Freedom in the World 2021 - Denmark

/ 100
Political Rights 40 / 40
Civil Liberties 57 / 60
Last Year's Score & Status
97 / 100 Free
Global freedom statuses are calculated on a weighted scale. See the methodology.


Denmark is a robust democracy with regular free and fair elections. Citizens enjoy full political rights, the government protects free expression and association, and the judiciary functions independently. However, Denmark has struggled to uphold fundamental freedoms for immigrants and other newcomers.

Key Developments in 2020

  • By December, 10 individuals who had been deemed “foreign fighters” were administratively deprived of their Danish citizenship. The minister for immigration and integration was granted permanent authorization to carry out this procedure, aimed at people who fight abroad for extremist groups, the same month. It is applicable only to those with dual citizenship.
  • At year’s end, more than 52,000 citizens had signed a motion to bring the measure known as the “ghetto law” before Parliament, with a view to halting further implementation. The law, applicable to neighborhoods identified as having high unemployment and crime rates and a high percentage of foreign-born residents, permits housing demolition, strict early-education requirements, and more severe penalties for crimes committed in the designated areas.
  • Amendments to the Epidemic Act that allowed authorities to sharply curtail individual freedoms were passed in March, but the initial restrictions implemented were relaxed later in the year. In December, a revised proposal that better ensured transparency and democratic control of pandemic measures was proposed, with strong backing from lawmakers and the health care sector.
  • In December, lawmakers passed a measure that criminalized sex without explicit consent. Previously, proof of violence or serious threat had been required to bring rape charges.

Political Rights

A Electoral Process

A1 0-4 pts
Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 4 / 4

The constitution retains a monarch, currently Queen Margrethe II, with mostly ceremonial duties. The monarch chooses the prime minister, usually the leader of the largest party or government coalition. Mette Frederiksen of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) was appointed by Queen Margrethe in June 2019, after that party emerged as Parliament’s largest in the election held that month.

A2 0-4 pts
Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 4 / 4

The 179 members of Denmark’s unicameral Parliament (Folketinget) are elected to four-year terms through a system of modified proportional representation.

Since the June 2019 elections, Frederiksen has headed an SDP-led government with the support of the Red-Green Alliance, the Socialist People’s Party (SF), and the Social Liberal Party (SLP). The election was considered free and fair, and the results were accepted by stakeholders and the public.

A3 0-4 pts
Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 4 / 4

Robust electoral laws are upheld impartially by the various bodies tasked with implementation.

B Political Pluralism and Participation

B1 0-4 pts
Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings? 4 / 4

Numerous political parties compete freely.

B2 0-4 pts
Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 4 / 4

The Danish political system is open to the rise of opposition parties through elections. In recent years, the most significant political ascent has been that of the Danish People’s Party (DF), which supported the 2015–19 Liberal-led government; however, the DF has since seen a dramatic decrease in voter confidence due to internal disagreements and power struggles.

The Nye Borgerlige (New Right) party was established in 2015 by former DF members, and espouses an anti-immigrant, anti-European Union (EU), and libertarian-leaning agenda. In June 2019, it won four parliamentary seats. The new Vegan Party is expected to contest next general elections, having gathered the required number of signatures.

B3 0-4 pts
Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means? 4 / 4

Voters and political figures are generally free from undue influences by actors who are not democratically accountable.

B4 0-4 pts
Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 4 / 4

The electoral laws guarantee universal suffrage for citizens, as well as representation in regional and municipal elections for permanent residents. Refugees and other immigrants may vote in municipal and regional but not general elections, after having obtained permanent residence at least three years before an election date. Women, LGBT+ people, persons living with disabilities, and members of ethnic and religious minority groups are represented in prominent positions.

In contrast, figures who have voiced discriminatory views have been able to draw attention in the political arena, and their rhetoric may discourage open political participation by the targeted groups. The Hard Line (Stram Kurs) party was formed in 2017 and espouses an anti-Muslim agenda; founder Rasmus Paludan burned copies of the Koran during campaign events in 2019. Hard Line fell short of the two-percent popular-vote threshold to gain parliamentary representation in the 2019 election.

The territories of Greenland and the Faroe Islands each have two representatives in Parliament. They also have their own elected institutions, which have power over almost all areas of governance, except foreign and financial policy.

C Functioning of Government

C1 0-4 pts
Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 4 / 4

Denmark’s freely elected government is able to craft and implement policy. Danish governments most often control a minority of seats in Parliament, ruling with the aid of one or more supporting parties. Since 1909, no single party has held a majority of seats, helping to create a tradition of compromise.

