Denmark has been a constitutional monarchy since 1848. By the 19th century, Denmark was a centralised, absolutist kingdom. The present administrative structure was established in 2007 with the administrative reform, which merged the previous 271 municipalities to 98 and the 14 counties into 5 regions.
The only direct task of the regions is the organisation of the hospital system. They are also obliged to counsel the municipalities on spatial planning and regional development and have established so-called growth fora. Lastly, they organise regional public transportation (bus services and some non-state owned railways), in cooperation with the municipalities. Both subsidise the routes, and quite a few inter-municipal routes have been cut at municipal boundaries. The regions also have a part to play in cross-border cooperation, especially as far as the Interreg programme is concerned.
On the national level, the regions have established the association “Danske Regioner” to present the work of the regions at the national level and to negotiate with the national government. Danske Regioner also represents the Danish regions at the EU level, in cooperation with the regional representations in Brussels.
The idea of the reform in 2007 was to make administration more effective, creating sustainable units in relation to their tasks. The decision-making process was centralised top-down: the government appointed an expert commission and mediated their recommendations into a set of laws. The whole process took about two years, and there was neither considerable political nor popular opposition to the project. An example of effective policy making!
Currently, no reform of the Danish administrative structure is discussed in politics. During the last election campaign (2011), the bourgeois parties and especially the liberal party Venstre supported the dissolution of the regions. Their main argument was that the regions had not been able to manage their key task, the hospital system, effectively. They had, according to the then governing Venstre, not been able to fulfil the aims set by the state.
Therefore, the hospital system should be centralised for the whole country. The then opposing Social Democrats supported strengthening the regions and delegating more powers to them. They won the election and have since presided over a coalition government, but the structure of the administrative system has not been changed, and is not on the agenda at the present time.
The debate on the regions and their future has been purely functional. The central point has been the assurance of effective government. Regional identity, regional diversity or other aspects of regionalism have not focused on the debate.
The economic crisis has, as yet, not directly influenced the structure of Denmark’s administrative system. Budgetary issues, however, do result in political initiatives to make the public service sector cheaper. The purpose of public service efficiency will probably set administrative reform on the agenda eventually. Then, the regions, as Denmark’s intermediate and undoubtedly weakest layer of administration, could be at disposal again.
by Martin Klatt
The Report on the state of Regionalisation in Europe.
More than 40 experts contributed to this work, by delivering detailed reports about the state of regionalisation and multilevel governance in chosen European countries. The study covers 41 countries, and each country report is based on a similar structure, thereby allowing a comparative approach among all studied countries.
- The first part of the report gives the political impetus from the main European stakeholders
- The second part of this report entails a summarised version of the country reports. The objective is to provide interested readers with a short overview of the main features of regionalisation in various European countries. The complete versions of the country reports are available on the AER website, under LINK
- The third part provides a thematic approach based on the main findings delivered by the country reports and the current state of regionalisation in Europe. The trends and outlooks lead to open questions on the future of the regions in the European landscape, and more broadly on the role of subnational authorities in the shaping of the continent.
- The fourth part gives the floor to the actual regional decision-makers in Europe, across a series of interviews and statements by Presidents, Vice-Presidents and elected representatives of the European regions.
Over the next months, we will be focusing on a different European country’s approach to regionalisation. During these months, look out for #RoR2017 on Twitter and/or Facebook and follow us at @europeanregions.
Strong European regions are a pathway to a stronger Europe.