Denmark and the outside world



The extent of international cooperation has grown since the end of World War II. Denmark participates to a large extent in this cooperation. It has given Denmark influence on conditions that extend beyond the country’s borders. But the decisions in these international organizations are at the same time defining the framework for Danish society. International and especially European cooperation in this way is of great importance to Denmark.

Denmark is today a member of a number of international organizations. It is often to promote Danish political and economic interests and to protect the country’s security. At European level, this is especially about the EU. Cooperation in the EU is particularly extensive and plays a major part in Denmark. In addition, Denmark is a member of the UN, NATO, WTO and the Council of Europe. Denmark also cooperates with the other Nordic countries: Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland. This takes place in the Nordic Council and the Nordic Council of Ministers.



The EU’s aim is to solve common European problems. The Union must strengthen cooperation in areas best managed by EU member states jointly. The general objectives of the EU are to promote economic and social development, to strengthen Europe’s role in the world, to strengthen the protection of European citizens’ rights and interests and to ensure freedom, security and justice. The objectives will be implemented through a number of specific policies. For example, economic and social development has been promoted by creating an internal market for goods, services, capital and workers. Policies for regional development and environmental protection have had the same purpose.

Cooperation in the EU is based on treaties (agreements) between individual Member States. The Treaties define what the Member States are to cooperate. EU cooperation today is based on two treaties, namely the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. EU cooperation today comprises a wide range of different areas of society. And the EU can adopt legislation that applies in the same way as the legislation adopted by the Folketing and the other national parliaments.

EU cooperation may include matters not covered by the Treaty. This can happen when the countries jointly formulate goals for specific policy areas and then report what has been done. It is also called the open coordination method. However, this cooperation is not binding on the Member States. In addition to this, recommendations, guidelines, etc. are also used that are not binding.

The history of the European Union

World War II left large parts of Europe with huge devastations. The war had primarily cost a lot of human life. Both in the population and among politicians there was a strong desire to avoid new wars. This should be achieved through increased cooperation between European countries. Future conflicts between states should be prevented. Instead, peaceful solutions should be ensured. It was also necessary to try to return Europe socially and economically after the devastation of the war. At the same time, the political world map was changed. Europe was no longer the center of world events. That role was taken over by the two new superpowers: the United States and the Soviet Union.

In the years after World War II, several organizations were established in Europe. Their common purpose was to strengthen cooperation across national borders. Some of these organizations were based on traditional forms of international cooperation, ie voluntary agreements in which all the cooperating states should agree on the joint initiatives. This was, for example, the Council of Europe, which still exists.

But at the same time, thoughts came about establishing closer and more binding cooperation between the European countries. This led to the formation of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1952. The cooperation included the coal and steel industries, which had been the basis for producing military equipment during World War II. Just by working together on these sectors, we hoped to make any war between countries impossible. France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg participated in this cooperation.

A few years later, the six countries decided to go one step further. Coal and Steel Community was expanded in 1958 with the European Economic Community and the European Atomic Energy Community. These three communities later became European Communities (EC). The cooperation now became broader economic cooperation. In particular, it aimed at eliminating barriers to trade between countries, thus establishing a more common market.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Member States often disagreed on how the cooperation would take place. There were several proposals to strengthen cooperation. But none of them could achieve the support of all countries. In the 1980s, a number of countries were again ready to develop cooperation. It was first achieved in 1987 with the European Common Law. It came to Denmark as the Community package. The purpose was to achieve an internal market in which goods, services, persons and capital could move freely. It had previously proved difficult to eliminate trade barriers between the countries. At the same time, cooperation was extended to include, among other things, stronger cooperation on environmental policy.

