U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: Denmark, March 1995
Bureau of Public Affairs
Official Name: Kingdom of Denmark
Area: 43,076 sq. km. (16,632 sq. mi.); slightly smaller than Vermont
and New Hampshire combined.
Cities: Capital--Copenhagen (pop. 1.4 million in Greater Copenhagen).
Other cities--Aarhus (195,000), Odense (137,000), Aalborg (114,000).
Terrain: Low and flat or slightly rolling; highest elevation is 173 m.
Climate: Temperate. The terrain, location, and prevailing westerly
winds make the weather changeable.
Nationality: Noun--Dane(s). Adjective--Danish.
Population (1994): 5.2 million.*
Annual growth rate (1994): 0.3%.
Ethnic groups: Scandinavian, Eskimo, Faroese, German.
Religion: Evangelical Lutheran (about 97%).
Languages: Danish, Faroese, Greenlandic (an Eskimo dialect), some
German. English is the predominant second language.
Education: Years compulsory--9. Attendance--100%. Literacy--99%.
Health: Infant mortality rate (1993, est.)--7/1,000. Life expectancy--
men 72 yrs., women 78 yrs.
Work force (1994): 2.8 million. Industry and commerce--50%.
Government--30%. Services--12%. Agriculture and fisheries--6%. Other-
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.
Suffrage: Universal adult.
Administrative subdivisions: 14 counties.
GDP (1994): $155 billion.
Annual growth rate (1994): 4.5%.
Per capita income: $30,000.
Agriculture (and related production, 6% of GDP): Products--meat, dairy
Industry (19% of GDP): Types--industrial and construction equipment,
electronics, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, furniture, textiles.
Natural resources: North Sea--oil and gas, fish. Greenland--fish,
zinc, lead, iron ore, coal, molybdenum, cryolite, uranium. The Faroe
Trade (1994): Exports--$44 billion: machinery and instruments 24%;
meat and meat products 10%; chemical, medical, and pharmaceutical
products 10%; fish and fish products 6%; transport equipment (including
ships) 5%; textiles and apparel 4%; furniture 4%. Imports--$38 billion:
machinery 10%; iron, steel, and metals 10%; transport equipment
(excluding ships) 7%; crude oils and petroleum products 5%; paper and
paperboard 4%; fish and fish products 3%. Partners-- F.R.G. 20%, Sweden
12%, U.K. 10%, U.S. 6%, Eastern European countries 3%.
Official exchange rate (1995): 6 kroner=U.S. $1.
*Excluding Greenland and the Faroe Islands.
PEOPLE AND HISTORY
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 mixed Inuit-Danish
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
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.
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
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 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.
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
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 1970 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. In June 1988, radio and broadcasting, formerly under the
Ministry of Culture, was transferred to the Ministry of Transportation
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 1992,
government expenditures for culture totaled about 1.9% 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 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 (seven 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
Denmark is divided into 14 counties (Amter) and 272 municipalities
(Kommuner). The chief official of the Amt, the county mayor
(Amtsborgmester), is elected by the county council from among its
members, according to the municipal reform of 1970. The city of
Copenhagen represents a single Kommune.
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
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 1993-94 defense agreement; no
new agreement has been negotiated. The average percentage of Danish GDP
absorbed by defense in 1994 was about 1.9%.
Principal Government Officials
Monarch--Queen Margrethe II
Prime Minister--Poul Nyrup Rasmussen
Agriculture and Fisheries--Mr. Henrik Dam Kristensen
Business and Industry--Ms. Mimi Jakobsen
Culture--Ms. Jytte Hilden
Defense--Mr. Hans Haekkerup
Development Cooperation--Mr. Poul Nielson
Economic Affairs/Nordic Cooperation--Ms. Marianne Jelved
Education--Mr. Ole Vig Jensen
Environment--Mr. Svend Auken
Finance--Mr. Mogens Lykketoft
Foreign Affairs--Mr. Niels Helveg Petersen
Health--Ms. Yvonne Herlov Andersen
Housing--Mr. Ole Lovig Simonsen
Interior/Ecclesiastical Affairs--Ms. Birthe Weiss
Justice--Mr. Bjorn Westh
Labor--Ms. Jytte Andersen
Research--Mr. Frank Jensen
Social Affairs--Ms. Karen Jespersen
Taxation--Mr. Carsten Koch
Transport--Mr. Jan Trolborg
Ambassador to the United States--Peter Dyvig
Ambassador to the United Nations--Bent Haakonsen
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, Denmark's largest and closely identified
with a large well-organized labor movement, has held power either alone
or in coalition for most of the postwar period. Following parliamentary
elections in September 1994, Prime Minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen and his
Social Democratic Party lead a minority coalition government, which also
includes the Center Democrats and the centrist Radikales. The coalition
controls 76 of 179 seats in the Folketing.
The vulnerability implicit in a minority coalition has been exacerbated
by recent coalition failure to achieve consensus on issues such as
energy taxes and a new multi-year defense budget agreement. 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 police cooperation. Fear of "losing" Denmark's
identity in an integrating Europe runs deep in the public, especially
among key Social Democratic voters. (Denmark's electorate voted to join
the EEC in 1973 for economic reasons.) Any government push to remove
some or all of the Danish exemptions would require yet another
referendum to be held sometime after the EU's 1996 Intergovernmental
Conference to review the Maastricht Treaty.
