and professional cultural, media, sports, and leisure-time activities.

Denmark's cultural policy is characterized by decentralized funding, program responsibility, and institutions. Danish cultural direction differs from other countries with a Ministry of Culture and a stated policy in that special laws govern each cultural field--e.g., the New Theater Act of 1990 and the Music Law of 1976.

The Ministry of Cultural Affairs includes among its responsibilities international cultural relations; training of librarians and architects; copyright legislation; and subsidies to archives, libraries, museums, literature, music, arts and crafts, theater, and film production. During 1970-82, the Ministry also recognized protest movements and street manifestations as cultural events, because social change was viewed as an important goal of Danish cultural policy. The current government exercises caution in moderating this policy and practice. Radio and broadcasting also fall under the Ministry of Culture.

Government contributions to culture have increased steadily in recent years, but viewed against the present government's firm objective to limit public expenditures, contributions will stabilize in the future. Municipal and county governments assume a relatively large share of the costs for cultural activities in their respective districts. In 1996, government expenditures for culture totaled about 1.0% of the budget. Most support went to libraries and archives, theater, museums, arts and crafts training, and films.

Denmark is a constitutional monarchy. Queen Margrethe II has largely ceremonial functions; probably her most significant formal power lies in her right to appoint the prime minister and cabinet ministers, who are responsible for administration of the government. However, she must consult with parliamentary leaders to determine the public's will, since the cabinet may be dismissed by a vote of no confidence in the Folketing (parliament). Cabinet members are occasionally recruited from outside the Folketing.

The 1953 constitution established a unicameral Folketing of not more than 179 members, of whom two are elected from the Faroe Islands and two from Greenland. Elections are held at least every four years, but the prime minister can dissolve the Folketing at any time and call for new elections. Folketing members are elected by a complicated system of proportional representation; any party receiving at least 2% of the total national vote receives representation. The result is a multiplicity of parties (10 currently in parliament), none of which holds a majority. Electorate participation normally is more than 85%.

The judicial branch consists of about 100 local courts, two high courts, several special courts (e.g., arbitration and maritime), and a supreme court of 15 judges appointed by the crown on the government's recommendation.

Denmark is divided into 14 counties (Amter) and 275 municipalities (Kommuner). The chief official of the Amt, the county mayor (Amtsborg-mester), is elected by the county council from among its members, according to the municipal reform of 1970. The cities of Copenhagen and Frederiksborg function as both counties and municipalities.

The Faroe Islands and Greenland enjoy home rule, with the Danish Government represented locally by high commissioners. These home-rule governments are responsible for most domestic affairs, with foreign relations, monetary affairs, and defense falling to the Danish Government.

National Security
Although Denmark remained neutral during the First World War, its rapid occupation by Nazi Germany in 1940 persuaded most Danes that neutrality was no longer a reliable guarantee of Danish security. Danish security policy is founded on its membership in NATO. Since 1988, Danish defense budgets and security policy have been set by multi-year agreements supported by a wide parliamentary majority including government and opposition parties. However, public opposition to increases in defense spending--during a period when economic constraints require reduced spending for social welfare--has created differences among the political parties regarding a broadly acceptable level of new defense expenditure. Current resource plans are based on the 1995 defense agreement covering the period 1995-1999. The average percentage of Danish GDP absorbed by defense in 1996 was about 1.5%.

Principal Government Officials
Monarch--Queen Margrethe II
Prime Minister--Poul Nyrup Rasmussen

Food (including agriculture and fisheries)--Henrik Dam Kristensen
Business and Industry--Pia Gjellerup
Culture--Elsebeth Gerner Nielsen
Defense--Hans Haekkerup
Development Cooperation--Poul Nielson
Economic Affairs/Nordic Cooperation--Marianne Jelved
Education and Ecclesiastical Affairs--Margrethe Vestager
Environment and Energy--Svend Auken
Finance--Mogens Lykketoft
Foreign Affairs--Niels Helveg Petersen
Housing and Urban Planning--Jytte Andersen
Health--Carsten Koch
Interior--Thorkild Simonsen
Justice--Frank Jensen
Labor--Ove Hygum
Research--Jan Trojborg
Social Affairs--Karen Jespersen
Taxation--Ole Stavad
Transport--Sonja Mikkelsen

Ambassador to the United States--Knud-Erik Tygesen
Ambassador to the United Nations--Jorgen Rud Hansen Bojer

Denmark maintains an embassy at 3200 Whitehaven Street NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-234-4300). Consulates general are in Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York.

