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Constitution of Denmark

Constitution of Denmark
JurisdictionKingdom of Denmark
Ratified28 May 1953
Date effective5 June 1953
SystemConstitutional monarchy
BranchesThree (executive, legislature and judiciary)
ChambersOne (Folketing)
ExecutiveCabinet responsible to parliament
JudiciaryHigh Court and other independent courts
FederalismNo, but devolution exists
SupersedesConstitution of 1920

The Constitutional Act of the Kingdom of Denmark (Danish: Danmarks Riges Grundlov), or simply the Constitution (Danish: Grundloven), is the constitution of the Kingdom of Denmark, applying equally in Denmark proper, Greenland and the Faroe Islands. In its present form, the Constitutional Act is from 1953,[1] but the principal features of the Act go back to 1849, making it one of the oldest constitutions.[2]

As defined in the Constitution, Denmark is a constitutional monarchy, governed under a parliamentary system. The constitution lays down the framework for governance and establishes the structure, procedures, powers and duties of the Folketing (the Danish parliament) and the government, as well as other institutions. Later sections set out fundamental rights and the duties of citizens, such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion and compulsory military service.

Its adoption in 1849 ended an absolute monarchy and introduced democracy. Denmark celebrates the adoption of the Constitution on 5 June—the date in which the first Constitution was ratified—every year as Constitution Day.

The Danish Parliament (Folketinget) cannot make any laws which may be repugnant or contrary to the Constitutional Act. While Denmark has no constitutional court, laws can be declared unconstitutional and rendered void by the Supreme Court of Denmark.

Changes to the Act must be confirmed by a majority in two consecutive parliamentary terms and then approval of the electorate through a national referendum.[3]

Principles and structure

The Danish Constitutional Act of 1849

The Danish Constitution differs from all other Danish laws by virtue of its superseding status. As such, these laws are not permitted to contravene the provisions of the Constitution Act.

The main principle of the Constitutional Act was to limit the King's power (section 2).[4] It creates a comparatively weak constitutional monarch who is dependent on Ministers for advice and Parliament to draft and pass legislation. The Constitution of 1849 established a bicameral parliament, the Rigsdag, consisting of the Landsting and the Folketing. The most significant change in the Constitution of 1953 was the abolishment of the Landsting, leaving the unicameral Folketing. It also enshrined fundamental civil rights, which remain in the current constitution: such as habeas corpus (section 71), private property rights (section 72) and freedom of speech (section 77).[4]

The Constitutional Act has been changed (replaced) very few times, but always with the consent of Danish citizens.[2] The wording in the Act is so general that it can still be applied today, despite major changes in society and political life in the intervening years. However, since Denmark lacks a Constitutional Court, scrutiny of legislation for compatibility with the Constitution is a matter for ordinary courts, ultimately the Supreme Court. Significantly this means that the actual testing of compatibility can only be instigated by a citizen or company who is affected by the question.[5]



Frederick VII, the last king of Denmark to rule as an absolute monarch.

During the late middle ages and the renaissance, the power of the king was tempered by a håndfæstning, a coronation charter each king had to sign before being accepted as king by the nobility.[6] This tradition was abandoned in 1665 when King Frederick III of Denmark managed to establish a hereditary absolute monarchy by Lex Regia (The Law of The King, Danish: Kongeloven). This was Europe's only formal absolutist constitution.[7] Under Lex Regia, absolute power was inherited for almost 200 years.[8]

In the beginning of the 19th century, there were a growing democratic movement in Denmark and King Frederick VI only made some small concessions, such as creation of Consultative Estate Assemblies (Danish: Rådgivende Stænderforsamlinger) in 1834. But these only served to help the political movements, of which the National Liberals and the Friends of Peasants were the forerunners.[9] When Christian VIII became king in 1839, he continued the political line of only making small democratic concessions, while upholding the absolute monarchy.[10]

At this time Denmark was in a personal union between kingdom of Denmark and the duchies of Schleswig, Holstein, and Lauenburg called The Unitary State (Danish: Helstaten), but the Schleswig-Holstein question was causing tension. Under the slogan Denmark to the Eider, the National Liberals campaigned for Schleswig to become an integral part of Denmark, while separating Holstein and Lauenburg from Denmark.[11] Holstein and Lauenburg were then part of the German Confederation, while Schleswig was not. On the other side, German nationalists in Schleswig were keen to keep Schleswig and Holstein together, and wanted Schleswig to join the German Confederation.[12] Christian VIII had reached the conclusion that, should the Unitary State survive, a constitution covering both Denmark, Schleswig and Holstein was necessary. Before his death in January 1848, he advised his heir Frederick VII to create such a constitution.[10]

