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 liberated by the Allied forces in May 1945.
Resistance against the Germans was sporadic until late 1943. By then better
organized, the resistance movement and other volunteers undertook a successful
rescue mission in which nearly the entire Jewish population of Denmark
was shipped to Sweden (whose neutrality was honored by Germany). However,
extensive studies are still undertaken for the purpose of establishing
a clearer picture of the degree of Danish cooperation--official and corporate--with
the occupying power. Denmark became a charter member of the United Nations
and was one of the original signers of the North Atlantic Treaty.
The Social Democratic Party, historically identified with a well-organized
labor movement but today appealing more broadly to the middle class, held
power either alone or in coalition for most of the postwar period except
from 1982 to 1993. From February 1993 to November 2001, Social Democratic
Party chairman Poul Nyrup Rasmussen led a series of different minority
coalition governments, which all included the centrist Social Liberal Party.
However, with immigration high on the November 2001 election campaign agenda,
the Danish People's Party doubled its number of parliamentary seats; this
was a key factor in bringing a new minority right-of-center coalition government
into power. The coalition consists of the Liberal Party ("Venstre") and
the Konservative Party, holding 72 of the 179 seats in the Folketing, and
with the parliamentary support of the Danish People's Party holding another
The vulnerability implicit in a minority coalition has been evidenced
on occasion, but the tradition for broadly based budget agreements has
been the rule rather than the exception. However, since November 2001,
the new government has carried through most of its agenda on narrowly based
agreements with the Danish People's Party. Consensus decisionmaking is
the most prominent feature of Danish politics. It has often allowed the
small centrist parties to play a larger role than their size suggests but
not so after the November 2001 election.
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 referenda (June 2, 1992, and May 18, 1993) on the Maastricht Treaty
on the European Union with four exemptions (or "opt-outs"): common defense,
common currency, EU citizenship, and certain aspects of legal cooperation,
including law enforcement. The Amsterdam Treaty was approved in a referendum
May 28, 1998, by a 55% majority. Still, the electorate's fear of losing
national identity in an integrated Europe and lack of confidence in long-term
stability of European economies run deep. These concerns were at the forefront
of the September 28, 2000 referendum on Denmark's participation in the
third phase of the Economic and Monetary Union, particularly the common
currency, the euro; more than 53% voted "no," and Denmark retained its
"krone" currency unit. The government and the pro-EU opposition have agreed,
and Denmark has received an EU green light, to maintain the four opt-outs
throughout the process of approving and ratifying a new EU constitutional
treaty, with the ambition to eliminate all opt-outs in the longer term.
The government will put Danish approval of the new EU constitution to the
public in a referendum.