C2 0-4 pts
Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 4 / 4

Anticorruption laws and bodies are generally effective, and corruption is not considered an urgent problem in Denmark.

C3 0-4 pts
Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 4 / 4

Government operations are generally transparent.

Civil Liberties

D Freedom of Expression and Belief

D1 0-4 pts
Are there free and independent media? 4 / 4

Domestic media reflect a wide variety of political opinions and are frequently critical of the government.

D2 0-4 pts
Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 4 / 4

Freedom of worship is legally protected. However, the Evangelical Lutheran Church is subsidized by the government as the official state religion. The faith is taught in public schools, though students may withdraw from religious classes with parental consent.

In 2015, a Danish citizen of Palestinian origin launched an attack on a freedom of expression event and then on a Copenhagen synagogue, killing several people. Since the attack, the government has provided security for Jewish religious and cultural facilities considered to be at risk of attack.

In 2018, a general ban on the public wearing of face coverings, widely referred to as a “burqa ban” applicable to Muslim women, took effect. By July 2020, 60 people had been charged with violating the ban, out of which only some cases addressed specifically the wearing of burqas. Fines for defying the ban range from $150 to $300.

In 2018, Parliament adopted a law requiring mandatory participation in a ceremony for confirmation of newly granted Danish citizenship, with guidelines including a requirement for shaking hands. The provision was viewed as a means of requiring Muslims who refuse to touch someone of a different gender on religious grounds to adopt practices seen as “Danish.” In February 2020, one man rejected the handshake—not for religious reasons, but out of principle—and as a consequence was not granted citizenship. A large number of mayors in municipalities across the country have protested against the regulation, which also lacks support from the current government. When COVID-19 struck Denmark in March 2020, all citizenship ceremonies were put on hold, but they were later resumed; as a temporary measure, the handshake was suspended and replaced with the signing of a statement.

D3 0-4 pts
Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 4 / 4

Academic freedom is generally respected.

D4 0-4 pts
Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 4 / 4

Private discussion is vibrant and unrestricted.

E Associational and Organizational Rights

E1 0-4 pts
Is there freedom of assembly? 4 / 4

The constitution provides for freedom of assembly, which is upheld in practice.

E2 0-4 pts
Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 4 / 4

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) operate freely in Denmark, and frequently inform policy debates.

E3 0-4 pts
Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 4 / 4

Workers are free to organize and bargain collectively.

F Rule of Law

F1 0-4 pts
Is there an independent judiciary? 4 / 4

The judiciary is independent. Judges are formally appointed by the monarch but are recommended by the Justice Minister in consultation with the independent Judicial Appointments Council.

F2 0-4 pts
Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 3 / 4

Citizens enjoy full due-process rights. However, restrictions imposed especially on rejected asylum seekers remain in force. Individuals who were denied asylum in Denmark, but whom the government is for various reasons unable to deport, may be subject to administrative measures parallel to those imposed on people with criminal convictions. Many such individuals live in isolated centers with poor facilities where they are subject to travel restrictions and have no legal option to challenge their placement.

In 2019, the Youth Crime Board was established to deal with individuals between the ages of 10 and 17 who violate the law or are at risk of criminal behavior. Youths may be placed in secure institutions where conditions closely resemble those in the detention system. Professionals have criticized the mechanism for reinforcing criminal identity among youth, in addition to effectively lowering the age of criminal responsibility below the age of 15, as outlined by law.

In October 2019, Parliament adopted legislation that would allow the minister of immigration and integration to strip citizenship from individuals who fight abroad for extremist groups, namely the Islamic State (IS); the minister only has the power to do so for those holding dual citizenship. By December 2020, 10 individuals considered to be “foreign fighters” had been stripped of their Danish citizenship, with one additional case pending. Five of the cases were brought to court. By virtue of its “sunset clause,” the law was due to expire in 2021, but the government made it permanent in December 2020. Furthermore, children born to Danish parents in conflict zones are henceforth not granted Danish citizenship at birth, and the Danish foreign service may deny fighters in foreign conflicts consular assistance.

F3 0-4 pts
Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 4 / 4

People in Denmark are generally free from violent crime and physical abuse by state authorities.

However, in September 2020, Denmark was found guilty by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) of inhuman or degrading treatment when a complainant, Niels Lund Aggerholm, who had been placed in a psychiatric institution for violent behavior and diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, was chained to his bed for an uninterrupted period of 23 hours.