In March 1848 following a series of European revolutions, the Schleswig-Holstein question became increasingly tense. Following an ultimatum from Schleswig and Holstein, political pressure from the National Liberals intensified, and Frederick VII replaced the sitting government with the March Cabinet, where four leaders of the Friends of Peasants and the National Liberals served, among those D.G. Monrad and Orla Lehmann, both National Liberals. The ultimatum from Schleswig and Holstein was rejected, and the First Schleswig War started.[12]

Drafting and signing of the first constitution (1849)

The National Constitutional Assembly (painting by Constantin Hansen 1860–64) (Frederiksborg Castle, Hillerød)
The Constitutional Act of 1849 on display in 2018

Monrad drafted the first draft of the Constitution, which was then edited by Lehmann. Sources of inspiration included the Constitution of Norway of 1814 and the Constitution of Belgium.[13] The draft was laid before the Constitutional Assembly of the Realm (Den Grundlovgivende Rigsforsamling). This assembly, which consisted of 114 members directly elected in October 1848, and 38 members appointed by Frederick VII, was overall split in three different groupings: the National Liberals, the Friends of Peasants, and the conservatives. A key topic for discussion was the political system, and the rules governing elections.[13][14]

On 25 May 1849, the Constitutional Assembly approved the new constitution, and on 5 June 1849 it was signed by Frederick VII. For this reason, it is also known as the June constitution.[15] Today, 5 June is known as Constitution Day and is a national holiday in Denmark.

The new constitution establish the Rigsdag, a bicameral parliament, with an upper house called the Landsting, and a lower house called the Folketing. While the voting rights for both chambers were the same, the elections to the Landsting was indirect, and the eligibility requirements harder. The constitution gave voting rights to 15% of the Danish population. Due to the First Schleswig war, the constitution was not put info force for Schleswig; instead this question was postponed to after the war.[15]

Parallel constitution for the Unitary State (1855-1866)

Following the First Schleswig war, which ended in Danish victory in 1852, the London Protocol reaffirmed the territorial integrity of the Unitary State, and solved a impeding succession issue, since Frederick VII was childless.[16] Since the June constitution was not put into force in Schleswig, the Schleswig-Holstein question remained unsolved. Work for creating a common constitution for the Unitary State started, and in 1855 the rigsdag accepted Helstatsforfatning (Constitution for The Unitary State), which covered affairs common to Denmark, Schleswig and Holstein. At the same time, the June constitution was limited to only be applicable in Denmark.[17]

In 1863 this constitution was changed, the new one was called Novemberforfatningen. This was shortly before Second Schleswig war, where Denmark lost control of Schleswig and Holstein, rendering the parallel constitution void.

The Revised Constitution (1866)

The Constitutions of Denmark located inside Folketinget.

In 1866, the defeat in the Second Schleswig War, and the loss of Schleswig-Holstein led to tightened election rules for the Upper Chamber, which paralyzed legislative work, leading to provisional laws.

The conservative Højre had pressed for a new constitution, giving the upper chamber of parliament more power, making it more exclusive and switching power to the conservatives from the original long standing dominance of the National Liberals, who lost influence and was later disbanded. This long period of dominance of the Højre party under the leadership of Jacob Brønnum Scavenius Estrup with the backing of the king Christian IX of Denmark was named the provisorietid (provisional period) because the government was based on provisional laws instead of parliamentary decisions. This also gave rise to a conflict with the Liberals (farm owners) at that time and now known as Venstre (Left). This constitutional battle concluded in 1901 with the so-called systemskifte (change of system) with the liberals as victors. At this point the king and Højre finally accepted parliamentarism as the ruling principle of Danish political life. This principle was not codified until the 1953 constitution.

Universal suffrage (1915)

In 1915, the tightening from 1866 was reversed, and women were given the right to vote. Also, a new requirement for changing the constitution was introduced. Not only must the new constitution be passed by two consecutive parliaments, it must also pass a referendum, where 45% of the electorate must vote yes. This meant that Prime Minister Thorvald Stauning's attempt to change the Constitution in 1939 failed.[18]

Reunion with Schleswig (1920)

In 1920, a new referendum was held to change the Constitution again, allowing for the reunification of Denmark following the defeat of Germany in World War I. This followed a referendum held in the former Danish territories of Schleswig-Holstein regarding how the new border should be placed. This resulted in upper Schleswig becoming Danish, today known as Southern Jutland, and the rest remained German.

Current Constitution (1953)

In 1953, the fourth constitution abolished the Upper Chamber (the Landsting), giving Denmark a unicameral parliament. It also enabled females to inherit the throne (see Succession), but the change still favored boys over girls (this was changed by a referendum in 2009 so the first-born inherits the throne regardless of sex). Finally, the required number of votes in favor of a change of the Constitution was decreased to the current value of 40% of the electorate.

