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The 'Borgen' Guide to Danish Politics

You don't have to dive deep into "Borgen" to realize that the Danish political system depicted in the series is drastically different from American politics. And it only takes a few minutes to get bogged down by the seemingly infinite number of politicians, parties, ministries, and coalitions. If you've fallen into the quicksand, rest assured, here's a simple guide to Danish politics (in all its complicated glory) that will help you find solid ground.

We're streaming full episodes online and here's a breakdown on the characters.

Unlike America's two-party state, Denmark has a multi-party political system. And even though the largest liberal and conservative parties are usually the two frontrunners in elections, in theory any of Denmark's political parties could control the government, whether separately or in coalition with one another. This is why Birgitte's Moderate Party was able to beat out the Labor and Liberal parties in the first episode of the show. The party's rise to power was not as rare of a feat as it would have been in the U.S. Considering the significant differences between American and Danish politics, it's impossible to imagine what the show's upcoming U.S. remake (reportedly in development at NBC) will look like. Danish politics is the entire focus of the show, after all.

In the show, Birgitte forms a center-left coalition government with the Labor and Green parties, with support from the Solidarity Party. This is a common practice in Denmark. A single party has not formed a government alone since 1982 and has not held an absolute majority in Denmark's parliament (called Folketing) since the 20th century.

Although a monarch -- Queen Margrethe II in real life -- is head of state, political power is exercised by a cabinet led by a prime minister. Birgitte's appointment in the show as the country's first female prime minster foreshadowed the real world events of Helle Thorning-Schmidt's election to the post. The prime minister is indirectly chosen by the public (after a series of debates), who allots the number of seats each party receives in parliament. The leader of the party that's granted the highest number of seats usually enters the running for prime minister. After much wheeling and dealing, the parties then decide among themselves who to appoint. The Queen has the final say in the election of prime minister and selection of the cabinet, but her role in the process is more of a formality.

A cabinet's size is based on the number of parties involved in the coalition. Cabinet members are called ministers. The main ministries featured on "Borgen" are environment, finance, foreign, defense, business, European Union, equality, justice, economy, employment, and international development. These are the posts that the leaders of each party promise one another during cabinet formation negotiations.

The series deals with several real-life political issues, including Denmark's participation in the War in Afghanistan and the role of gender equality in the corporate world.

Although the parties in the series are fictional, they have real-life counterparts. Here are the seven parties featured on "Borgen":

The Moderate Party:

The Labor Party:
  • Birgitte's current coalition partner (as of season one, episode two)
  • Led by Michael Laugesen then succeeded by Bjørn Marrot
  • Conservative
  • Comparable to the Social Democrats
The Green Party:
The Solidarity Party:
  • Support Birgitte's coalition
  • Led by Anne Sophie Lindenkrone
  • Far-left
  • Comparable to the Red-Green Alliance
The Liberal Party The New Right Party:
The Freedom Party:

About the Author

KCET site editor, movie over-analyzer, TV binge-watcher.
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