How do parliamentary governments in Europe work?

Anonymous asked this question on 7/11/2000:

Could anyone compare and contrast the governments of Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Germany to the United States.

JesseGordon gave this response on 7/13/2000:

I'll get you started with some basics, focusing on Denmark, which I know best.

Denmark is a "constitutional monarchy," which means they have a queen as well as a prime minister. The queen is the official head of government and does lots of ceremonial stuff. The prime minister runs the government. In the US, the president undertakes both those roles, and is generally considered more powerful. I believe that Sweden & Norway also have a royal family; Germany does not.

Denmark has a parliamentary system with proportional representation. That means they have a national vote and the percent each party gets is converted into seats in parliament. In contrast, the US elects Congress by majority vote in each state or district. The result is that under the parliamentary system, smaller political parties have a much better chance at getting a seat in parliament. The Danish parliament has about 10 parties represented, while the US Congress has 3 (we have one Socialist in the Senate; all the rest are Republicans or Democrats).

I believe all of the countries on your list are parliamentary. You can check out a lot of basic facts on the CIA's World Factbook, Go to "Country Listing" and click on each one.

Another important distinction between those countries and the US is their membership in the European Union (EU). Germany will give up the Deutschmark in a few years, to be replaced by the Euro, as a result of EU. The result of many EU actions is that small countries like Denmark may end up with governments more like states of the US than like the federal US government. State government matters a lot in the US, but so does the federal government. In Europe currently, the EU doesn't matter too much (weak federal gov't) and the states (countries there) do matter. If the history of the US is any example, the federal EU gov't will grow in power while the national governments grow weaker, until a balance is reached like in the US with some state functions and some federal functions.

Anonymous rated this answer:

Thank you very much- I found your answer very informative.

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