Structure and content

This is a short summary of all 89 §§ in the Constitution. The full constitution can be found here (Danish) and here (English unofficial translation)

Chapter I: Fundamental principles (§§ 1-4)

§ 1 States that the Constitution holds in both Denmark proper, Greenland and The Faroe Islands.

§ 2 Defines Denmark as a constitutional monarchy, where the status as monarch is inherited according to Act of Succession. Since this act is specified in the Constitution, it is considered a part of the constitution, and has to be changed by the same procedure as the constitution. This was most recently done in 2009.

§3 Separate powers into the three classic branches: the legislative, held by the Folketing; the executive held by the government; and the judiciary, held by the courts.

§4 Establishes the Church of Denmark as the official church of Denmark

Chapter II: The Royal House (§§ 5-11)

While this section references the king, it is generally understood to be the monarch, which can also be a queen. This is also true for the rest of the Constitution.

§ 5 States that the monarch needs the approval of the Folketing in order to become regent in other countries

§ 6 Requires that the Danish monarch belongs to the evangelical Lutheran faith, though not necessarily as member of the Church of Denmark

§ 7 States that the age of majority for the monarch is 18 years.

§ 8 Requires that a new monarch to swear to uphold the Constitution.

§ 9 Allows the Folketing to make a law defining who is to govern if the monarch is incapable (for example due to being minor), or simply being out travelling. Also states what will happen if there is no heir to the throne. Then the Folketing shall elect a new monarch.

§§ 10-11 Sets the guidelines for the payment of expenses to the royal house. These are decided by the Folketing.

Chapter III: The government (§§ 12-27)

§12-14 States that while the "king" (which can be a queen) formally holds the executive power, it is always exercised through the ministers, and that they are responsible. The monarch cannot act on their own; the status as monarch is purely ceremonial. Throughout the Constitution the king nearly always means the government.

§ 15 Established Danish politics as a Parliamentary system: No minister can remain in their post if there is a majority against them

§ 16 Makes it possible for ministers to be prosecuted at the special court rigsret (see §§ 59-60) for the way they run the government

§ 17-18 Describes the Council of the State and the Council of the Ministers, two formal bodies which hold no power anymore, since the monarch is politically independent

§ 19 States that it is the Folketing who defines the foreign policy, not the government.

§ 20 Makes it possible for Denmark to hand over sovereignty to intergovernmental organizations, which is often a requirement for joining them. However, this is only possible with a 5/6 supermajority in the Folketing. If there is only a simple majority, there can be held a referendum on the question. This paragraph was used in 1972 when Denmark, after a referendum, joined the EEC (now EU). More recently, in 2015 an (unsuccessful) referendum was held on one of its EU-opt-outs.

§ 21 Allows ministers to propose laws which are then considered in the Folketing. This is a right normally only reserved for members of the Folketing, but ministers need not be a part of the Folketing.

§ 22 Requires the monarch to sign all laws, and requires the government to ensure they are fulfilled

§ 23 Allows the government to make temporary laws. This is only allowed under exceptionally urgent circumstances, where the Folketing is not able to be called together. All laws must as fast as possible be considered by the Folketing.

§ 24 Allows the government to pardon criminals.

§ 25 A transitional provision, which allows laws and exceptions from before the first Constitution of 1849 to remain in force.

§ 26 Allows the state to mint coins.

§ 27 Rules that gives privileges a group of central civil servants (such as police and military personnel) called tjenestemænd.

Chapter IV: General elections to the Folketing (§§ 28-34)

§ 28 The Folketing consists of 179 members, of which 2 are elected on Greenland and 2 are elected on the Faroe islands.

§ 29 To vote you need to be a Danish citizens, live in Denmark, and be over 18 years old. The age limit is not set by the Constitution; it only requires that if it is to change, there has to be held a referendum about it.

§ 30 Allows all voters to run for a membership of the Folketing. The only exception is if they have been convicted of a crime that makes them "unworthy". This is first decided after the election by the Folketing (see § 33)

§ 31 The general election is direct and secret, and makes use of a voting system that ensures proportional representation. The details are to be defined by law.

§ 32 Elections are held every 4 years, but a snap election can be called by the prime minister.

§ 33 The Folketing decides whether its members are "worthy" as per § 30.

§ 34 It is high treason to threaten or undermine the security or freedom of the Folketing.

Chapter V: Procedures in the Folketing (§§ 35-58)

§ 35 The newly elected Folketing meets within 12 working days of the elections. First they decide if their members are "worthy" (see § 33), then they elect a chairman and vice chairmen for the current business year.

