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Why does Denmark reopen parliament at the start of October?

Denmark’s new parliamentary year is always commenced on the first Tuesday in October. Why is the custom important and what can be expected this year?

Why does Denmark reopen parliament at the start of October?
Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen and husband Bo Tengberg arrive for the opening of parliament on October 4th 2022. Photo: Liselotte Sabroe/Ritzau Scanpix

Parliament is opened each year on the first Tuesday in October with a traditional speech given by the prime minister – somewhat comparable to a ‘State of the Union’ speech – in which she gives her assessment of the situation in the Scandinavian nation as the new political year begins.

In practical terms, the reopening of parliament means Danish lawmakers will go back to voting on and discussing law proposals.

The reopening of parliament meanwhile often sees demonstrators gather in front of Christiansborg. Different groups lobbied for causes including climate and childcare standards in 2021.

The opening speech is usually attended by the Queen and members of the Royal Family, who watch from the Folketinget parliament’s Royal Box.

After lawmakers attend a service at the nearby Christiansborg Slotskirke church – which is also used for royal ceremonies – the Queen and other royal family members arrive at parliament for the opening ceremony, where they are received by the Speaker.

This year’s ceremony will be attended by Queen Margrethe, Crown Prince Frederik and Crown Princess Mary, and the Queen’s sister, Princess Benedikte.

The opening session is traditionally led by parliament’s longest-serving member. Formalities including voting for the Speaker and deputy speakers.

That is followed by the traditional opening speech from the prime minister.

While there are no predefined expectations as to the content of the speech, the Danish constitution states that the PM must make her assessment of the state of the kingdom and present some of the government’s initiatives.

Usually, the prime minister gives a speech at which she outlines the government’s strategies and key issues for the incoming parliamentary session, and sums up the previous year.

Two years ago, most of the regular traditions of the annual opening of parliament were observed amid Covid-19 restrictions, with the church service attended by most members of parliament moved from its normal location at Christiansborgs Slotskirke to the larger Holmens Kirke nearby, to allow social distancing.

Last year’s opening speech was used by Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen to talk about topics including affordable housing, international climate targets and education.

This year could be markedly different with the energy crisis and war in Ukraine dominating the political agenda.

An even more immediate point of interest at this year’s opening is the likelihood of an election being announced.

The Social Liberal (Radikale Venstre) party has demanded Frederiksen call an early general election, an ultimatum issued in response to the conclusions of an inquiry into the government’s 2020 mink scandal, which resulted in Frederiksen receiving an official rebuke.

The Social Liberals wanted an election called by the time of parliament’s return and have threatened to bring down the government through a vote of no confidence if an election is not called by October 4th. As such, an election would have to be called today to meet the demand.

Talk of an election is therefore high as parliament returns, but the government appears to have been given an extra day to call the vote, news wire Ritzau reported on Tuesday morning.

“The exact day means nothing for me. And I can also see that several commentators have noted that an election will be called on Wednesday [October 4th]. And that is completely fine with me and us,” Social Liberal political leader Sofie Carsten Nielsen said.

Legally, the government could wait until June 4th, 2023 to hold a general election – the last one was in 2019. Until now, Frederiksen has skirted the issue of calling an election when asked about it by journalists, but an announcement will now surely be made.

READ ALSO: Could Baltic Sea gas pipe leaks affect Denmark’s election timeline?

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POLITICS

Danish Liberal party demands ‘high ambitions’ from Social Democrats

Liberal (Venstre) party leader Jakob Ellemann-Jensen has said ambitions “above normal” should be aimed for in talks to form a government across the political centre.

Danish Liberal party demands ‘high ambitions’ from Social Democrats

On December 6th, ongoing negotiations to form a government will tie the all-time record for Denmark’s longest ever with the 35-day negotiation of 1975.

But the Liberal party is still holding out for more concessions from Frederiksen and the Social Democrats, its leader Jakob Ellemann-Jensen said after another major party on the right, the Conservatives, quit the talks over the weekend.

“The Liberals will continue negotiations with the Social Democrats in the coming days,” Ellemann-Jensen wrote on Twitter.

“If the Liberals are to commit to an agreement with the Social Democrats – whether in opposition or in government – the content of that agreement should be above the usual level of political ambition,” he said.

Ellemann-Jensen has cited to changes to the top tax bracket as a party priority, though that’s been a non-starter for the Social Democrats. 

The Liberals also hope to lower inheritance tax as well as income taxes for Denmark’s most modest earners, newswire Ritzau reports.

The withdrawal of the Conservatives means the Liberals are the only party on the right who could realistically enter government with the Social Democrats.

Six of the 12 parties elected to parliament at the election now remain in government talks with the Social Democrats.

These are the Liberals, Liberal Alliance and Danish People’s Party from the ‘blue bloc’ and the Social Liberal (Radikale Venstre) and Socialist People’s Party (SF), from the red bloc side. The centrist Moderates are the final party.

READ MORE: ‘Topskat’: What is Denmark’s high income tax bracket?

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