Danish Elections: Embarking on an Eurosceptic Course

Thorning-Schmidt’s centre-left coalition will be succeeded by the Danish centre-right group after Thursday’s elections. By Amelie Buchwald

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After a head-to-head race during the elections for Denmark’s one-chamber parliament, the centre-right ‘blue’ bloc will take over the Danish government from the centre-left ‘red’ bloc. In total 4.1 million Danes were asked to go to the polls and the electoral turnout of 85.5% is almost 20% higher than in the recent UK elections. Although the Social Democratic Party was the biggest party with 26.3%, it is no longer able to form the government as its allies lost significant votes. Consequently, Helle Thorning-Schmidt stepped down from her position as Prime Minister and leader of the Social Democratic Party. The second largest party in the Danish parliament will be the Danish People’s Party, which was able to win 21.1% of the votes. The liberal “Venstre” party of ex-Prime Minister Rasmussen obtained 19.5% of votes and, therefore, poses the third largest group in parliament. With the support of the Danish People’s Party, Rasmussen can gain the mandate for Prime Minister and build a new government. Even though, he will make a bid to become Prime Minister again, his party lost 13 seats in the Danish Parliament. Without taking into account the four mandates of Greenland and the Faeroe Islands, 90 of the 179 mandates will go to the ‘blue’ conservative bloc and 85 to the ‘red’ progressive, more pro-European bloc.

Usually, the position of prime minister is held by the biggest party in parliament. However, as the coalition partners of the Social Democratic Party made significant losses, they are unable to support a government with a majority in parliament. The position of prime minister will most likely go to the leader of the third biggest group in parliament: Løkke Rasmussen. This is a result of the Danish People’s Party backing of Rasmussen during the elections and its willingness to leave the post to the second largest group in their bloc. The Danish People’s Party they expect to be more influential as majority winner in parliament rather than forming the government themselves. Even though, they will not be part of the government, the party will surely have great influence in shaping policy proposals as well as the course of the policy. Therefore, the new government of the liberal party will be dependent on the support of the Danish People’s Party.

The main focus during the electoral campaigns lay on the issues of immigration and social welfare but revolved increasingly about the migration and refugee situation. Both sides of the political spectrum argued for a stricter limitation of immigration into Denmark, thus, the elections evolved into who could limit immigration further. In the end, economic policy was only a small part of the election with the Social Democrats arguing for an increase in welfare and pointing out the achieved economic growth. In contrast, the ‘blue’ opposition said that economic growth would be possible without increasing welfare expenditure. During the campaigns, Thorning-Schmidt and her liberal opponent Løkke Rasmussen were involved in heated debates. After the first announcement of the election results, Rasmussen arguably stated that toppling over the Social Democratic government was also personal. The ex-Prime Minister Rasmussen had preceded Thorning-Schmidt in the office from 2009 until 2011 and is now ready to take back the keys to the Prime Minister’s office.

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Kristian Thulesen Dahl – leader of the Danish People’s Party can be said to be the ‘secret’ winner of the Danish parliamentary elections 2015

The polls underestimated the popularity of the Danish People’s Party, a right-wing populist and eurosceptic party, which argues for the reintroduction of border controls and opt-outs of the Schengen Area for Denmark similar to those of the United Kingdom and Ireland. However, the Danish People’s Party is not only opposed to the free movement of people, but also wants to increase national sovereignty and reduce the EU’s influence. During the elections, they announced to back David Cameron in his effort to push for EU reform along British lines. Although, the Danish People’s Party does not want a withdrawal of Britain from EU, it argues for a restriction of free movement between EU countries concerning benefits and welfare. These goals were manifested in an agreement called “Danish Welfare in Europe” prior to the parliamentary elections. The Danish People’s Party also promised to withdraw money from development and asylum policy, instead, spending it on social welfare to benefit the Danes. In recent years, the Danish People’s Party with party leader Kristian Thulesen Dahl has moved from the far-right to more centrist politics with a focus on welfare to attract more voters. In the political spectrum, its welfare policies are rather left, but its views of Danish society are right-wing populist. Opponents view Dahl as a wolf in sheep’s clothing and under his leadership the election results of the Danish People’s Party nearly doubled compared to 2011. However, the party’s increased popularity might stem from the election campaign focus on immigration in which the right-wing party could address and use the fear in Danish society. This resulted in losses for the ‘red’ bloc and the liberal “Venstre” party.

After all, the victory of the centre-right bloc is also a backup of Cameron’s plans to reform the EU and a more critical view towards Brussels. Moreover, a stricter asylum policy with more difficulties for refugees can be expected in Denmark. It remains vague how much influence the Danish People’s Party will have on the government under the liberal Rasmussen, who will serve his second term as Danish Prime Minister.

 

Image ‘Valgplakater_Kobenhavn 2015jun01_0034’ courtesy of News Oresund via Flickr, released under Creative Commons

Image originally released by Europa-Parlamentet i Danmark on flickr.com under creative commons 2.0 license

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