“You’ll never be house trained.”
This was the scathing indictment Poul Nyrup Rasmussen levelled at the Danish People’s Party (DF) from the speaker’s chair in Parliament in 1999. The former Social Democrat (Socialdemokraterne) prime minister condemned the party for its anti-immigrant rhetoric that alienated foreigners in Denmark.
While DF continues to be accused of scaremongering tactics against immigrants and refugees, they are no longer political outsiders. Now the second largest party in parliament, winning 21.1 percent of the vote in last year’s election, and with their former leader Pia Kjærsgaard appointed Speaker of Parliament, the party has firmly established itself in the political establishment.
But DF has become too mainstream, at least for some voters. And now three new populist parties are vying to occupy the space on the fringe of Danish politics – Dansk Samling, Nye Borgerlige and Danskernes Parti
They range from libertarian populism (Nye Borgerlige) to racist national socialist (Danskernes Parti), but they all agree that DF is not doing enough to keep Denmark’s borders shut.
The new right wing
The increased competition for populist voters is, however, not an indication that Danes are becoming more right wing, argues Professor Christoffer Green-Pedersen from the Department of Political Science at Aarhus University. He points out that recent surveys do not indicate such a change in the political landscape.
“Radical views have always existed, it is a question of whether DF are able to capture them or not. By being centrist they have simply paved the way for new radical parties,” Green-Pedersen said.
Professor Susi Meret, from the Department of Political Sciences at Aalborg University, agrees – DF’s move towards the centre has opened up space on the far-right.
“DF has become more pragmatic and mainstream following their role as a government support party, as well as shouldering the responsibility of being the second biggest party in Denmark. These new parties have picked up on that, and the rise of the new far-right is a clear sign of discontent, especially with DF’s handling of the immigration crisis,” she said, adding that she does not believe that all three parties will secure the 20,109 signatures needed to stand in the next election.
Thomas Funding, political analyst at TV2 News, thinks Nye Borgerlige stand the best chance of election.
“Danskernes Parti, on the other hand, are much more unlikely to do so due to their leader Daniel Carlsen’s unfortunate past, making the party and its policies too extreme for most Danes,” Funding said, referring to Carlsen’s ties to the Danish neo-Nazi community and his well known Nazi sympathies.
Regardless of their electoral viability, the three parties agree on a number of issues beyond the need for stricter immigration law. Central to their mission is EU scepticism, which was given a boost this summer with the UK referendum to leave the EU.
Funding explains that the EU’s inability to tackle the refugee crisis has been particularly damaging to the EU’s standing.
“It has created scepticism because many expected that the EU would solve the issue. And the fact that they haven’t has created a legitimacy deficit,” Funding said.
Following the British referendum he has become convinced that a debate about Danish EU membership is likely to gain traction.
Both the far-left Red-Green Alliance (Enhedslisten) and DF have already called for a Danish referendum on EU membership. The centrist parties, however, remain more supportive of continued EU membership. Among the population EU support remains high as well and a Norstat survey conducted in June found that only 27 percent of respondents were in favour of leaving the union.
The Convention debate
The three parties are also highly critical of international conventions that limit the government’s ability to introduce tight immigration policies. The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), refugee conventions and the UN Convention on Statelessness prevent Denmark from limiting the number of refugees arriving in the country, and its ability to deport foreign criminals.
Recently, the Liberal Party (Venstre) government has pledged to look into the limitations imposed by the conventions.
“What’s certain is that the government and the Ministry of Justice are searching high and low for ways to tighten immigration regulations,” Funding said. “The future of the conventions will largely depend on the Ministry, and its ability to find loopholes in the legislation. Are there any grey areas in the conventions that allows us to employ stricter rules without leaving the conventions, well then that’s what we’ll do.”
In August, PM Lars Løkke Rasmussen finally conceded that Denmark would not unilaterally withdraw from the conventions, a possibility previously alluded to in their election manifesto. According to Funding, there is broad support in Parliament for challenging many of the international conventions, but most agree that a unilateral withdrawal would prove too harmful.
“Leaving the conventions would have international consequences and lead to heavy criticism of Denmark,” Funding said.
Fight for the right
The government’s course change is, however, more likely to strengthen the new right wing parties, who are less interested in Denmark’s international reputation, than Denmark’s ability to control its borders.
While the new parties might attract dissatisfied DF voters, these same voters are also being wooed by the centre-left Socialdemokraterne. After losing power last year, the leading left wing party joined the minority Venstre government in passing a range of restrictions to immigration laws and stricter conditions for refugees living in Denmark.
DF voters are being pulled from both directions and depending on where they go could have a dramatic impact on the political landscape. Should Socialdemokraterne win over DF voters, the left wing bloc would increase its chances of regaining power during the next election. Should DF lose votes to one or more of the new right parties – if they succeed in getting on the ballot – it could keep a right wing government in power. However, if any of the new parties fail to secure two percent of the vote, therefore failing to hit the electoral threshold, the votes would be lost, which could guarantee a new left wing government.
According to the latest EU survey of public opinion in Denmark from May, 57 percent of respondents said immigration was one of the two most important issues facing Denmark, with health and social security (26 percent) a distant second.
Immigration policy will, therefore, remain the central arena in the battle for voters, explains Meret, who adds that DF will remain a key player in developments at the far-right.
“What’s interesting is which political direction DF will go, to the left or right, and whether they have even peaked yet.” M
New parties on the right
Danskernes Parti (Party of the Danes)
· Established in 2011 by Daniel Carlsen, a former member of the Neo Nazi organisation Danmarks Nationalsocialistiske Bevægelse.
· Inspired by far-right parties in Germany and Sweden, the party failed to win representation in the 2013 municipal elections.
· Their central ideology is ethnoplurism, in which different cultures should be geographically isolated from each other.
· Their policy platform includes an immediate stop to immigration and deportations of non-Western immigrants.
Nye Borgerlige (New Conservatives)
· Established in 2015 by Pernille Vermund and Peter Seier Christensen.
· The party brings together small-government fiscal conservatism with strict immigration controls.
· With a strong anti-EU position, the party wants to return sovereignty to Denmark in a number of key areas, particularly immigration.
· They look likely to gather the necessary votes to run in the next election.
Dansk Samling (Danish Unity)
· Founded in 1936, Dansk Samling is a nationalist party that played an active role in the Danish resistance movement during World War II. They have not contested an election since 1964.
· Historian Morten Uhrskov became leader in 2013 and has since tried to increase the party’s membership.
· The party’s key policies include stopping non-Western immigration, leaving the EU, and lowering taxes.