Political life in Denmark is orderly and democratic. Political changes occur gradually through a process of consensus, and political methods and attitudes are generally moderate.

The Social Democratic Party, historically identified with a well-organized labor movement but today appealing more broadly to the middle class, has held power either alone or in coalition for most of the postwar period except from 1982 to 1993. Since then, Prime Minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen and his Social Democratic Party have led minority coalition governments, after December 1996 with the centrist Radickales only. After the March 1998 election, the SDP-Radikales coalition controls 70 of 179 seats in the Folketing.

The vulnerability implicit in a minority coalition has been evidenced in recent coalition failure to achieve consensus on issues such as extensive labor, tax, and welfare reforms. Consensus decision-making is the most prominent feature of Danish politics. It often allows the small centrist parties to play a larger role than their size suggests. Although the centrist Radikale party sometimes shows traces of its pacifist past, particularly on defense spending, most major legislation is passed by sizeable majorities.

Since the 1988 elections, which led to a domestic truce on North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and security questions, Denmark's role in the European Union (EU) has come to be a key political issue. Denmark emerged from two referendums (June 2, 1992, and May 18, 1993) with four important exemptions (or "opt-outs") to the Maastricht Treaty on the European Union: common defense, common currency, EU citizenship, and certain aspects of legal cooperation, including law enforcement. However, the Amsterdam Treaty was approved in a referendum May 28, 1998, by a 55% majority.

Denmark's industrialized market economy depends on imported raw materials and foreign trade. Within the European Union, Denmark advocates a liberal trade policy. Its standard of living is among the highest in the world, and the Danes devote 1% of GDP to foreign aid.

Denmark is self-sufficient in energy. Its principal exports are machinery, instruments, and food products. The U.S. is Denmark's largest non-European trading partner, accounting for about 5% of total Danish merchandise trade. Aircraft, computers, machinery, and instruments are among the major U.S. exports to Denmark. There are some 250 U.S.-owned companies in Denmark. Among major Danish exports to the U.S. are industrial machinery, chemical products, furniture, pharmaceuticals, and canned ham and pork.

From 1982, a center-right government corrected accumulated economic pressures, mainly inflation and balance-of-payments deficits, but lost power in 1993 to a Social Democratic coalition government led by Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, who remained in office following the March 1998 elections. The current government has had success in cutting official unemployment, which peaked at 12.5% and is now below 7%. Average annual growth rates are now 2-3%.

Danes are proud of their highly developed welfare safety net, which ensures that all Danes receive basic health care and need not fear real poverty. Over the last 20 years, however, the number of Danes living on transfer payments has grown to about 1 million working-age persons (roughly 20% of the population), and the system is beginning to show strains. Health care and care for the elderly particularly have suffered, and the need for welfare reform is increasingly discussed. More than one-quarter of the labor force is employed in the public sector.

Greenland and the Faroe Islands
Greenland suffered negative economic growth in the early 1990s, but since 1993 the economy has improved. A tight fiscal policy by the Greenland Home Rule Government since the late 1980s helped create a low inflation rate and surpluses in the public budget, but at the cost of rising foreign debts of the Home Rule Government's commercial entities. Since 1990, Greenland has registered a foreign trade deficit.

Following the closure of Greenland's last lead and zinc mine in 1989, Greenland's economy is solely dependent on the fishing industry and Danish grants. Despite resumption of several interesting hydrocarbon and mineral exploration activities, it will take several years before production may materialize. Greenland's shrimp fishery is by far the largest income earner, since cod catches have dropped to historically low levels. Tourism is the only sector offering any near-term potential, and even this is limited due to the short season and high costs. The public sector plays a dominant role in Greenland's economy. Grants from mainland Denmark and EU fisheries payments make up about one-half of the home-rule government's revenues.

The Faroe Islands also depend almost entirely on fisheries and related exports. Without Danish Government bailouts in 1992 and 1993, the Faroese economy would have gone bankrupt. Since 1995, the Faroese economy has seen a noticeable upturn, but remains extremely vulnerable. Recent off-shore oil finds close to the Faroese area give hope for Faroese deposits, too, which may lay the basis for an economic rebound over the longer term.