§ 36 Each business year start the first Tuesday in October, and last until the first Tuesday in October next year. At the first day, they meet and elects a chairman and vice chairmen for the new business year.

§ 37 The Folketing meets the same place the government is located (Christiansborg palace), but in exceptional situations meet elsewhere.

§ 38 A business year always start with a speech from the prime minister, which are then discussed.

§ 39 The chairman calls a meeting, and are obliged to do so if the prime minister or 2/5 of the Folketing requires this in writing. Every meeting (or request for a meeting) is followed by a agenda.

§ 40 Ministers have the right to be and speak in the Folketing, but cannot vote (unless they are also members of the Folketing).

§ 41 Every member of the Folketing can suggest laws or decisions. All laws needs to be brought up in 3 times, before they can be approved. 2/5 of the Folketing can required that there is at least 12 working days between second and third session. Exceptions are laws about budgets, loans, taxes, expropriation, citizenship, and laws that are urgent to get passed. At the end of a business year, all pending laws or decisions is dropped.

§ 42 This paragraph concerns referendums, and is the longest in the constitution. 1/3 of the Folketing can (written and within 3 days from it was passed) require a referendum about the law. They Folketing can then decide to redact the law or keep it, but if they keep it, the prime minister will decide a date for a referendum, which will be held 12–18 days later. The law is defeated if there is en majority against it, and that majority consists of at least 30% of the voter base. Certain laws cannot be subject to referendums, those mentioned in § 41, laws required by treaties, laws concerning the Royal house, and laws concerning foreign policy.

§ 43 All taxes, all state loans, and the size of the military are needed to have a basis in a law.

§ 44 No foreigner can be given citizenship unless by law. Foreigners can only buy land or buildings, if are law allows them to.

§ 45 The financial budget for the following fiscal year (which start 1. January), have to be submitted at least 4 months before the ending of the current fiscal year (and then resubmit in the next business year because of § 41). If the Folketing does not manage to approve a new budget in time, a temporary budget has to be made.

§ 46 A budget (or temporary budget) are required to charge taxes. Money can only be spend, if they are approved by the budget or the law. (However, there is a precedent that the financial committee of the Folketing can pre-approve a spending, before it is made to law.)

§ 47 The public accounts shall be submitted to the Folketing within 6 month of the start of the next financial year. It is accessed by the state accountants, who are chosen by the Folketing. It is their job to check if it follows the financial laws. Once they have made their statement, the Folketing vote for its approval.

§ 48 The Folketing make their own rules of procedure.

§ 49 The meetings are open to the public, however can be closed for the public. This has not been done since 1924.

§ 50 The quorum for the Folketing is 90 members (out of 179)

§ 51 The Folketing can establish commissions to investigate important cases. The consists of members of the Folketing, and can demand information from citizens and public agencies.

§ 52 Appointment of member to committees have to be done to ensure proportional representation.

§ 53 All members of the parliament can demand answers from the ministers

§ 54 Non-members always have to go through a member, if they wish to bring something up for the Folketing (with exceptions of ministers, who also have this right, see § 21 and § 40).

§ 55 The Folketing chooses one or two ombudsmen.

§ 56 Members of the Parliament are free to vote and speak as they wish. They can not make any binding agreement to vote in a certain way, neither with their party or with the electorate. However, there is often party discipline, because it can be politically consequences to go against your own party. However, happens relatively often.

§ 57 Members of the Folketing are immune to be prosecuted or put in jail, unless they are caught red-handed, and they have absolute freedom of speech in the Folketing. However, the Folketing can take this immunity away from the members.

§ 58 The members salary are decided by law.

Chapter VI: The courts (§§ 59-65)

§§ 59-60 The rigsret, which is the court who hear cases against ministers for the way they run the government, consists of the 15 most senior Supreme Court judges, and an equal number appointed by the Folketing (the members of the Folketing can not themselves be judges). The politically appointed judges are chosen for 6 years, but once they are on a case, they cannot be replaced.

§ 61 The rules that governs the courts are decided by law. However, there can never be constructed special courts to handle specific cases, they must all go through the same system.

§ 62 The courts must be independent of the government. Related to § 3, this paragraph is a strengthening of that independence.

§ 63 It is possible to sue the government and other who exercise power (e.g. municipalities), and the court system will handle them. However, no such case will have a suspensive effect on the decision that is being disputed. It is possible to create special courts to handle these cases, but their verdicts shall be possible to get tested in the Supreme Court.

§ 64 Judges shall follow the law, but not take orders in any other form. They cannot be fired or moved to another position against their will, unless this is as a general restructuring of the court system. There are two exceptions here. First, a judge who is over 65 years can be fired, but will still get full pay until they were forced to retire due to age. And second, a judge can be removed from their position by verdict from another judge.

