At the Danish People’s Party’s (DF) annual conference in September, leader Kristian Thulesen Dahl took to the stage to speak to the assembled grassroots delegates in Herning, Jutland.
He used the moment to send a message to the Social Democrats (Socialdemokratiet), who were holding their conference over the same weekend, 120 kilometres to the north in Aalborg.
“I hope Socialdemokratiet’s members back up the party leadership in their change of policy on immigration and thereby also their cooperation with us,” Dahl told the assembled delegates.
Socialdemokratiet members were poised to vote on a new manifesto that would cement the party’s tougher line on immigration. The manifesto passed, and now states:
“Denmark takes many asylum seekers, and we will continue to give asylum to many people fleeing hardship and conflicts in the future. However, the current asylum system is being abused by human traffickers, who are helping migrants come to Europe and Denmark that have no need for protection as refugees and no claim of asylum. We would prefer that refugees were distributed according to principles of solidarity and justice through a UN quota system.”
Warming relationship no guarantee
Socialdemokratiet’s shift to the right on immigration has taken place since Mette Frederiksen took over leadership following Helle Thorning-Schmidt’s general election loss in 2015. While in opposition, the party has supported all of the right-wing government’s immigration restrictions, including the decision to stop resettling 500 refugees a year under a UN programme – a commitment Denmark has fulfilled since 1989.
Of all the parties on the right wing, Socialdemokratiet has the most common ground with DF, which provides the parliamentary majority for the minority right-wing government comprised of the Liberal Party (Venstre), the Conservative People’s Party (Konservative) and the Liberal Alliance (LA). It’s a function that DF also performed between 2001 and 2010.
Though bitter enemies in the early 2000s, DF and Socialdemokratiet are now cooperating on immigration with the minority government. But they have also united in defence of welfare and blocked the minority right-wing government from lowering income taxes for the wealthy and increasing the pension age.
“Our cooperation with the Danish People’s Party is still new,” Frederiksen told the Socialdemokratiet conference. “But the results have been convincing. We have forced the government to commit to policies that are not their own. We have secured a better social profile in Denmark. I see great opportunities in working closely together.”
But while the relationship has warmed, it’s unlikely that DF will swap sides to join a left-wing government following the next election, argues liberal political commentator Jarl Cordua from Radio24Syv.
“Socialdemokratiet and DF can work together to block elements of the government’s ambitions. If you think that’s political cooperation, fine. But in my opinion, political cooperation is making real political decisions, and prioritising and co-signing legislation. I cannot see that happening in a broader context. They are a non-coalition,” he says.
“S and DF might sit at the negotiating table together, but [Prime Minister and Venstre MP] Lars Løkke Rasmussen has sat at the head of the table on all those occasions.”
Cordua argues that DF is better off staying where it is – a support party working to soften the liberal financial policies and harden the immigration policies of a government led by Venstre.
“At the moment, DF is moving towards the left on financial issues, coming in from the right. That role works very well for them as support party for a liberal government – a sort of stand-in for the Social Democrats. But they are a protest party and have never been truly tested as a party that takes responsibility,” he says, downplaying the possibility that DF would ever join a government on the left or right wing.
Having cake and eating it
Socialdemokratiet’s support of immigration restrictions limits the number of voters that the party loses to DF, but it could also upset its chances of forming an effective left-wing government.
For example, at the conference, Frederiksen said she looked forward to working with the centrist Social Liberal Party (Radikale) on environmental issues.
“A continued green transition. A fierce fight to secure a better future for our children. New commitments to education. We are looking forward to achieving those goals with Radikale. A continued strict immigration policy. Better conditions for the elderly. A strong effort to combat social dumping. We are looking forward to achieving those goals with the Danish People’s Party,” she said from the stage in Aalborg.
But given that the Radikale are among the most internationalist and pro-immigration parties in parliament, Cordua argues that Frederiksen will have a hard time keeping both parties happy.
“If what Mette Frederiksen proposes here is going to work, then we are working from a presumption that the Radikale are willing to accept S working with DF to keep the immigration policy strict and are happy to have no influence in that area. Why would the Radikale ever go along with that?” he asks.
Hans Mortensen, writing in Weekendavisen, also identifies this conflict that Frederiksen faces by working so closely together with DF.
“The danger is that it pulls Socialdemokratiet even further away from the parties that are meant to make Mette Frederiksen prime minister,” he writes, adding that Socialdemokratiet and Radikale have never been more polarised.
“The invisible boundary is immigration. Mette Frederiksen has worked deliberately to demonstrate to voters that she has no intention of weakening the current government’s immigration policies. Research by the party shows this has worked. But the same studies show that there is still doubt over whether she will be able to stand firm if she forms a government with the votes of the [left wing parties in parliament].”
While many commentators rule out a possible Socialdemokratiet – Danish People’s Party coalition government, one should never rule out the unexpected in Danish politics. Former DF leader Pia Kjærsgaard, now Speaker of the Parliament, told Fyens.dk that DF could in the future support a Social Democratic prime minister.
“At some point, when it makes sense, it is plausible that Dansk Folkeparti could point to a Social Democratic prime minister. Or be PM ourselves. Kristian (Thulesen Dahl. red.) doesn’t want me to say that, but I will anyway.” M