In 1989, major political upheavals occurred in Eastern Europe. In this context, Member States agreed on a significant expansion of EC cooperation. This led to the Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice treaties and later to the enlargement to the east. The Maastricht Treaty included the creation of an Economic and Monetary Union (EMU). The creation of EMU implied coordination of Member States’ economic policies and the introduction of a single European currency (the euro). The euro was introduced in the form of banknotes and coins in 12 of the Member States in 2002. In future, EU cooperation should also include a common foreign and security policy. In addition, issues of police cooperation and asylum and refugee policy became part of the cooperation. Cooperation in other policy areas also strengthened. This included labor market and environment. With the Maastricht Treaty, the EC also changed its name to the European Union (EU).

With the Treaty of Nice, which entered into force in 2003, the EU was made ready for a major enlargement in 2004. Ten new countries became members of the cooperation. At the same time, it was decided to investigate whether there was a need for a new treaty. This led to the drafting of a treaty on a constitution for Europe. Among other things, it was intended to clarify the EU’s objectives and structure and gather it into a single joint document. However, in referendums in 2005 in France and the Netherlands, a majority voted for the new constitutional treaty. It was therefore decided after a reflection period to formally build upon existing co-operation with the Lisbon Treaty, which entered into force on 1 December 2009. The Lisbon Treaty made it easier, inter alia, to make decisions on police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters. In addition, clear rules were laid down for how a Member State could sign up from the EU. Originally there were six countries in the cooperation: France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.

However, over the years there has gradually been more, so the EU today consists of 28 Member States: – 1973: Great Britain, Ireland and Denmark – 1981: Greece – 1986: Spain and Portugal – 1990: The former GDR became part of Germany’s collection EU 1995: Austria, Finland and Sweden – 2004: Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia – 2007: Bulgaria and Romania. – 2013: Croatia

EU today

EU countries today collaborate in almost all areas of society. Cooperation includes environmental protection, social conditions, employment, labor market, education, regional development and foreign policy issues. However, there is a big difference between the extent of cooperation in the individual policy areas. In some areas, common European legislation is being drafted. In other areas, the EU is committed to supporting the national policies of the Member States. This can happen, for example, through action programs.

The EU is based on a number of basic principles. One of them is called the subsidiarity principle or subsidiarity principle. This means that the EU does not have to deal with cases that can be better resolved at national or local level in each Member State. Another principle is that the EU can only adopt legislation in the areas mentioned in the treaties. It is called the principle of legality.

EU cooperation goes beyond traditional international cooperation. It is often said that the EU is an excessive cooperation. The differences are important to understand.

Traditional international cooperation is a cooperation between states. Here, a state is not committed to something it does not agree. Typically, national parliaments must agree that a government’s government can conclude an agreement with other states. When the states have concluded an agreement, they do not always automatically act as a law. In Denmark, an agreement with another state must first be incorporated into national law by the government and the parliament.

In EU cooperation, Member States have given the EU some of the power that was previously held by national parliaments and authorities. This also applies to the legislative power that is in Denmark with the government and the parliament. It is called to grant self-determination (sovereignty). Cooperation in the EU means that EU legislation can now be adopted directly for citizens of the individual member country. The EU rules thus have the same effect as the country’s own legislation. Today, many decisions are also taken in the EU by so-called majority decisions. This means that a proposal can be adopted without the agreement of all the Member States. In other words, a country can be voted down, but still bound by the decision. In addition, a number of institutions have been formed which function independently of the Member States. This is especially about the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Court of Justice. All these conditions make the EU different from traditional international cooperation.

Denmark and the EU

In certain areas, the EU has been allowed to adopt legislation that the Folketing would otherwise adopt. For example, the EU has the right to adopt rules that remove barriers to trade between Member States. Thus, Denmark has given up some of its own right to self-determination. This allows the Danish constitution. However, there are quite strict requirements to make such a decision. It requires that five sixths of the Folketing’s 179 members vote for. That is not enough by a simple majority. If a majority of five sixths can not be reached, the proposal shall be adopted by a referendum in order for Denmark to participate in international cooperation.