Danish foreign policy is founded upon four cornerstones: the United Nations, NATO, the EU, and Nordic cooperation. Denmark also is a member of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund; the World Trade Organization (WTO); the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE); the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD); the Council of Europe; the Nordic Council; the Baltic Council; and the Barents Council. Denmark emphasizes its relations with developing nations and is one of the few countries to exceed the UN goal of contributing 1% of GNP to development assistance.

In the wake of the Cold War, Denmark has been active in international efforts to integrate the countries of Central and Eastern Europe into the West. It has played a leadership role in coordinating Western assistance to the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania). The country is a strong supporter of international peacekeeping. Danish forces were heavily engaged in the former Yugoslavia in the UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR), with IFOR, and now SFOR.

Denmark has been a member of NATO since its founding in 1949, and membership in NATO remains highly popular. There were several serious confrontations between the U.S. and Denmark on security policy in the so-called "footnote era" (1982-88), when a hostile parliamentary majority forced the government to adopt specific national positions on nuclear and arms control issues. With the end of the Cold War, however, Denmark has been supportive of U.S. policy objectives in the Alliance. Denmark is not a member of the Western European Union but does hold observer status.

Danes have enjoyed a reputation as "reluctant" Europeans. When they rejected ratification of the Maastricht Treaty on June 2, 1992, they put the EC's plans for the European Union on hold. In December 1992, the rest of the EC agreed to exempt Denmark from certain aspects of the European Union, including a common defense, a common currency, EU citizenship, and certain aspects of legal cooperation. The Amsterdam Treaty was approved in the referendum of May 28, 1998, but the persistent skepticism of the EU in Denmark may no longer be a purely Danish phenomenon, as other member nations seem to have lowered their ambitions for ever greater political integration.

Denmark is a close NATO ally, and overall U.S.-Danish relations are excellent. Active in Bosnia, OSCE Chairman-in-Office for 1997, and a leader in the Baltic region, Denmark and the U.S. consult closely on European political and security matters. Denmark shares U.S. views on the positive ramifications of NATO enlargement. Danish and U.S. troops serve side by side in Bosnia in an effort to bring peace to the region.

Denmark's active liberal trade policy in the EU, OECD, and WTO largely coincides with U.S. interests; the U.S. is Denmark's largest non-European trade partner with about 5% of Danish merchandise trade. Denmark's role in European environmental and agricultural issues and its strategic location at the entrance to the Baltic Sea have made Copenhagen a center for U.S. agencies and the private sector dealing with the Nordic/Baltic region.

American culture--and particularly popular culture, from jazz, rock, and rap to television shows and literature--is very popular in Denmark. Some 350,000 U.S. tourists visit the country annually.

The U.S. Air Force (USAF) base and early warning radar at Thule, Greenland--a Danish self-governing territory--serve as a vital link in Western defenses. The role of the USAF base in Greenland has sparked a degree of domestic controversy vis-a-vis U.S.-Danish cooperation at Thule. The U.S. and Denmark in 1994 agreed to allow use of the Thule Air Base for limited tourist transit, to assist Greenland's economic development. The U.S. and Denmark continue to cooperate closely on matters related to the air base.

Principal U.S. Officials
Charge d'Affaires a.i.--Jimmy J. Kolker
Political/Economic Counselor--D. Purnell Delly
Labor Officer--Pete K. Ito
Economic Officer--Karen Milliken
Consul--Suella Pipal
Administrative Officer--Bran Kelsey
Public Affairs Counselor--H. Lela Margiou
Environment, Science, and Technology Counselor--David W. Mulenex
Agricultural Counselor--Phil Letarte (resident in The Hague)
Commercial Attache--R. Christian Reed
Defense and Naval Attache--Captain E. Carl Swanson, Jr.
Army Attache--Lt. Col. Steven M. Czepica
Air Attache--Col. Thomas Shubert
Chief, Office of Defense Cooperation--Col. Kathy Whitten, USAF

The U.S. embassy is located at Dag Hammarskjolds Alle 24, 2100 Copenhagen O, Denmark (tel. 3555-31-44).

The U.S. embassy has a home page, coordinated by the U.S. Information Service (USIS), Copenhagen. The home page contains links to U.S. Government agencies at the embassy, and provides a wealth of informatinon U.S./Danish relations. It is available on the Internet at