§ 65 Proceedings in the court room should, as much as possible, be transparent. And during criminal proceedings, lay judges must be used. How exactly is defined by law.

Chapter VII: Religions (§§ 66-70)

§ 66 The Folketing decides by law a Constitution for the Church of Denmark. However, even though this provision is from the original Constitution of 1849, there has never been adopted such law.[19]

§ 67 Guarantees freedom of religion, by allowing all to create and join religious communities as they seem fit. The only requirements is that these communities may not be a thread to "good morals or the public order".

§ 68 Frees people from paying taxes to other than their own religion. Denmark have a church tax, but it is only paid by members of the Church of Denmark.[20]

§ 69 Rules for religious communities other than the Church of Denmark is decided by law.

§ 70 Guarantees that civil and political rights cannot be removed from people because of their religion or their race. However, they cannot use them to be exempted from civil duties.

Chapter VIII: Civil rights (§§ 71-85)

§ 71 The personal freedom is inviolable, and no citizen can be put in jail because of their race, religion or political views. Detention is only possible if permitted by law. If people are put under arrest, they have to be put before a judge within 24 hours. This judge decides if the subject should be freed, or put under provisional detention. In Greenland, it is possible by law to exempt from the 24-hour deadline. The judges decision can be appealed to a higher court. Detention is only possible if the person is charged for a crime that can be punished by jail. If detention happens outside the criminal system or the immigration law (e.g. at a psychiatric hospital), the detained can always require the legality to be considered by a court.Furthermore, the care of these people are under supervision of an oversight committee set down by the Folketing.

§ 72 Your dwelling is inviolable. A court order is needed to perform house searches, seizes, or to break the secrecy of correspondences. However, the Folketing can make laws that make exemptions.

§ 73 The right to property in inviolable. Expropriation is only possible by law, and when full compensation is given. Whenever a law concerning expropriation is passed, it is possible by 1/3 of the Folketing to require the law to be confirmed after a general election. It is possible to appeal all cases of expropriation to the court system.

§ 74 All limitations to free and equal trade, except those necessary for the public good, are to be abolished.

§ 75 The political system shall work towards that all who is able to work, is able to get a job. People who are not able to get a job, have the right for support from the public system. However, they must accept the requirements that follows.

§ 76 All children have the right to a free education in public schools, however, they does not have to use this offer. The children can be home schooled or in a private school.

§ 77 Denmark have freedom of speech and freedom of press, however, are still able to get prosecuted for certain things (e.g. libel or breaking confidentiality). Censorship is forbidden.

§ 78 All citizens have the right to create or join associations. Associations that work through violence or other illegal means, can be dissolved by a judge. The government can ban an association, and then immediately have to take the case to the courts. Dissolution of political association can always be brought before the Supreme Court.

§ 79 Denmark have freedom of assembly, as long as people are unarmed. However, the police can dissolve an assembly, if it is a threat to the public order.

§ 80 The police can only use force to dissolve an assembly, after it three times "in the name of the king and the law" have asked the assembly to dissolve itself.

§ 81 Every man has a duty to participate in the military draft. The law las our more details for this.

§ 82 Municipality have the right to govern themselves, under the laws that the Folketing decides.

§ 83 There are no privileges attached to nobility.

§ 84 In the future, no fiefs or fee tails can be created.

§ 85 For soldiers, the freedoms in § 71 (freedom from detention), § 78 (freedom of association) and § 79 (freedom of assembly) can be restricted by military law.

Chapter IX: Miscellaneous (§§ 86-87)

§ 86 The age requirement for voting in municipially elections and are the same as for general elections. In Greenland and the Faroe Islands, however, it is decided by law.

§ 87 Transitional provision, that ensured the rights of Icelandic citizens. When Iceland 1918 became independent from Denmark and instead, by the Danish–Icelandic Act of Union, entered into a personal union with Denmark, Icelandic citizens were given the same rights in Denmark as Danish citizens.[21] When Iceland in 1944 became a republic, this rules was limited to icelandic citizens who, as of 1946, was living or had recently lived in Denmark.[22] This provision fastened this right in the Constitution.

Chapter X: Changes to the Constitution (§ 88)

To change the Constitution, there is required a majority in two consecutive Folketing: before and after a general election. In addition, the Constitution must pass a referendum, with the additional demand that at least 40% of voting age population must vote in favour.

Chapter XI: Entry into force (§ 89)

The Constitution entered into force on 5 June 1953, the day it was signed by King Frederik IX. However, the sitting Rigsdag, who, according to the old constitution, consisted of two chambers (Folketinget and Landstinget) remained in place until next general election, which was held in September 1953.

