Denmark Unitary state

History and trends

Denmark is a constitutional parliamentary monarchy. Its constitution entered into force on 5 June 1953.

Local self-government is enshrined in article 82 of the Danish Constitution. Although the principle of local self-government can be traced back to the mid-19th-century, the current territorial division dates from 1970, when there was a drastic cut in the number of municipalities and counties.

Local level :

Prior to 2007, Denmark (excluding the autonomous territories of Greenland and the Faroe Islands) was divided into 270 municipalities, grouped together into 13 counties (amter), plus the special-status city-counties of Copenhagen and Frederiksberg (adjoining the capital). During this period, there were only 17 municipalities in Denmark with a population of less than 5,000 people.

The idea of voluntary mergers first emerged in the late 1990s, although these discussions ultimately had little impact.

Regional level :

On 1 January 2007, following a decision by the government in July 2004, the 13 counties were replaced by 5 regions (regioner) and the 270 municipalities were reduced to just 98, each with at least 20,000 inhabitants. The municipalities have a similar remit to that previously assigned to the counties (amter).

Denmark includes two autonomous territories – Greenland and the Faroe Islands.

The municipalities and regions are structured and operate in a similar way. All municipal and regional council members are elected via direct universal suffrage for a four-year term. The mayor and the regional president are elected by their respective council members. Typically, the councils are assisted by a series of committees, each of which has a department responsible for implementing decisions. Unlike committees in many other countries, they have specific executive powers.

There is no hierarchical relationship between the municipalities and the regions. Denmark’s local governements enjoy extensive executive independence. Local public services are governed by framework legislation, which merely sets the principle objectives and minimum standards of service delivery. The municipalities and regions are free to choose how best to address the issues that arise locally.

The limits of municipal government are set largely along geographical, rather than remit, lines. In 1998, however, more than half of municipal employees worked in social services and health, and slightly less than a quarter in education. The regions are responsible for public transport, hospitals and sixth-form colleges.

Inter-municipal cooperation: Since 1998, 93 municipalities across Denmark have signed long-term “strategic cooperation agreements” with neighbouring authorities. As in other European countries, Danish local governements form associations to represent their interests and access services and information. Moreover, associations like the Association of County Councils in Denmark have an international presence in the Committee of the Regions, the International Union of Local Authorities, and the Council of European Municipalities and Regions.