The Tasks and Responsibilities of the Danish Parliament

The four major tasks of the Danish Parliament are: To pass Bills, to exercise control over the Government, to adopt the State Budget and to take part in international cooperation.

Større

 

The Danish Parliament constitutes the legislative power

The Danish Parliament and the Government are the only authorities to introduce Bills i.e. introduce proposals for new legislation and legislative amendments. The legislative power is comprised of Parliament and Government but it is only Parliament which can pass Bills. The Constitutional Act lays down the division of power between Parliament (the legislative power), Government (the executive and the legislative power) and the courts of justice (the judicial power). This division is often referred to as the tripartition of power. The power in Danish society is divided into three sections in order to prevent abuse of power.

Parliamentary control and legislation in Parliament

The three main tasks of Parliament are:

  • To read Bills and pass laws
  • to read and pass the annual State budget, the Finance Bill
  • to exercise control over the way in which the Government exercises its power 

In order to deal with the above tasks, it is necessary for the MPs to become acquainted with the way in which political work is undertaken. The rules on parliamentary work (forkortet på engelsk) are laid down in the Standing Orders. These rules may change over the years as society keeps changing but most of the rules date a long way back.

Legislative work in Parliament

Parliament and Government may both introduce proposals for new legislation (NB:står også I første afsnit). Usually, Government proposals take the form of Bills. Bills are worded as proper laws and they have undergone a long process at the Ministry concerned. Bills are very time consuming and require a lot of resources which are not usually available to the individual MP. In order to pass a new Bill Parliament has to adhere to a given procedure.

The Government introduces most Bills

All MPs are entitled to introduce Bills and proposals for other decisions that the Parliament must consider. In practice, however, the majority of Bills approved by the Parliament have been drawn up by the Government. Since the Government usually has the support of a majority in the Parliament, or has reached a political agreement or a compromise prior to presenting a Bill, it is sure to obtain a majority for the Bill. In addition, the Government can rely on help from the various ministries where a large number of experts are engaged in drawing up Bills.

The legislative process is designed to provide time for deliberation

According to the Danish Constitutional Act, a Bill must be read three times in the Parliament before it can be passed. Legislative work is carried out in the Chamber and in the parliamentary committees. Committees work on Bills in between readings in the Chamber, and this helps to ensure that legislation is thoroughly thought-out. In addition, a 30-day period has been introduced as the minimum time for reading Bills, a further guarantee that this work will be extremely thorough.
Between 200-300 Bills are introduced each year. The majority of them are passed.

Proposals for parliamentary resolution from the opposition

Instead of a Bill, the opposition can introduce what is known as a proposal for parliamentary resolution, which typically involves a call for the Government to amend the law in a certain area. If a majority can be found in the Chamber for such a proposal for parliamentary resolution, the Government will normally introduce a Bill proper that amends the law as proposed. It is far easier to draw up a proposal for parliamentary resolution than to prepare a Bill. Therefore, proposals introduced by the opposition are most often of this type, as the opposition does not have access to help from the ministries to draw up a Bill. A proposal for parliamentary resolution is only read twice. Usually, a committee reading is inserted between the two readings.

External parties and experts can be consulted

A Minister can decide to set up an expert committee or a commission to look into the need for legislation in a given area. As a rule, this results in the commission or the committee publishing a report. If a Minister wishes to introduce a Bill, the parties who will be affected by the Act are usually given an opportunity to be heard. This is known as the consultation phase, and it comes before the introduction of the Bill in the Parliament. Interest groups or representatives of the business community might be consulted in this way.

According to the Danish Constitutional Act, a Bill must be read three times in the Chamber before it can be passed. The following procedure is typical:

First reading

At this stage, the main principles of the Bill are discussed, and spokespersons of the various political parties present their party’s position on the Bill. Most Bills are sent on to one of the Parliament's committees, where Members of Parliament (MPs) debate the Bill in detail and produce a report on the basis of their deliberations.

Second reading

The Bill is debated in full and in detail. The contents of the committee report form part of the debate and, if amendments have been proposed, these will be discussed as well. Following the debate, MPs vote on any amendments proposed. After the second reading, a Bill can be referred back to a committee, but in most cases it goes straight to the third reading.

Third reading

Initially, MPs debate and vote on proposed amendments. If an MP wishes to take the floor, the Bill will be debated in its entirety. If no amendments have been proposed, MPs debate and vote on the Bill immediately. For the vote to be valid, half of the MPs (i.e. at least 90) must be present and take part in the voting. Bills are passed by a simple majority, i.e. more MPs must vote for the Bill than against it. When a Bill has been passed, it must be signed by the Queen and a Minister and then published on the website www.lovtidende.dk. Once this has been done, the Bill becomes law.


In addition to enacting legislation, the Parliament must exercise control of the Government and oversee the way it implements laws in practice.