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 oil and gas. 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, and coal 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 merchant marine
vessels, furniture, and pharmaceuticals.
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. The current government has had some success in cutting
unemployment, which peaked at 12.5% and is now declining slowly. Average
annual growth rates of 1.2% in 1990-93 jumped to 4.5% in 1994.
Danes are proud of their highly developed welfare state, 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 has suffered negative economic growth in recent years, but in
1993 the economy appeared to have stabilized. Nonetheless, prospects
for significant economic growth in the near term are poor. Economic
restraint measures introduced by the Greenland Home Rule Government in
the late 1980s helped create a small surplus in the public budget, which
is expected to continue in coming years. Greenland registered a foreign
trade surplus in the late 1980s, but since then has run a trade deficit.
Since closure of Greenland's last lead and zinc mine in 1989, its
economy is almost solely dependent on the fishing industry. There is no
prospect for early resumption of either mining or hydrocarbon
exploration. 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 equal about one-half of Greenland's GDP.
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. There are no near-term
prospects for an economic rebound, but recent oil finds offer some hope
for the economy 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 GDP 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 are heavily engaged in support of the UN in the former
Yugoslavia, where 1,400 Danish troops and an armored unit serve with the
UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR).
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 leftist positions on nuclear and
arms control issues. With the end of the Cold War, however, Denmark has
been generally supportive of U.S. policy objectives in the Alliance.
Denmark is not a member of the West European Union.
Since 1988, Denmark's role in the EU has been not only a key political
issue but also the most important subject of Danish foreign policy
debate. Danes always 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 police
cooperation. On this revised basis, Danes overwhelmingly approved entry
into the EU in a second referendum on May 18, 1993. Denmark is expected
to play an active role in the EU's 1996 Intergovernmental Conference,
when the Maastricht Treaty comes up for review.
Denmark is a close NATO ally, and overall U.S.-Danish relations are
excellent. Denmark's active liberal trade policy in the EU, OECD, and
WTO largely coincides with U.S. interests, and, as noted, the U.S. is
Denmark's largest non-European trading partner (also see Economy).
Despite certain anti-American sentiments on the part of some Danes and
some of the media, American culture--and particularly popular culture,
from jazz to the television show "Beverly Hills 90210"--is very popular
in Denmark. Some 400,000 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
some controversy in U.S.-Danish relations in recent years. 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 cooperate closely with each other and the other Nordic
countries in several regions around the world, including in the Baltic
Principal U.S. Officials
Ambassador--Edward E. Elson
Deputy Chief of Mission--Gregory L. Mattson
Political/Economic Counselor--Patricia D. Hughes
Economic Officer--James Williamson
Consul--Michael D. Kirby
Administrative Officer--Perry M. Adair
Public Affairs Counselor--Stephan Strain
Agricultural Counselor--Robert Tetro
Commercial Attache-- Richard F. Benson
Defense and Naval Attache--Capt. Terry Moore
Army Attache--Col. Michael Matthies
Air Attache--Col. Lawrence H. Shavitz
Chief, Office of Defense Cooperation--Col. Lawrence Haggenauer
The U.S. embassy is located at Dag Hammarskjolds Alle 24, 2100
Copenhagen O, Denmark (tel. 31/42-
Travel and Business Notes
Customs: No immunizations are required, and U.S. tourists do not need
visas for stays of less than 90 days.
Climate and clothing: Winters are warmer and summers cooler than in New
England. Woolen clothes are worn most of the year.
Transportation: Direct flights are available between Copenhagen and
several major U.S. cities, and many international carriers serve
Copenhagen's Kastrup International Airport. Rail and air services link
major European centers. Rail service leaves daily for London, Paris,
and Scandinavian capitals. Ferries connect Denmark with Oslo,
Stockholm, Helsinki, and points in the U.K. and F.R.G.
Copenhagen's bus, suburban train, and taxi services are excellent, and
rates are reasonable.
Telecommunications: Local telephone service is good. Worldwide
telephone and telegraph service is available. Copenhagen is six time
zones ahead of eastern standard time.
Tourist attractions: Tivoli is one of Copenhagen's famous tourist
attractions but is only open during the summer. In downtown Copenhagen,
the Rosenborg Castle exhibits the Danish crown jewels. Not far from
Copenhagen are Kronborg Castle in Elsinore, Frederiksborg Castle in
Hillerod, Fredensborg Castle in Esrum Lake, the Open Air Museum in
Sorgenfri, and the cathedral and Viking ship museum in Roskilde.
Hans Christian Andersen's childhood home in Odense has been turned into
a museum. The town of Dragoer, close to Copenhagen, as well as the
towns of Ribe and Mogeltonder in southern Jutland, and the islands of
Fano, Aero, Samso, and Bornholm offer glimpses of Danish village and
rural life. Copenhagen has many good, though expensive, hotels. Book
in advance for the April-October season.
Business Information: For further information on economic trends,
commercial development, production, trade regulations, and tariff rates,
contact the International Trade Administration, U.S. Department of
Commerce, Washington, DC 20230.
Published by the United States Department of State -- Bureau of Public
Affairs -- Office of Public Communication -- Washington, DC --
Managing Editor, Background Notes Series: Peter A. Knecht -- Editor,
March 1995 Denmark: Marilyn J. Bremner -- This material is in the
public domain and can be reproduced without consent; citation of this
source is appreciated.
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