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2 November 2022

Mette Frederiksen’s centre-left bloc wins a slim majority in Denmark elections

Yet a close election and a shifting political landscape, isn't likely to change the country's anti-immigration policies.

By Ido Vock

The article was originally published on 1 November and was updated on 2 November. Denmark’s centre-left “red bloc” has secured the most votes in a general election with Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen’s Social Democrats party securing its best result in two decades. Frederiksen will now begin talks to form a coalition government.

BERLIN – In retrospect, it was one of the more surreal moments of the pandemic. In late 2020, the Danish government ordered a cull of 17 million minks over fears that the furry mammals might incubate a strain of Covid-19 that could threaten the effectiveness of a future vaccine. The move, approved by the government of the Social Democratic prime minister Mette Frederiksen, was later found to lack a lawful basis by a parliamentary inquiry.

The elimination of the animals decimated Denmark’s once-lucrative mink industry, worth around €400m (£334m) annually. Frederiksen’s government was forced to pay out around €1.7bn (£1.5bn) in compensation to the farmers, while the backlash to the cull caused the collapse of the left-leaning minority government in July and forced the prime minister to call early elections for today (1 November).

Ahead of the vote, Frederiksen has made a pitch to voters that her party is best positioned to lead Danes through a worsening cost-of-living crisis and a tough security environment. In addition to the war in Ukraine, in September the Nord Stream pipelines linking Russia to Germany were blown up near Danish territorial waters, an unprecedented breach of the country’s security.

Frederiksen’s Social Democrats, which have been in power since 2019, are likely to remain the largest party, but whether she remains prime minister will depend on the performance of others. Particularly relevant within Denmark’s fractured political landscape are the Moderates, led by Lars Løkke Rasmussen, the country’s prime minister from 2015 to 2019, who left the centre-right Liberals last year. The Moderate party is projected to become the third-largest faction in parliament, potentially making them kingmakers after the election.

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“[The outcome] this time around is wide open,” said Ditte Maria Brasso Sørensen, chief analyst at the Europa think tank. “As the polls look right now, both the right wing and left wing [blocs] would be dependent on Rasmussen’s mandates to form a government.”

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Yet Rasmussen’s allies have suggested that his party may seek a broader centre-leaning coalition after the election. A broad-based government would be a relative novelty in Danish politics, which usually sees minority governments drawn either from the left-leaning “red” or right-leaning “blue” blocs.

Some of the main issues in the election campaigns were reform of the healthcare system and the climate, said Sørensen. While most parties agree on the need to combat climate change, many disagree on how to do so, she added. The Social Democrats plan to introduce a carbon tax on agriculture, while the small far-right New Right party supports building nuclear power plants, which Denmark has none of.

One question that has not featured heavily in the debate is immigration. This may be because there is a broad anti-immigration consensus in Danish politics, including from Frederiksen’s centre left. The prime minister declared in 2019 that she wanted her country to accept “zero” asylum seekers. Her government has pushed for asylum seekers to be sent to Rwanda instead of having their claims processed in Denmark, a similar scheme to the one pursued by the UK government. Frederiksen’s government has also pushed for the return of some refugees to Syrian territory controlled by Bashar al-Assad’s regime, claiming that the Damascus region is safe, a view heavily contested by asylum groups.

The difference in how refugees from Syria have been treated compared with more recent arrivals from Ukraine has also been criticised by human rights groups. The NGO Human Rights Watch has pointed to the fact that Ukrainians in Denmark are exempt from having their items of value seized by authorities to pay for their stay under the country’s “jewellery law”, unlike other refugees.

The Social Democrats’ draconian positions on immigration have left other anti-immigration parties with little leverage. The populist Danish People’s Party, which came second in the 2015 elections, is now polling just above the 2 per cent threshold for entering parliament. However, a new party, the anti-immigration Danish Democrats, led by Inger Støjberg, a former minister jailed for illegally separating some refugee couples, has taken up a similar political space.

Regardless of whether a candidate from the red, blue or centrist bloc is eventually selected as prime minister following today’s vote, Denmark is all but certain to maintain its anti-immigration policies, which are already among the toughest in Europe.

[See also: France’s far-right and far-left are uniting against Emmanuel Macron]