Constitutional institutions

The Constitution establishes Denmark as a constitutional monarcy, where the monarch serves as a ceremonial Head of state. The title of monarch is hereditary and passed on to the firstborn child, with equal rights for sons and daughters.

The political system of Denmark can be described as a democracy with a parliamentary system of governance. The powers of the state is separated into 3 different branches. The legislative branch held by the Folketing, the executive branch held by the Danish government, and the judicial branch held by the Courts of Denmark.

The Monarchy of Denmark

The Danish monarch,[a] as the head of state, holds great de jure power, but de facto only serves as a figurehead who is not interfering in politics.[23] The monarch formally holds executive power and, co-jointly with the Folketing, legislative power, since each new law requires royal assent. By article 12, 13 and 14, the powers vested in the monarch can only be exercised through the ministers, who are responsible for all acts, thus removing any political or legal liability from the monarch.[24][b] The monarch appoints the ministers after advice from the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is itself appointed after advice from the leaders of the political parties of the Folketing, a process known as a Queen's meeting (Danish: dronningerunde).[25] The monarch and the Cabinet attend regular meetings in the Council of State, where royal assent is given, and the monarch is regularly briefed on the political situation by the Prime Minister and Foreign minister.[26]

The Constitution requires the monarch to be a member of the evangelical lutheran church, though not necessary the Church of Denmark.[27]

The Government of Denmark

The Government holds executive power, and is responsible for carrying out the acts of the Folketing. The Government does not have to pass a vote of confidence before taking the seat, but any minister can be subject to a motion of no confidence. If a vote of no confidence is successfully passed against the Prime Minister, the government must resign or call a snap election.

The Folketing

The Folketing is the legislative branch of Denmark, and is located at Christiansborg. It consists of 179 members,[c] of which 2 members are elected in Greenland, and 2 in the Faroe Islands. General elections is nominally held every 4 years, but the Prime Minister can at any point call a snap election. All Danish citizens over the age of 18 years who are living permanently within Denmark is eligible to vote, except those placed under legal guardianship. The same group of people is able to run for office. The electoral system is characterized as a party-list proportional representation system, with an election threshold on 2%. As a result, Denmark has a multi-party parliamentary system, where no single party has an absolute majority.

The session starts anew each year on the first Tuesday in October, and when interrupted by a general election; all previously unfinished business is cancelled. The Folketing then elects a speaker, who is responsible for convening meetings. The Folketing lay down their own rules of procedure, subject to the requirements in the Constitution. Among those, the required quorum of 90 members of the Folketing, and the rule that every proposed law requires three readings in the Folketing, before it can be passed into law.

The Folketing also have the responsibility of holding the government accountable for the governance. The members of the Folketing does this by submitting questing to the ministers and convene them to explanatory hearings. In addition, the Folketing elect a number of State Auditors (Danish: Statsrevisorer), who has the responsibility to look through the public accounts, and check that everything is okay, and that the government only spend money approved by the Folketing. Furthermore, the Folketing also appoints an ombudsman, who investigates wrongdoings by the public administrative authorities on behalf of the public.

The Courts of Denmark

The Courts of Denmark are independent of the other two branches. The Constitution does not stipulate how the courts are to be organized. Instead, this is regulated by statute. In the normal court system, there are 24 District Courts, High Courts and the Supreme Court. In addition to these, there is some special courts. There are certain rights in the Constitution with respect to the judiciary system.

There is a special Court of Impeachment, which can prosecute ministers for their official acts.

The Church of Denmark

The Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Denmark is the state church established by the Constitution.


Civil rights and freedoms

Personal liberty shall be inviolable. No Danish subject shall in any manner whatever be deprived of his liberty because of his political or religious convictions or because of his descent.

Section 71

The Constitution of Denmark outlines fundamental rights in sections 71–80. Several of these are of only limited scope and thus serve as a sort of lower bar. The European Convention on Human Rights was introduced in Denmark by law on 29 April 1992 and supplements the mentioned paragraphs. Freedom of speech and freedom of the press in Denmark are ensured by section 77 of the Constitution.


Section 4 establishes that the Evangelical Lutheran Church is "the people's church" (folkekirken), and as such is supported by the state. Freedom of religion is granted in section 67, and official discrimination based on faith is forbidden in section 70.

National sovereignty

Section 20 of the current constitution establishes that the delegation of specified parts of national sovereignty to international authorities requires either a 5/6 majority in Parliament or an ordinary majority in both Parliament and the electorate. This section has been debated heavily in connection with Denmark's membership of the European Union (EU), as critics hold that changing governments have violated the Constitution by surrendering too much power.

