Atoning for the past – The Social Democrats affirm a tougher stance on immigration

It's not possible to preserve a welfare state with high levels of redistribution while also allowing permissive immigration, say the Social Democrats in their new political agenda, which also focuses on inequality and sustainability

“Our policies have to balance the necessity of helping people in need with considerations of social cohesion and welfare in Denmark. We cannot accept more immigrants than we can effectively integrate.”

So state the Social Democrats (Socialdemokratiet) in their latest political agenda, only the seventh since the party was established in 1876. MP Dan Jørgensen spent 18 months condensing input from 4,600 party members into a 30-page draft called Together for Denmark (Fælles om Danmark), published in April. The final agenda will be voted on in September.

While the party has hardly moved on a range of topics over the past 141 years, that’s not the case for their outlook on immigration. Fælles om Danmark devotes a full page to the subject, covering everything from the need to improve integration efforts to opposing patriarchal and parallel communities – as well as the moral duty to accept some (but not too many!) refugees.

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It’s the first time a Socialdemokratiet political agenda includes a specific section on immigration. The party’s current policy agenda, dating from 2004, touched on the need to improve integration, though the tone was somewhat softer in the two paragraphs dedicated to the topic. “Many ethnic minorities live in Denmark. In many ways this makes us wealthier,” the party stated.

Errors of the past
And yet, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the party has taken a harder line on immigration. Since losing power in 2015 to the right-wing ‘blue’ bloc of parties, Socialdemokratiet has supported all of the Liberal Party (Venstre) government’s immigration reforms.

Their goal: to remind voters that they need not vote for the right wing if they want strict immigration regulations. In so doing, they hope to stem the flow of voters to the Danish People’s Party (DF), a pro-welfare party that otherwise allies itself with the right wing to ensure that its hard-line immigration positions are accommodated.

The past two decades in Danish politics have shown that voters are prepared to forsake welfare in order to restrict immigration. DF supported right-wing minority and coalition governments between 2001 and 2011, and again from 2015 to today. During this time, liberal and conservative governments have cut education, pensions, and unemployment benefits while the left wing watched from the sidelines – but no longer.

“The era of the humanitarian utopia is over,” wrote Social Democrat MP Henrik Sass Larsen in Information newspaper. “No more mass immigration – instead we must control the number of immigrants. No dissolution of the nation state – the nation state is the basis of international cooperation. And global trade goes hand in hand with proper terms of competition and fair taxation – otherwise, no thanks. No thanks to utopian humanism – yes to practical humanism.”

A more conciliatory tone was struck by his fellow party member, MP Mattias Tesfaye, who recently published a book called Welcome Mustafa about the party’s historic divides on immigration. Speaking to Politiken, he says he was tired of being told the party has always supported open borders.

“The line that [leader] Mette Frederiksen stands for has always existed in Socialdemokratiet,” he said. “You can’t both have open immigration and a welfare state with a high level of redistribution.”

READ MORE: Politicians have become a poor excuse for themselves

Tesfaye refers to the party’s mayors in Copenhagen’s western suburbs in the 1980s, whose concerns about the development of ghettos were ignored by the party’s leaders. MP Dan Jørgensen agrees that they should have listened back then.

“I’m sad that we didn’t take the obvious issues with immigration seriously before now,” Jørgensen told Berlingske. “If we don’t solve the issue of so many immigrants coming to Denmark, it may threaten our social cohesion and trust, which will undermine our societal model.”

Embracing growth
The political agenda is meant to serve as inspiration for more concrete policies that the party will present ahead of future elections. If it were up to Tesfaye, these policies would include an annual cap of 5,000 immigrants per year and a renegotiation of UN conventions to prevent refugees from travelling across safe countries before deciding where to lodge applications and settle.

But Jørgensen has been keen to stress that the political agenda isn’t just about immigration. The party’s two other main themes are sustainability and the fight against inequality, along with integrating these concerns into the development of the economy.

READ MORE: Somalis lose refugee status

“Whereas Socialdemokratiet once thought that we would need to limit growth to save the planet, we now come out and explicitly state that the party considers economic growth to be fundamental in the world,” Jørgensen told Information.

“Instead of saying that there should be fewer cars on the streets of Beijing, we say the cars should be electric. And when the Chinese build a new city, the buildings ought to be insulated with Danish technology: windows from Velux and district heating from Løgstør Rør.”

Out of balance
Left and left-leaning newspapers responded coolly to Socialdemokratiet’s new policy agenda. David Rehling, writing in Information, wondered whether the party is as interested in sustainability and inequality as its voters appear to be – and whether these concerns will remain as important to the party when they must fight to gain influence in Parliament.

“This is the conflict that currently tortures both the British Labour party and France’s traditional parties. Jeremy Corbyn reflects the members, rather than the voters. Emmanuel Macron is trying to do the opposite,” Rehling wrote.

Politiken was rather more scathing, especially when it comes to the party’s shift on immigration, accusing the party of cynicism.

“Of course there needs to be balance. Of course there needs to be a limit to how many of the world’s record number of poor refugees Denmark can accept. But what about quota refugees or unaccompanied minors? Who is more in need than they are? Still, Socialdemokratiet rejects them. How balanced is this Mette Frederiksen?” M

Click the picture to read the entire April issue online!

The May 2017 issue of The Murmur with historian Adam Holm on the cover.


By Peter Stanners

Co-founder and Editor-in-chief. Occasional photographer.

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