23rd Mar 2018

Danish elections: A race to the bottom on immigration

  • Lokke Rasmussen's blue bloc is leading by a small margin in most opinion polls two days before the vote (Photo: News Oresund)

It is 100 years this June since the Danish constitution allowed women to vote in parliamentary elections.

When Danes go to the polls on Thursday (18 June), they do so in a country that has a woman on the royal throne as well as a female prime minister.

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  • The tight race has stirred interest in early voting (Photo: EUobserver)

The elections have turned into a nail-bitingly close race between social democrat PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt and liberal opposition leader, Lars Lokke Rasmussen.

Last week, Thorning-Schmidt's red bloc was in the lead. But Lokke Rasmussen's blue bloc caught up and is leading by a small margin in most opinion polls two days before the vote.

Thorning-Schmidt's social democrat party will remain the biggest party, according to all polls.

But that does not automatically make her the next leader of the country.

In total, nine parties will make it into the Folketinget (parliament).

Five of them have pledged support for Thorning-Schmidt as next premier and four of them back Lokke Rasmussen.

The country's politics is all about the size of these two blocs.

Whoever can get the most support among the total 179 MPs, will be sent to queen Margrethe II to form the next government.

Danish People's Party

The tight race is stirring interest in advance voting.

People were lining up in the small local library in a Copenhagen suburb to cast their vote already on Monday morning.

All Danes above 18 years of age receive a personal letter to their home address, informing them of the day, place and opening hours of the ballot.

Armed with this letter and personal ID it is also possible to vote prior to election day in local town halls, at embassies abroad, and in hospitals or libraries.

It is almost impossible to press more blue letters with votes into the ballot box already Monday, to the surprise of the local library assistant.

"We have never had so many coming here to vote in advance," she said.

In reality, it is the third biggest party, the Danish People's Party, that holds the role as king-maker - or queen-maker.

Sitting with the anti-federalist ECR-group in the European Parliament, the eurosceptic party has influenced Danish politics fundamentally and managed to maneuver itself from a far-right position towards the centre of politics.

On immigration policies, it has already won the battle.

Both PM candidates are campaigning on just how few foreigners and asylum seekers they will allow into the country.

"Denmark is a small country and there are limits as to how many foreigners we can accept," says Thorning-Schmidt.

"This is why the Social Democrats back a strict immigration policy, and therefore we are tightening the rules for gaining asylum".

"Since we launched a tightening of asylum rules, there has been significantly fewer asylum seekers in Denmark," the party highlights.

The Liberals want even tighter immigration.

"After almost four years with a social democratic prime minister, the immigration policy has run riot. Last year 14,800 asylum seekers came to Denmark - it is the highest number in more than 15 years," says Lokke Rasmussen.

"The prime minister's easing of immigration policy has made Denmark a more attractive country to seek asylum."

Support for Cameron

Meanwhile, the Danish People's Party does not need to say much about immigration.

Party leader Kristian Thulesen Dahl has presented a plan to reduce public funds for asylum seekers and for international development policies. The money is to be spent on social welfare and hospitals to benefit Danes instead.

The Danish People's Party is a eurosceptic party which has pledged to keep all Danish opt-outs from the EU treaties and to stay out of the euro. This is very different to the pro-European Liberal party.

To bridge the gap, the four blue bloc parties have agreed to back UK leader David Cameron on EU reform.

The agreement is titled 'Danish Welfare in Europe' and aims to use Cameron's EU reform to restrict free movement between EU countries when it comes to benefits and welfare.

"We stand behind Britain and other like-minded countries to ensure that the EU does not become a social union", the deal says. It lists the UK, The Netherlands, Germany, Austria and Finland as potential allies.

"We will also ensure that Denmark is an active support for Britain in the work to get an agreement with the EU, which the British can support in a referendum later in 2017. The alternative is a possible British withdrawal from the EU, which none of us want," it reads.

The Alternative

The biggest surprise in the elections campaign has been a politician who broke away from EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager's Social-Liberal Party: Uffe Elbaek.

He served as culture minister in Thorning-Schmidt's government, but a conflict-of-interest scandal forced him to resign in 2012.

He later formed The Alternative, a new pro-European party which is against economic growth as the only economic path.

“We are told to consume more and work harder, but people are beginning to realise that we are caught in a never ending downward spiral. Almost a third of working Danes are suffering from severe stress or are feeling burnt out. Meanwhile, we are painting our once blue planet pitch black. It is time to stop and think for a second, and then act,” says Elbaek.

This image of the not-so-perfect party leader seems to appeal well to Danes.

The new party is set to enter parliament with almost 5 percent of the votes, enough to hold the marginal seats and secure Helle Thorning-Schmidt's second term.

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Thorning-Schmidt has stepped down as Denmark's PM after elections Thursday saw the right-wing bloc win, and a surge in popularity for the populist Danish People's Party.

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