Denmark has been a member of the EU since 1973. By a referendum in 1972, a majority of Danes voted yes to the EC, as it was then. Up to the referendum there was a lot of debate about Denmark’s participation in the EC. Many in Denmark were worried about the prospect of standing outside the cooperation. Others were more worried that Denmark would lose self-determination.

Since then, the population has often been divided into the attitude of the EU, especially in the context of holding referendums. Among other things, there have been different opinions about where Denmark is most influenced by its own circumstances. A group has meant that Denmark in the EU is given the opportunity to influence common European issues. On the other hand, another group has suggested that Denmark as a member, on the contrary, loses opportunities for self-determination. The debate about the EU is also about democracy in the EU. On the one hand, the EU is criticized for having a democratic deficit, partly because it is mostly the governments of the Member States who ultimately adopt EU legislation in the Council of Ministers. On the other hand, it is emphasized that the EU is more democratic than traditional international cooperation, partly because the Union has a elected parliament. In addition, this Parliament has gradually gained significantly greater power. It has also got some of the institutions you know from, among other things, Nordic parliaments such as ombudsman, rules on public inquiries, inquiries etc.

Since the Danes said yes in 1972, six referendums have been held about changes in EU cooperation. And each time the population has been divided into two camps. Four times, a majority of voters have voted yes. And three times a majority has voted no.

In June 1992, a majority of Danes voted no to the Maastricht Treaty. Denmark then won a treaty with the other EU countries. Sæftalen is known as the Edinburgh decision. It implies that there are parts of EU cooperation that Denmark does not participate in. The agreement is also called “the four reservations”. It was then sent to a referendum on 18 May 1993. This time, a majority of Danes voted yes.

The four reservations concern the citizenship of the Union, the single currency (euro), the defense area and parts of cooperation on a common justice and immigration policy (legal reservation). However, the reservation of Union citizenship has lost its significance following the entry into force of the Amsterdam Treaty. Denmark’s reservations regarding citizenship of the Union were introduced to ensure that citizenship of the Union should not develop into something in line with nationality or replace it in its entirety. With the entry into force of the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1999, this became applicable to all Member States.

The legal reservation implies that Denmark does not participate in cooperation in a number of legal areas, such as the common foreign and asylum policy. In 2015 there was a referendum on whether the retention should be converted into an option scheme. The option scheme would allow Denmark to decide on which parts of the legal EU cooperation as Denmark would participate, but at the same time the opportunity to choose to stand outside other areas. In the referendum on December 3, 2015, the Danes voted against a conversion of the legal reservation. Denmark is not participating in the cooperation with the other EU countries in most legal areas.

EU and the Danish parliament

Denmark, as a member of the EU, decides to decide on new legislation in the EU. The Danish Government represents the country in the Council of the European Union, which is usually just called the Council of Ministers or the Council. The Council, together with the European Parliament, has the legislative function in the EU.

And it usually requires the support of both the Council and the European Parliament to adopt EU legislation. When negotiated in the Council, the government is represented by a minister who votes on behalf of Denmark. As mentioned, the Council is in the process of adopting legislation that applies directly in Denmark or which Denmark is obliged to introduce itself. Because the cooperation is so far, it began to discuss early how the parliament can monitor the government’s negotiations in the EU.

This led to the creation of a special committee in the parliament. It is called today for the European Commission. Here, members of all parliamentary parties are represented. The committee’s task is primarily to control the Danish EU policy. In major cases, the government must therefore ask the European Affairs Committee for advice before it reaches negotiations in the Council. On this basis, the European Affairs Committee gives the government a negotiating mandate. The mandate determines Denmark’s position on the matter, including whether the government can vote for or against a proposal. In this way, the European Affairs Committee provides the Folketing with an opportunity to control how the government votes in EU cases.

EU institutions and decision making

The four most important EU institutions are the Council, the European Parliament, the European Commission and the European Court of Justice. The Danish Constitution contains rules for how the Folketing adopts a law. Similarly, EU treaties contain rules for the EU’s many different ways of making decisions. In short, the main rule is that the European Commission proposes new EU legislation. It is then the Council and the European Parliament, which jointly or in co-operation approve or reject the proposal.

