Last year, the Danish voting public veered to the right and pushed out the centre-left government led by the Social Democrats (Socialdemokraterne). Among the biggest winners was the populist Danish People’s Party (DF), which doubled its share of the vote, securing 21.1 percent.
Despite campaigning on a pro-welfare economic platform, DF has a long history of supporting right-wing governments and has frequently voted for austerity policies in exchange for tighter immigration policies – the party’s key issue.
DF has become too mainstream for some voters, however, and an Infomedia poll conducted in June found that 24 percent of Danes would vote for a party to the right of DF. Several new parties are attempting to fill that space, most prominently among them the New Conservatives (Nye Borgerlige), which takes DF’s tough stand on immigration and mixes it with an economic platform based around tax cuts and a small public sector.
Over the summer months, Nye Borgerlige leader Pernille Vermund has become an increasingly visible face in the Danish media, where she has been sounding out her party’s anti-EU, small government and anti-immigration message. The interest in her party was evident when she arrived at our interview in a small Vesterbro café shadowed by a camera crew from DR2. With the cameras rolling, she is at pains to stress that her move into politics is not about setting up a long political career for herself.
“My primary objective is to take care of my job, my company and my children. I would be able to do that if the Danish MPs would do their job and solve this country’s problems.”
Room on the right
Vermund works as an architect and owns the company Vermund+Gere, but between 2009 and 2011 she was a member of the Helsingør City Council, representing the Conservative People’s Party (Konservative).
Last autumn, together with Peter Seier Christensen, she launched Nye Borgerlige to satisfy the perceived demand for a party that combines traditional conservative economic and social values, with a tight immigration policy.
“For too many years people have been compromising when voting in Danish elections,” Vermund says, emphasising the party’s desire to challenge EU and international conventions that, she feels, threaten Denmark’s sovereignty over immigration issues. After leaving Konservative she had become a political nomad without a place in politics.
Nye Borgerlige was formed in response to Vermund’s frustration at a lack of political action on the right wing – “it’s difficult to trust people who promise one thing and then do something else” – and her view that Konservative no longer represented traditional conservative values.
“Time will tell whether or not there is room for more right wing parties in Danish politics,” she said.
The Europe question
At the core of the party is a deep dissatisfaction with the EU and the European Court on Human Rights (ECHR). Vermund says the party is in favour of international cooperation and free trade, but the time has come to take back decision-making powers from European institutions. The ECHR, for example, has on several occasions struck down Danish immigration legislations, which it found to unfairly discriminate.
“Just imagine a family, not allowed to put a lock on their own front door meaning that anyone can walk in and out at any time, that would seriously challenge one’s family life. I don’t think that’s fair,” says Vermund.
“It’s a big problem when a majority of society wants something, elects politicians who want the same, and then when these politicians enter government they say they can’t deliver because of some conventions that we are afraid to leave, because then we’ll get kicked out of the EU.”
As an alternative, Vermund is attracted to the relationships that Norway and Switzerland have with the EU, which enables them to trade freely with the EU’s single market without all the burdens linked to membership.
“Even though Norway is part of the free market, it doesn’t keep them from kicking out an illegal immigrant, or from leading the immigration policy of their choice.”
In a follow up email, I later challenged Pernille on this, pointing out that Norway, Switzerland and Iceland all have to accept free movement in order to trade with the EU single market, and that they are also subject to the ECHR This places them under the same restrictions and limitations in regards to deporting criminal immigrants, if doing so is a violation of their human rights.
As of going to print, we did not receive a reply. At any rate, Vermund believes Denmark’s days as an EU member are numbered.
“Britain has voted to leave the EU as the first country, I expect that a number of other member states will follow their lead. I’m pretty sure that we are heading towards something new and better in the future”.
Should Vermund achieve her aim then Denmark will need to completely change how it operates internationally.
“I want Denmark to cooperate as much as possible internationally, as long as it’s in our interest to do so,” she says, adding that a politician’s primary responsibility is to defend Danish interests, freedoms and security.
Vermund is keen to stress that Nye Borgerlige isn’t opposed to immigrants moving to Denmark as long as they can support themselves. If it were up to Nye Borgerlige, only Danes would be entitled to receive Danish welfare, and Denmark would be closed to refugees and asylum seekers.
“Denmark attracts the wrong immigrants due to our existing immigration policy and tax level,” she says, arguing that reform is key to attract the ‘right’ immigrants.
“In Switzerland they make it clear that all immigrants must be able to provide for themselves as well as abide by national law. This means that immigrants going to Switzerland are aware that you cannot move there and live off benefits, but you have to contribute to society in order to succeed. And we can learn from that.”
Assimilation is key
Vermund is keen to talk up the benefits of immigration for the economy, and while she says she is not concerned by multiculturalism, she believes immigrants need to assimilate if the are to remain in the country.
“As long as immigrants behave, abide by national law and are able to provide for themselves, then I don’t care what they look like or who they believe in. What’s important to me is that we preserve Danish society and its values,” she says.
“But of course, there are limits to how many we can offer citizenship, as there are limits to whom we will allow into our country. Experience has showed us that second and third generation immigrants, from especially the Middle East and North Africa, has led to increased crime and low levels of self-support.”
Nye Borgerlige wants to set an upper limit on the number of foreigners who can be granted Danish citizenship every year, and applicants would be judged according to their ability to assimilate into the Danish society. Looking to Switzerland once again, the power for conferring citizenship should be handed from parliament to the local municipalities.
“This means that you have to be a good and active citizen in your municipality in order to get citizenship. I think that’s great, that you take it down to a level where each individual applicant is evaluated in the society where they live and work, because it is very difficult for a politician in parliament, to make such judgements.”
Decentralisation of state tasks
Citizenship is just one area of power that Nye Borgerlige would like to decentralise from parliament in order to achieve their vision of a smaller state with more freedom for individual citizens.
“Sometimes Christiansborg is just extremely far away,” she says, presenting the case for a federal Denmark where municipalities have more choice over how to create services and support residents.
“Those who want higher taxes and more public funded welfare can settle in the municipalities that offer just that. Conversely, those who want more freedom and who want to handle more things themselves should settle in a municipality that permits them to do so. Thereby letting voters vote with their feet, so to speak.”
Pernille adds that she’s pretty confident that, in time, people living in the high welfare-municipalities will realise that it’s unsustainable.
Decentralising state tasks and giving more freedom to each municipality would mean a radical departure from Danish society as we know it. Vermund, nonetheless, sees it as a way of building bridges between our differences, rather than pushing people of differentiating views further apart.
“Decentralisation will in fact counter societal divisions, by acknowledging our differences and making room for them, because we are different. And as long as we don’t recognise our differences, this societal division will exist.”
The next prime minister?
To appear on an election ballot, new parties need to secure 1/175 of the votes cast at the last election. Therefore, Nye Borgelige needs 20,109 verified signatures, which they say they are well on their way to securing.
Vermund has previously stated that she would not support any candidate for prime minister who doesn’t guarantee a complete stop on granting asylum in Denmark, forced deportations of criminal immigrants and asylum seekers with temporary residence permits, as well as limiting welfare services to Danish citizens – all policies that violate Denmark’s obligations under international treaties.
“If no other candidate will adopt these three requirements, then I will throw my hat in the ring.” M