In 1996, Prime Minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen was sued by twelve Eurosceptics for violating this section. The Supreme Court acquitted Rasmussen (and thereby earlier governments dating back to 1972) but reaffirmed that there are limits to how much sovereignty can be surrendered. In 2011, Prime Ministers Lars Løkke Rasmussen faced a similar challenge when he was sued by twenty-eight citizens for having adopted the European Lisbon Treaty without a referendum. The group of professors, actors, writers and Eurosceptic politicians argued that the Lisbon Treaty hands over parts of national sovereignty to the EU and therefore a referendum should have taken place.[29] The case was later dismissed.

Greenland and the Faroe Islands

Section 32 states "special rules may be provided by Statute for the commencement and determination of Faroe Islands and Greenland representation in the Parliament."[4] This section refers to home rule in both territories. The specific arrangements for the transfer of powers and monetary competency to Greenland and the Faroe Islands are contained in separate statues, with equal constitutional status (see below).

Changes to the constitution

According to section 88 of the 1953 Constitution, changes require a majority in two consecutive Parliaments: before and after a general election. In addition, the Constitution must pass a popular vote, with the additional demand that at least 40% of voting age population must vote in favour.[4] The Constitution sets out only the basic principles, with more detailed regulation left over to the Danish Parliament.

Symbolic status of the king

When reading the Danish Constitution, it is important to bear in mind that the King is meant to be read as the government because of the monarch's symbolic status. This is a consequence of sections 12 and 13, by which the King executes his power through his ministers, who are responsible for governing. An implication of these sections is that the monarch cannot act alone in disregard of the ministers, so the Danish monarch does not interfere in politics.[24]

Separation of powers

As in many other democracies, the Danish Constitutional Act divides power into three independent branches—the legislative, the executive and the judicial branches—in order to encourage checks and balances and prevent abuse of power.[2] The Danish Parliament is the legislative power, enacting the laws of the country. The Cabinet (Government) is the executive power, formally acting out the role of the Monarch,[4] by ensuring that laws are implemented. The Supreme Court and lower courts of law are the judicial power, pronouncing judgements in disputes between citizens and between the authorities and citizens.

The Constitution is heavily influenced by the French philosopher Montesquieu,[citation needed] whose separation of powers was aimed at achieving mutual monitoring of each of the branches of government. However, the division between legislative and executive power in Denmark is not as sharp as in the United States.

Parliamentary power

In several sections the Constitutional Act sets out the powers and duties of the Danish Parliament. Section 15 in the Act, which deals with the parliamentary principle, lays down that "a Minister shall not remain in office after the Parliament has passed a vote of no confidence in him".[4] This suggests that Ministers are accountable to Parliament and even subservient to it. The Cabinet exerts executive power through its Ministers, but cannot remain in office if the majority of the Folketing goes against it. Another important feature of the Danish parliamentary system is that the Constitutional Act lays down that "the Members of the Folketing shall be elected for a period of four years", but still, "the King may at any time issue writs for a new election".[2]

Other constitutional laws of the Kingdom of Denmark

The Danish Constitution contains these additional parts:

  • The parts of cc, the former absolute monarchist constitution from 1665, that were not superseded.
  • The Act of Succession to the Danish Throne of 27 March 1953 also has status as a constitutional law, as it is directly referred to in Article 2 of the Constitutional Act. Therefore, amendments to the Act of Succession require adherence to the constitutional amendment procedure as provided for in Article 88 of the Danish Constitution Act. An amendment to abolish male preference to the throne (bill no. 1, Folketing session of 2005–06) was passed by a referendum in 2009.
  • To an extent, the laws granting self government to the Faroe Islands and Greenland can be considered constitutional.
  • Certain particular customs, not explicitly referred to in the Constitutional Act itself, have been recognised as carrying constitutional legal weight (such as the right of the Finance Committee to authorise public expenditure outside of the national budget), also form part of Danish Constitutional law.

See also


  1. ^ While the Constitution consistently refer to the monarch as the "king", this can also be a queen regnant. In fact, the current monarch of Denmark is Queen Margrethe II.
  2. ^ For this reason, when reading the Constitution, the word king, in the context of exercising acts of state, is to be read as the Government (consisting of the Prime Minister and other ministers)
  3. ^ While the Constitution says that "not more than" 179 members are elected, the law concerning general elections states that exactly 179 members are elected.[28]