The different ways of making decisions reflect the degree of influence the various institutions have. In most cases, the European Parliament is equated with the Council. This means that both parties must approve a proposal. In some cases, it is still the Council – ie the Ministers of the Member States – making a decision, while the European Parliament must be consulted. In some areas, unanimity (agreement) is required.

Here, therefore, one Member State can put a veto and thus prevent the adoption of common EU rules. It can be difficult to work with in cooperation between 28 member states. The Lisbon Treaty therefore amended the rules for voting in the Council, so that the main rule is that decisions are taken by qualified majority. It requires that at least 55 percent of the countries (at least 16 out of 28 countries) vote yes and at the same time represent at least 65 percent of the EU population. One or more Member States may therefore be voted down. It seems, but in practice, most decisions are adopted without anyone voting against it.

European Council (EU Summits)

The Danish Prime Minister is in the European Council. It consists of all Heads of State and Government of all EU countries, a chairman elected for a period of two and a half years, as well as the President of the European Commission. In addition, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (EU’s “Foreign Minister”), who is also Vice-President of the Commission, attends the work. The EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy has been elected by the European Council for a five-year period. The European Council meets at least four times a year at EU summits. Here the Heads of State and Government determine the overall policy framework for cooperation. They also make decisions about other important political issues. For example, it may be EU enlargement, EU treaties or EU policy on the global scene. The decisions are generally taken by agreement.

Council (Council of the European Union)

The Council is the Assembly of the Member States. The members of the Council are ministers from all the governments of the Member States. In practice, the Council consists of changing professional ministries, one from each country. When discussing environmental issues, for example, all environmental ministers are meeting. The members of the Council are not directly elected by the European constituencies, but represent their national governments.

The Council, together with the European Parliament, exercises the EU’s legislative functions. This means that adoption of EU legislation as a starting point requires the support of both the Council and the European Parliament. In some areas, however, the European Parliament must be heard only, but it is the Council that makes the final decision.

When the Council votes on a proposal, different rules apply. In a number of areas, all Member States must agree before a proposal can be adopted. However, the Council normally takes decisions by so-called qualified majority. This usually means that at least 55 per cent. Member States must support the decision. This means at least 16 of the 28 member states of the EU. At the same time, these countries must represent a majority of at least 65 per cent. of the total population of the EU. In order to block a decision, at least 4 countries are required, representing at least 35 per cent. of the population in the EU.

European Commission

The European Commission currently has 28 members (Commissioners), one from each Member State. Commissioners are appointed on the basis of proposals from each Member State. The commissioners must be independent. That is, they only have to work for the EU’s interests. The European Commission is chaired by a chairman elected by the European Parliament on the basis of proposals from the European Council. Next, Parliament must approve the entire European Commission. This is done after a public consultation and thorough evaluation of the individual candidates.

The members of the European Commission are appointed for a five-year period. Like the Danish ministers, they have responsibility for each particular area. For example, a Commissioner for Growth and Employment, a Commissioner for Competition, a Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, a Commissioner for Climate and Energy, a Commissioner for Environment and Fisheries, etc. has been appointed.

The European Commission will come up with specific proposals for new legislation. It must also take other initiatives that can lead to the overall policy objectives of the Treaties and the EU Summit. It is primarily the European Commission that has the right to propose new legislation. The European Commission also verifies whether Member States comply with EU legislation. If a country does not, the European Commission can raise a case against the country in question before the European Court of Justice.

EU Court

The Court of Justice of the European Union – in daily speech often called the European Court of Justice – consists of 28 judges, one from each Member State. The task of the European Court of Justice is to ensure compliance with EU legislation. The court may, inter alia, resolve conflicts between two Member States and between the EU and each Member State. The European Court of Justice can also decide how EU rules should be understood. If a national court in a Member State is in doubt, it may ask the European Court of Justice.

