Europe, take note: in Denmark, the humanitarian left is on the rise

Michael Strange

Thu 6 Jun 2019 16.20 BST

In Denmark’s elections, the far right fell and socially-conscious parties surged. Let’s hope it’s a litmus test for Europe


‘The victory for Mette Frederiksen’s Social Democrats owes much to the rise in pro-humanitarian parties within the Danish Folketinget.’ Frederiksen speaks to the press on 5 June after the election results were released. Photograph: Philip Davali/EPA


The Social Democrats’ electoral victory in Denmark was by no means surprising, and in many ways feels like the regular cycle of politics. Yet the result, which saw the coalition of leftwing parties win 52.1% of the vote compared with 41% for their rightwing adversaries, embodies a series of developments with a wider significance for Europe as a whole.

Once the result of Wednesday’s elections was known, the Social Democrat leader, Mette Frederiksen, reiterated two of her party’s key electoral promises – that they want to put welfare back at the centre of the Danish model, and that they will place strict controls on refugees and asylum seekers. That last position has become common globally, and within Frederiksen’s party it was seen as a pragmatic necessity if they were to win votes from what had been, back in the 2015 election, Denmark’s second largest party – the Danish People’s party (DPP).


The DPP has always been something of a paradox, given that it appeals to many of the working-class voters who were once the Social Democrats’ base, has frequently put welfare at the centre of its campaigning, but has supported a series of rightwing governments that have radically curtailed the Danish model. The strategy of “winning back” voters from the DPP by adopting many of their positions on refugees and migration seems to have paid off. Several factors support this initial reading. The big news of the election was that the DPP lost more than half its seats, decimating their influence and plunging the party into a crisis it might not survive.

Yet the Danish election becomes more interesting if we take into consideration a series of other results. First, the Social Democrats gained only one seat, and saw a 0.4% drop in their share of the national vote. Second, the leftwing coalition includes four other parties – two of which doubled their number of seats – that have run campaigns advocating humanitarianism and will, in many cases, find themselves opposing the Social Democrats. Frederiksen’s election-night speech pledged that her party would form a minority government, something both unusual and rarely sustainable within the coalition politics of the proportionally elected Danish Folketinget.


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