  1. ^ "CIA World Factbook: Denmark: Government". Retrieved 8 July 2009.
  2. ^ a b c d "The Constitutional Act of Denmark". The Danish Parliament (Folketinget). Archived from the original on 20 November 2012. Retrieved 14 April 2016.
  3. ^ Tschentscher, Axel. "The Constitution of Denmark – Section 88". Retrieved 12 February 2016.
  4. ^ a b c d e f The Constitution of Denmark Accessed on 14 April 2016.
  5. ^ Werlauff, Erik (2010). Civil Procedure in Denmark. Kluwer Law International. p. 11.
  6. ^ [email protected] (13 April 2018). "Vis". (in Danish). Retrieved 10 June 2018.
  7. ^ Folketinget Archived 7 May 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ [email protected] (13 April 2018). "Vis". (in Danish). Retrieved 10 June 2018.
  9. ^ [email protected] (13 April 2018). "Vis". (in Danish). Retrieved 10 June 2018.
  10. ^ a b [email protected] (13 April 2018). "Vis". (in Danish). Retrieved 10 June 2018.
  11. ^ [email protected] (18 May 2018). "Kritik af enevælden og debat om Slesvig". (in Danish). Retrieved 11 June 2018.
  12. ^ a b [email protected] (18 May 2018). "Marts 1848". (in Danish). Retrieved 11 June 2018.
  13. ^ a b "Den Grundlovgivende Rigsforsamling | Gyldendal - Den Store Danske". (in Danish). Retrieved 10 December 2018.
  14. ^ [email protected] "Demokratiets etablering: Den Grundlovgivende Forsamling". (in Danish). Retrieved 10 December 2018.
  15. ^ a b [email protected] "Danmarks Riges Grundlov, 5. juni 1849 (Junigrundloven)". (in Danish). Retrieved 10 December 2018.
  16. ^ [email protected] "Londontraktaten, 8. maj 1852". (in Danish). Retrieved 10 December 2018.
  17. ^ [email protected] "Helstatsforfatningen (Fællesforfatningen), 2. oktober 1855". (in Danish). Retrieved 10 December 2018.
  18. ^ Søren Mørch: 24 statsministre. ISBN 87-02-00361-9.
  19. ^ "Folkekirkens fælt forvirrede forfatning". Information (in Danish). 3 June 2011. Retrieved 10 June 2018. Since 1849 the Constitution have prescribed: »The constitution of the Church of Denmark is decided by law.« However, such a constitution for the Church of Denmark has never successfully been completed.
  20. ^ "Kirkeskat". (in Danish). Retrieved 10 June 2018. The church tax is a membership fee you pay when you are a member of the Church of Denmark.
  21. ^ "Dansk-Islandsk Forbundslov - Wikisource". (in Danish). Retrieved 10 June 2018. § 6: Danish citizens enjoy on Iceland in every case equally rights with those Icelandic citizens born on Iceland, and vice versa
  22. ^ Lov om ophævelse af Dansk-islandsk Forbundslov m.m., 16 May 1950, retrieved 10 June 2018. "§2, pt. 1: Icelandic citizens, who as of 6. march 1946 was living in Denmark, keep the in the Danish-Icelandic Act of Union of 30. november 1918 contained acces to seek residence in Denmark and to, when they have such residence, in every case enjoy equal rights as Danish citizens. The same applies to Icelandic citizens who have had residence in Denmark at any time within the last 10 years before 6. march 1918"
  23. ^ "HM The Queen". The Danish Monarchy - Front Page. 7 April 2016. Retrieved 20 June 2018. HM The Queen takes no part in politics and does not express any political opinions.
  24. ^ a b Grundloven, Mikael Witte 1997 ISBN 87-7724-672-1
  25. ^ "The Division of Powers". The Danish Parliament. Retrieved 20 June 2018. The political party leaders will then advise the Queen on whom to invite to lead the negotiations to form a new Government. The person who has the support of a majority of party leaders is chosen as the chief negotiator and usually also becomes Prime Minister. In principle, the Constitutional Act gives the Queen the authority to appoint and dismiss Ministers, but she has no real political influence. In practice, it is the Prime Minister who selects Ministers, and subsequently the Queen formally appoints the Ministers recommended by the Prime Minister.
  26. ^ "HM The Queen". The Danish Monarchy - Front Page. 7 April 2016. Retrieved 20 June 2018. Additionally, The Queen is the formal Head of the Government and therefore presides over the State Council, where the Acts that have been passed by the Folketing are signed into law. The Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs report regularly to The Queen to inform her of the latest political developments.
  27. ^ "My Constitutional Act with explanations". [the Queen] must belong to the Evangelical-Lutheran Church. However, she need not necessarily be a member of the Evangelical- Lutheran Church of Denmark (Folkekirken).
  28. ^ Bekendtgørelse af lov om valg til Folketinget, 8 December 2017, retrieved 20 June 2018, § 7. To the Folketing, a total of 179 people are chosen.
  29. ^ Pop, Valentina (11 January 2011). "Danish PM sued over Lisbon Treaty". Brussels: EUobserver. Retrieved 14 April 2016.

External links