The European Parliament

The European Parliament is the elected assembly of European cooperation. It consists of 751 representatives from the 28 EU countries. Denmark currently has 13 members of the European Parliament. They were elected at the last election to the European Parliament in 2014. The European Parliament was composed of members of national parliaments until 1979. But since 1979, the members have been elected by direct elections in all Member States. These elections are held every five years, also in Denmark. Any citizen of an EU Member State may vote in elections to the European Parliament. This also applies even if the citizen lives in a Member State where he or she is not a national.

Members of the European Parliament are not in agreement with their countrymen. They are grouped in parties or groups based on their political attitudes. Since the first direct elections to the European Parliament in 1979, the assembly has become increasingly important in European cooperation. Today, the European Parliament has a significant influence on EU legislation. In addition, the European Parliament is in charge of controlling among other European Commission. The European Parliament may force the European Commission to resign. This is done by suspicion quotas. The European Parliament can also ask questions to the Council and the European Commission. The European Parliament may also encourage both of them to take new policy initiatives. The European Parliament can not, however, propose new EU legislation. It is primarily the European Commission that has this right.


Denmark has been a member of the Council of Europe since its establishment in 1949. The Council of Europe consisted of 10 Western European democracies in 1949. Today, 47 European states are members. The Council of Europe is not an EU institution. It is an independent organization in Europe. Before a country can become a member, it must recognize the personal and political freedoms of its citizens. The purpose of the Council of Europe is to ensure close cooperation between its Member States in a wide range of policy areas. The goal is also to develop the common European cultural heritage and the ideals of democracy. The Council of Europe is responsible for the preparation of the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights. It has also established a human rights court – the European Court of Human Rights – to ensure compliance with the Convention. By acceding to the Convention, Denmark has committed itself to respecting fundamental freedoms and human rights. This will include expression, assembly and religious freedom. In 1992, the Human Rights Convention was formally incorporated into Danish law. It thus stands in line with other laws, but under the constitution. Denmark has also acknowledged that individuals may, under certain conditions, bring an action against Denmark for the European Court of Human Rights.


Denmark also participates in a Nordic cooperation. It includes the five Nordic countries: Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, as well as the Faroe Islands, Greenland and Åland. Åland is part of Finland. The purpose of Nordic cooperation is to strengthen the political, economic and cultural ties in the Nordic region. Nordic cooperation includes both elected politicians and ministers and officials. They cooperate in the Nordic Council and the Nordic Council of Ministers. The Nordic Council members are politicians from national parliaments, who are selected by their parties.

Danish ministers participate in the work of the Nordic Council of Ministers. Here, the Nordic governments cooperate with representatives of the autonomous governments on a wide range of political issues of common Nordic interest. This could, for example, be about environment, culture and research. The cases the Nordic Council of Ministers works with are often raised by the Nordic Council.

In recent years, the three Baltic countries Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have begun participating in the cooperation, which is often called NB8 after the eight Nordic and Baltic countries.


International relations do not stop at Europe and the Nordic region. Denmark is also a member of many organizations dealing with major regional or global issues. Some of the most important are the UN and NATO. Denmark also has extensive cooperation on development with a number of developing countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia.


The United Nations (United Nations) is a worldwide organization, consisting of independent states. The UN was founded in 1945 shortly after the end of World War II. The United Nations has joined 51 states from the beginning, and today’s membership is 193. Although the world has changed a lot since 1945, the UN is largely organized in the same way as the organization’s founding. The UN’s main tasks are within the main areas of peace and security, human rights, development activities and humanitarian efforts. Issues such as conflicts, economics, poverty, hunger, diseases and the environment are therefore central to UN work. In addition, the UN works with many cross-cutting issues, such as the conditions of children, women’s rights, culture and education.

