Politics For Members

EXPLAINED: How a new law gets made in Denmark

Michael Barrett
Michael Barrett - [email protected]
EXPLAINED: How a new law gets made in Denmark
Denmark's 'Folketingssalen' is where new laws are voted on, but what does it take for a new law to be made? Photo;: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

Arguably one of the keys to Denmark's success as a nation is the thorough, systematic way that government proposals get turned into laws.


The process is highly formalised, with the Danish government's website having a section to the right of each lovforslag or proposed law showing where it is in the lovgivningsproces, or legislative process, the succession of stages each law goes through until it is passed in parliament.  

1. The idea 

The first stage of any new law in Denmark is, of course, the idea.

A proposal might be floated by a government minister in a newspaper, an opposition MP, a business leader, an organisation, at a press conference, in a speech, or in a party manifesto. It may have been debated back and forth for decades, but without any formal steps being taken. 

Until it moves on to the next stage it doesn't mean very much. 

2. The proposal

The first stage of the actual law-making process in Denmark is the lovforslag or beslutningsforslag, the two types of proposed law or change to be investigated and analysed.

This is when an idea goes beyond talk and the process is in motion. 

The proposal summarises what proposal or idea needs to be analysed, lists the key proposals that should be answered, and sets a date by which the conclusions should be published.  

Proposals take a long time to write with a high level of legal expertise needed. They are usually tabled by the government – opposition parties can also propose laws but they do not have the full weight of the civil service behind them to write the draft bills.


Any law change will also need a parliamentary majority to eventually vote for it – this is naturally easier for the government than the opposition to gather.

In any case, a proposed law is usually the result of long negotiations within ministries, goverment parties and sometimes between the government and opposition or allied parties who are interested in passing the legislation.

There’s a distinction between a lovforslag and a beslutningsforslag: the latter is easier and faster to write, because it involves less detail. It is not a formal proposal to change the law and is usually tabled by the opposition in a bid to demand the government takes action – either by tabling a formal lovforslag or taking an issue onto its agenda.

Many of these beslutningsforslag are rejected because they fail to gain a majority, so their purpose is often to stimulate debate on an issue. This can lead to new laws in the longer term.

3. The hearing stage

Before being tabled in parliament, parliamentary committees can put the bill through a høring or hearing in which experts are invited to provide their knowledge and viewpoints on the matter being legislated.

These hearings take place at the committee rooms in parliament and are normally open to the media and the public.

Another form of høring is the høringssvar, which takes place outside of the committees. Here, the ministry writing the bill can send it out to affected or interested socieites or organisations prior to tabling it in parliament.

The organisations are asked to provide their viewpoints and comments on the bill in writing. These opinions are termed høringssvar, literally “hearing answers”.


4. The three readings

A lovforslag gets three readings in the Danish parliament (two for a beslutningsforslag). This is required by the constitution. The readings take place in parliament itself and in the relevant committee – for example, the defence committee, on which the defence minister and the defence spokespersons from the other parties sit.

Proposals are generally given a minimum time of 30 days for the three readings, to ensure thorough legislation and guard against laws being passed on a whim.

However, parliament can give permission for a hastebehandling or expedited process, which allows laws to be passed in less than 30 days from the bill being tabled, in special circumstances. This requires a large parliamentary majority of 3/4.

5. Final vote

Once the bill has passed the three readings, it can be voted on in parliament. Generally, the outcome of the vote will be known in advance, because the bill will have take a final form which the government or parliamentary majority supports.

In some cases parties may choose to fritstille their MPs, meaning they can decide independently how to vote on the bill (the opposite of “whipping” in British politics).

This can make the outcome of the vote may be more unpredictable, but it usually only happens if the issue is a highly contentious one.

6. Law takes effect

After being passed by parliament, the law is not effective immediately. It may be given a date in the future – January 1st the following year, for example – when it will come into force. It can also have a more immediate effect.

All Danish laws must be signed by the king. This is the final step in creating the new legislation.



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