A brief history of the Prime Minister’s Office
The history of the Prime Minister’s Office dates back to the change of system in 1848. At that time the first Prime Minister, then called “Council President”, was appointed, cf. also Prime ministers since 1848. The small secretariat that was established to service the Council President, the Council Presidium, was the predecessor of the Prime Minister’s Office that we know today.
From its beginning, the Council Presidium dealt with tasks regarding constitutional issues, deciding on the number of ministers, distributing tasks between them and dealing with cases regarding the Royal Family and Parliament.
However, 1 January 1914 is considered the founding date of the Prime Minister’s Office, when a department was established under the Prime Minister. The Council Presidium was thus formally organised as a ministry and the foundation was laid for what we today call the Prime Minister’s Office.
Until then, the Prime Minister had to rely on civil servants from his ministry as the Prime Minister was usually also a departmental minister. This practice continued until 1934. For example, Thorvald Stauning was also Minister for Trade and Industry and later Minister of Defence while performing the duties of Prime Minister.
The terms “Prime Minister” and “Prime Minister’s Office” were introduced in 1918. Carl Theodor, a member of the Danish Social Liberal Party, was the first Danish Head of Government who was called Prime Minister.
Since the establishment of the Prime Minister’s Office in 1914, it has undergone developments both in terms of employees and tasks. The figure below shows how the number of employees has grown since 1914:
We will briefly describe below how tasks and staff of the Prime Minister’s Office have developed since the establishment of the Prime Minister’s Office in 1914.
1914-1919 – The first five years
On 1 January 1914, the staff of the Prime Minister’s Office consisted of the Permanent Secretary of State, Dr. Phil. Erik Arup, Messenger Sophus Frost and Secretary Elsa Lidell. The three employees had two rooms at their disposal. In addition, they had the latest technical aids: a telephone was installed and a typewriter had also been purchased!
The key responsibilities of the Prime Minister’s Office were the Constitution, the Royal Family, the ministers and Parliament. These tasks are still part of the responsibilities of the Prime Minister’s Office today.
1919-1938 – The Prime Minister’s Office assumes more responsibilities
Frederik Valdemar Petersen was Permanent Secretary of State in the Prime Minister’s Office from 1919 to 1938. He endeavoured to strengthen the Prime Minister’s Office by expanding the departmental responsibilities and administration.
More tasks and more employees in the Prime Minister’s Office paved the way for the Prime Minister to be “only” Prime Minister.
Thorvald Stauning wrote an article in the newspaper, the Social Democrat, in 1929 about “What it’s like to be a Prime Minister”. There he stated that it could be “predicted, that in a not so distant future, the Prime Minister will have to relinquish running a departmental ministry.”
When a Government was formed on 4 November 1935, Thorvald Stauning refrained from taking on a departmental ministry in addition to the post as Prime Minister. A new tradition was thus introduced, which gave the Prime Minister more time to manage the Government.
1938-1962 – A “mixed bag”
After Erik Valdemar Petersen’s departure from the position of Permanent Secretary of State, his successor continued the efforts to strengthen the Prime Minister’s Office. By 1955, the number of employees had quintupled compared with 1914 to a total of 15 staff.
The Prime Minister’s Office also acquired new responsibilities over the years. However, on a number of occasions the Prime Minister’s Office had to give up both departmental responsibilities and personnel when new ministries were established. For example, in 1955 when the Ministry for Greenland was established.
The responsibilities of the Prime Minister’s Office were expanded over 50 years whenever an occasion arose. This meant that at the beginning of the 1960’s the responsibilities were very diverse and included both large and small areas.
The responsibilities of the Prime Minister’s Office covered a broad spectrum: from constitutional issues, cases regarding the national coat of arms, and the beach parks at Bellevue and Charlottenlund.
In the book referred to below, “The Prime Minister’s Office over 75 years”, August Wiemann Eriksen from the Danish State Archives referred to the responsibilities of the Prime Minister’s Office during that period as a ”mixed bag”.
1964 – Reform of the Prime Minister's office
From 1964-1965, the Prime Minister’s Office was reorganised, which implied two different locations. However, in 1980 the two parts of the Prime Minister’s Office were brought together at one address, Christiansborg Castle, where the Prime Minister’s Office is located today. You may go on a tour of the Prime Minister’s Office by clicking on the link “Tour of the Prime Minister’s Office”.
When the Ministry for Greenland was closed in 1987, cases concerning Greenland were returned to the Prime Minister’s Office. This was also reflected in the number of employees in the Prime Minister’s Office, which grew at the end of the 1980s with the transfer of new tasks after the Ministry for Greenland was closed down.
The Prime Minister’s Office today
In 1994, the organisation of the Prime Minister’s Office was streamlined further and the number of staff increased.
The Prime Minister’s Office was divided into three main areas. A foreign policy area, a domestic policy area and a third area dealing with legal matters, etc. Today, these three areas are supplemented by a Climate Secretariat and an administrative area, cf. also tasks and organisation of the Prime Minister’s Office.
As a new principle, almost all academics in the Prime Minister’s Office were employed on fixed-term contracts. This principle is still in force, and most of the academic staff in the Prime Minister’s Office are employed on fixed-term contracts for two-five years and are typically recruited from one of the other ministries. This gives a far more dynamic organisation than was the case before 1994, when the academic staff often worked for 20-30 years in the Prime Minister’s Office.
The Prime Minister’s Office currently has a basic staff of about 80 employees. Unlike other ministries, the Prime Minister’s Office does not have responsibility for large agencies or directorates. However, the two High Commissioners for the Faroe Islands and Greenland, respectively, are the responsibility of the Prime Minister’s Office. The total number of employees in the Prime Minister’s Office is therefore about 100.
In other words, the Prime Minister’s Office differs considerably from the other ministries with regard to both its tasks and its size, even though both the tasks and the number of staff have increased considerably since the first three employees, Arup, Frost and Lidell, moved into the Prime Minister’s Office in 1914.
The information above about the history of the Prime Minister’s Office is based on, among other sources, the chapter “Aspects of the history of the Prime Minister’s Office” by August Wiemann Eriksen from the jubilee book “The Prime Minister’s Office over 75 years”, 1989, the Prime Minister’s Office jubilee committee. Copenhagen: Bianco Luno
Information about the history and the premises of the Prime Minister’s Office is also available in:
”Borgen. Christiansborg 100 years”, 2007, Thomas Larsen, Bjarne Steensbeck and Bjarke Ørsted. Gyldendal.
”Christiansborg Slot”, 1975, Kristian Hvidt, Svend Ellehøj & Otto Horn (Ed.). Copenhagen: Nyt Nordisk Forlag.
The literature above is only available in Danish.