The UN has six main bodies, namely the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, the Presidency, the International Court and the UN Secretariat. The United Nations headquarters are located in New York, but some of its sub-organizations are headquartered elsewhere in the world, including in Geneva, Nairobi and Vienna. The UN Secretary General is the UN Secretary General. The Security Council’s main task is to deal with conflicts that may threaten international peace and security. The Security Council regularly deals with 20-25 conflicts in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America. When the UN Charter was signed, the dominant threat remained armed conflicts between sovereign states. But the classic threat picture is today replaced by a much more complex image. Other types of conflicts, such as civil wars and ethnic conflicts, are increasingly being addressed by the Security Council. These conflicts can create instability in neighboring countries and other neighboring countries. In addition to conflicts, the Security Council also deals with cross-cutting issues such as terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, HIV / AIDS and the protection of civilians in armed conflicts.

The Security Council has five permanent (permanent) members. It is Russia, China, Great Britain, USA and France. These five countries have the right to veto. That is, if only one of these countries votes against a decision, it can not be implemented. The Security Council has ten other member states. They are elected by the General Assembly for two years at a time. Denmark has been a member of the Security Council in the years 1953-54, 1967-1968, 1985-1986 and 2005-2006.


Denmark is a member of NATO Alliance NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization). In NATO, a number of European countries and Turkey, the United States and Canada cooperate. The organization was established in 1949 as a common defense against the Communist superpower Soviet Union. Denmark has been from the start. In total, NATO comprises 28 member countries, including all EU countries near Austria, Ireland, Sweden and Finland.

NATO cooperation is based on solidarity between Member States. This means that all NATO countries regard attacks on one of the Member States as an attack on the entire alliance. Since the Cold War ended around 1990, NATO’s efforts have gradually changed. The goal is still to create peace, security and stability in the member states. But the funds have increasingly been promoting democracy, human rights and Western legal principles around the world. Following the terrorist attack in New York in September 2001, NATO took a new step in 2002 in its cooperation. NATO decided to strengthen its ability to counteract any threat to the military forces, populations and territories of the Member States, including terrorist threats. Today, the risk of cyber attacks over the Internet is also discussed. Earlier, NATO was only ready to respond to threats from other nations.

Everyday, NATO is headed by a Secretary-General. To this post, NATO in 2009 chose the former Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who was replaced by former Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg in 2014. The Secretary-General is responsible for holding meetings in the NATO Council. Here, the Member States take the most important political decisions by unanimity. The Foreign Ministers and Defense Ministers of the Member States meet on a regular basis.


Denmark supports the fight against poverty in many of the world’s poorest countries. This support is called international development cooperation. In cooperation with developing countries and various organizations, Denmark is trying to identify where the need for and the impact of development assistance is greatest. Gender equality, good governance, human rights and democracy, private sector development and environmental considerations are crucial elements in ensuring sustainable development that can lead to poverty reduction. These elements are therefore important for Danish development assistance.

At a New York summit in September 2015, the UN Member States adopted the new global sustainable development goals that form the framework for global development efforts over the next 15 years.

The 17 new world goals are very ambitious and wide spread. In addition to combating poverty and social development, the world goals also focus on economic and environmental development and include goals for peace and security. With the world goals, UN member states have, for example, undertaken to abolish extreme poverty, ensure education for all, better health, decent jobs and sustainable growth in all countries. World targets show where we are going by 2030.

Danish development assistance aims, among other things, at improving social conditions such as health facilities and education opportunities, increasing economic growth through, for example, development of agriculture, infrastructure and business, protecting the environment and promoting democracy and human rights as well as good governance. Part of Danish development assistance is given as direct assistance to developing countries. In 2015, it was decided to prioritize development cooperation, so the efforts in the future will be focused on 14 priority countries, mainly in Africa.

In addition, Denmark provides assistance through contributions to international organizations such as the EU, the UN and the World Bank. Finally, Denmark provides assistance through private organizations and civil society organizations. Denmark is one of only a handful of countries in the world that meets the United Nations goal of giving countries 0.7% of gross national income (GNP) in development aid.