Government looking at changing the constitution

Opposition is adamant that the founding document should remain unchanged, save one point

While many Danes are off work today due to Constitution Day (Grundlovsdag), the 163-year-old document has come under increasing fire as of late.

The current government is looking to modernise the constitution, which dates to 1849 and is viewed by many as being obsolete, but the opposition is rejecting any idea of altering the founding pillar of democracy in Denmark.

The incumbent government, led by Socialdemokraterne (S), the Socialistisk Folkeparti (SF) and Radikale (R), is investigating the possibility of setting of a commission to examine updating the constitution so that it reflects the realities of current society.

Zenia Stampe, R's constitutional spokeswoman, indicated that the document was obsolete and needed a work over.

“The more time that passes before we change the constitution, the more holy a document it becomes and the further it drifts from reality,” Stampe told Politiken newspaper. “We need to figure something out that we can all agree on, and something that is an improvement to the current edition.”

But the opposition is not interested in altering the founding document, with the exception of a change that would allow Danes living abroad to vote in parliamentary elections.

“Our position is that nothing at all should be changed,” V's political spokesperson Kristian Jensen told Politiken newspaper. “But [the voting rights of Danes abroad] is a point where we believe there may be a problem to address.”

But even if the parliament agrees to establish a commission to look at the potential to change the constitution, it will still prove very difficult to accomplish.

“It is politically a losing cause to try and change the constitution, as seen in 2009 when changes to the succession of the throne were proposed,” Jes Fabricius Møller, a history professor at the University of Copenhagen, told Kristeligt Dagblad newspaper. “Even though it was a small detail, amazingly many people voted against it.”

Although the constitution has been revised five times, the last time being in 1953, two thirds of the document remains as originally written in 1849. Critics argue that much of the content is outdated and unrepresentative of society today.

A commission consisting of parliament members will likely begin initial investigations into the issue sometime in autumn.

Kristeligt Dagblad identified the five most problematic issues with the constitution:

  1. Church – At issue is the fact that the definition of the relationship between the church and state has never been properly defined.
  2. Monarchy – Even though the monarchy maintains little power, it is still referred to as one of the highest and most central actors in the constitution.
  3. Relationship to international powers – According to a 1953 revision of the constitution, Denmark can relinquish a portion of power to an international authority to a certain degree, but the ‘certain degree’ lacks clear definition.
  4. Obsolete – The constitution also contains language that is obsolete and do not pertain to current society. Issues such as human rights are glaringly incomplete.
  5. Difficult to change – The constitution is very rigid and difficult to change. One of the central problems with the founding document is that any change requires a 40 percent majority from all entitled to vote and Danes are notorious ‘nay-sayers’ when it comes to constitutional change.