Usually, Members of Parliament (MPs) and committees perform this task by putting questions to Ministers. As a possible result of its control, the Parliament may decide to unseat the Government. But in practice, it is extremely rare for the Parliament to resort to this measure. Naturally, it is especially the opposition that considers the monitoring of the Government a particularly important task.

While the Danish Constitutional Act describes in considerable detail how the Parliament must handle Bills, it does not in the same way outline how the Parliament must carry out its control of the Government. Instead, control is based on the parliamentary principle, which means that the Government must resign or call a general election if the Parliament adopts a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister.

The Parliament has a range of instruments at its disposal for scrutinising the Government:

Control through questioning

One method of exercising parliamentary control of the Government is to put questions to Ministers. Collectively, Ministers are asked more than 15,000 questions a year, primarily about current issues and problems. To a certain extent, these questions may promote the questioner's own opinion on a given issue. Parliamentary control can thus be used to express political standpoints and to point out areas of disagreement.

Question Hour and Question Time

Individual MPs have various options for asking questions of Ministers. One option is to submit questions in writing and ask for oral or written replies. Written answers are forwarded continually whereas oral answers are given briefly during the weekly Question Time in the Chamber. MPs can also ask "impromptu questions", which means that Ministers must answer questions they have not seen in advance. This happens once a week during what is known as Question Hour. The purpose of the Question Hour is to strengthen the political debate in the Parliament.

Interpellations – the broad political debate

Interpellations are used when one or more MPs wish to discuss a societal problem and have one or several Ministers explain or elaborate their viewpoints. Interpellations are primarily used to create a debate on broad political issues of a more general character. An interpellation debate usually lasts for several hours, depending on the MPs’ eagerness to discuss the subject. There are typically between 40-60 interpellations a year.

From mild criticism to a vote of no confidence

After an interpellation debate, the Parliament may adopt a resolution on the subject that has been debated. This could take the form of anything from a request or an expression of criticism to the passing of a vote of no confidence in the Minister in question or the Government as a whole, in which case the Government must resign. However, the latter course of action has very rarely been chosen. If criticism is in the offing, the Government parties can react with a "counter motion" that expresses satisfaction or only very mild criticism.

Ministers in consultation

Finally, parliamentary control of the Government can also be exercised in the Parliament's 25 standing committees. In addition to their work on Bills and proposals for parliamentary resolution, the committees can also put questions to Ministers to be answered orally or in writing. Such questions could deal with concrete issues or more general subjects within the committee’s area of responsibility. Questions from committees are asked on behalf of the committee as a whole and are therefore generally more neutral in tone than questions asked by MPs on their own initiative.

When a Minister answers questions orally at a committee meeting, this is known as a consultation. Committees can decide to hold open consultations, so that the public can attend them. Moreover, the majority of these consultations are broadcast live on the Parliament's TV channel and streamed online at www.ft.dk/tv.

Every year a new Finance Bill, which determines the Danish state's budget for the following year, must be passed. The Finance Act is the most complex of all laws. While an "ordinary" law typically takes up between 20-30 pages, the Finance Act consists of more than 500 pages in addition to about 2,500 pages of explanatory notes. The Finance Act determines how much money will go to universities, ministries and the Danish Defence, for instance. 

Like most other Bills, the budget proposal is introduced by the Government. Negotiations on the Finance Bill constitute one of the most important events during a sessional year of Parliament. The Bill is usually passed by Parliament in December just before the Christmas holiday. Voting on the Finance Bill in the Chamber can be regarded as a kind of vote of confidence in the Government because if the Government is unable to get the Bill passed, it will be obliged to resign or call a general election. However, the Finance Bill has only been rejected twice, namely in 1929 and in 1983.

Amendments to the Finance Bill

If it becomes necessary to amend the appropriations established in the Finance Act during the year, this can be done with the help of what are known as legal documents and supporting documents. They must be approved by the Finance Committee and about 200 applications are received from Ministers each year.

A major part of the political work performed in the Danish Parliament is international. The most binding cooperation that Denmark takes part in is with the EU, where the Government negotiates on behalf of Denmark.

The Danish Parliament exercises ongoing control over the Government's EU policy with the help of the European Affairs Committee and the other committees.

Meetings with elected representatives from foreign parliaments

The Danish Parliament cooperates with several different international bodies and a number of inter-parliamentary assemblies. These include the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and the Nordic Council. Danish Members of Parliament (MPs) also attend the UN’s annual General Assembly, which takes place in New York.

Discussing international issues

One of the chief purposes of cooperating with MPs from other countries is to ensure that the elected national parliaments take part in discussing issues of an international character. Otherwise, only the heads of state would discuss such issues at summit meetings. For example, the inter-parliamentary assemblies can put forward joint recommendations and statements to national governments. Some of the assemblies, e.g. the OSCE and the Council of Europe, also take part in election monitoring.