F4 0-4 pts
Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 3 / 4

Danish immigration laws have long been some of the harshest in Europe, and immigration laws and asylum policies were tightened in response to large numbers of refugees and asylum seekers entering Europe beginning in 2015. While Denmark recorded 21,000 asylum applications that year, the figure stood at 2,716 in 2019. In 2020, with the closing of borders due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this number decreased further to an all-time low of 1,547 applicants for asylum in Denmark. Out of these, less than half progressed to substantial consideration by the administration. This is represents a sharp drop from previous years, indicating that the Danish refugee policy under the current government remains as restrictive as under previous governments.

Denmark loosened some restrictions for refugees and asylum seekers in 2019. That June, the SDP committed to accepting refugees under a UN-backed quota system in return for parliamentary support for its government. In November, the government declared that families living at a facility in Sjælsmark would be moved to a new, less restrictive, facility in 2020; they are now in a different facility with only slightly improved conditions for the families. In December 2019, lawmakers amended existing legislation to allow children and adolescents who were previously removed under the Integration Law to return to Denmark and secure their own residency. However, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights criticized Denmark in an October 2019 report, noting that refugees lacked universal access to interpretation services while using Denmark’s health system and that municipalities were not obligated to provide housing to refugees.

Discrimination, including based on gender identity or sexual orientation, is prohibited by law.

The Greenlandic Inuit community faces social marginalization in Denmark, though the government has implemented programs to address this issue.

G Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights

G1 0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 4 / 4

Freedom of movement is protected by law and generally respected by the government. However, in 2018, the previous government of Lars Løkke Rasmussen proposed an “antighetto” initiative, applicable to neighborhoods identified as having high unemployment and crime rates, and a high percentage of foreign-born residents. It aims to shift the areas’ demographics, institute day care requirements for foreign children that would integrate them into Danish society through language and culture lessons, and enact stricter punishments for crimes committed there. Legislation to demolish certain housing structures to meet demographic quotas passed that November, and the daycare provision was approved that December. The Frederiksen government continued these initiatives during 2019, and by 2020, several public housing areas had found themselves on the “hard ghetto” list, a consequence of which will be that public housing in the area will have to be demolished or transformed into cooperative or privately owned housing. This would have a strongly detrimental effect on the freedom of residence of affected individuals, with a further discriminatory effect. However, given that the COVID-19 crisis has meant a sharp rise in unemployment affecting these areas, there is some political will to consider stalling some of the more comprehensive effects of the regulations. By December 2020, more than 52,000 citizens had signed a motion to bring the “ghetto law” before Parliament, with a view to halting further implementation including demolitions and other significant measures.

Since 2015, Denmark has enacted measures that restrict the movement of people who seek to join, or have joined, extremist groups abroad—notably the IS. Some of the measures have been criticized for having a low evidentiary threshold or for lacking appropriate oversight mechanisms.

G2 0-4 pts
Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 4 / 4

Private business activity is free from undue influence by government officials or nonstate actors.

G3 0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 3 / 4

Refugees and other newcomers face lengthy waiting times for family reunification, including in cases involving small children, and restrictions on family reunification were tightened in the wake of the 2015 refugee crisis. The SDP, under pressure from partners in the Red Bloc, committed to loosening some restrictions in return for their support in forming the government in June 2019, and specifically committed to reviewing strict requirements for children seeking permanent residence in Denmark.

Restrictive amendments to the Epidemic Act were passed by Parliament in March 2020, during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. A measure authorizing forced vaccinations and other limitations of individual freedoms was reversed by the government later in the year, and in December 2020, a much-revised form of the bill ensuring transparency and democratic control was presented, with the support of most lawmakers and the health-care sector.

In 1989, Denmark became the first country in the world to adopt same-sex civil unions, and in 2012, Parliament overwhelmingly passed same-sex marriage legislation enabling couples to wed in the Lutheran state church of their choosing. Priests are not obligated to officiate but, when requested to do so, must find a colleague who will.

In December 2020, lawmakers passed a measure that criminalized sex without explicit consent. Previously, proof of violence or serious threat had been required to bring rape charges.

G4 0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 4 / 4

Public- and private-sector workers are generally free from exploitation by employers. However, migrants engaged in forced labor can be found in some sectors, including the agricultural and service industries. Women and children, also primarily migrants, can be found engaged in forced sex work. The government and NGOs work, frequently in conjunction, to identify and prevent human trafficking and to provide aid to survivors.