Background Notes: Denmark 03/97

U.S. Department of State  Background Notes: Denmark, March 1997 
Released by the Bureau of European and Canadian Affairs.

Official Name: 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 (1996): 
5.3 million.* Annual growth rate: 0.6%. 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 (1996): 2.8 million. Industry and construction -- 25%. 
Government -- 31%. Services -- 38%. Agriculture and fisheries -- 5%. 
Other -- 1%.
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. 
Suffrage: Universal adult. Administrative subdivisions: 14 counties and 
275 municipalities.
GDP (1996): $174 billion. 
Annual growth rate: 2.2%. 
Per capita income: $33,000. 
Agriculture (and related production, 4% of GDP): Products -- meat, dairy 
products, fish. Industry (20% 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 -- 
Trade (1996): Exports -- $49 billion: machinery and instruments 25%; 
meat and meat products 9%; chemical, medical, and pharmaceutical 
products 11%; fish and fish products 4%; transport equipment 4%; 
textiles and apparel 5%; furniture 4%. Imports -- $43 billion: machinery 
and computers 24%; iron, steel, and metals 8%; transport equipment 
(excluding ships) 8%; paper and paperboard 4%; fish and fish products 
3%. Partners -- Germany 22%, Sweden 11%, U.K. 8%, U.S. 5%, Eastern 
European countries 5%. Official exchange rate (1996 avg.): 5.79 
kroner=U.S. $1.
*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 
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 (nine 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 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 

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) -- Mr. Henrik Dam Kristensen
Business and Industry -- Mr. Jan Trojborg 
Culture -- Mr. Ebbe Lundgaard Defense -- Mr. Hans Haekkerup
 Development Cooperation -- Mr. Poul Nielson
Economic Affairs/Nordic Cooperation -- Ms. Marianne Jelved 
Education and Ecclesiastical Affairs-- Mr. Ole Vig Jensen 
Environment and Energy -- Mr. Svend Auken 
Finance -- Mr. Mogens Lykketoft 
Foreign Affairs -- Mr. Niels Helveg Petersen 
Housing -- Mr. Ole Lovig Simonsen 
Interior and Health -- Ms. Birte Weiss 
Justice -- Mr. Frank Jensen 
Labor -- Ms. Jytte Andersen 
Research - Ms. Jytte Hilden 
Social Affairs -- Ms. Karen Jespersen 
Taxation -- Mr. Carsten Koch 
Transport -- Mr. Bjorn Westh
Ambassador to the United States -- Knud-Erik Tygesen 
Ambassador to the United Nations -- Benny Kimberg

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 except from 1982 to 1993. 
Since the parliamentary elections in September 1994, Prime Minister Poul 
Nyrup Rasmussen and his Social Democratic Party have led a minority 
coalition government, which at first included the centrist Radikales and 
the Center Democrats. The Center Democrats left the government in 
December 1996; the present SDP-Radikales coalition controls 71 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 sizable 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. 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 at least one other referendum to be held 
sometime after the EU's 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 almost 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. The current government has had success in cutting 
official unemployment, which peaked at 12.5% and is now 8%. 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 

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 
surpluses in the public budget and a low inflation rate. 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. The Faroese economy in 1995 
and 1996 saw a noticeable upturn again, 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 900 in IFOR in 1996.

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 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 legal cooperation. On this revised 
basis, a clear majority of Danes approved continued participation in the 
EU in a second referendum on May 18, 1993. Denmark will have to review 
its exemptions as the EU's Intergovernmental Conference proposes changes 
in the Maastricht Treaty.


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

Ambassador -- Edward E. Elson 
Deputy Chief of Mission -- Jimmy S. Kolker 
Political/Economic Counselor -- Patricia D. Hughes 
Economic Officer -- Karen Milliken 
Consul -- Suella Pipal 
Administrative Officer - vacant 
Public Affairs Counselor -- Stephan Strain 
Environment, Science, and Technology Counselor -- Stephanie Kinney
Agricultural Attache -- Margaret Dowling 
Commercial Attache -- Christian R. Reed 
Defense and Naval Attache -- E.Carl Swanson, Jr. 
Army Attache -- Lt. Col. Steven M. Czepica 
Air Attache -- Lt. Col. Thomas Shubert 
Chief, Office of Defense Cooperation -- Col. Lawrence Hagenauer
Labor Officer -- Peter K. Ito

The U.S. embassy is located at Dag Hammarskjolds Alle 24, 2100 
Copenhagen O, Denmark  (tel. 31/42-31-44). 


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