On Wednesday, June 5th, voters across Denmark took to the polls to elect the center-left Social Democrat Party. Led by Mette Frederiksen, the career politician is set to be the country’s youngest ever prime minister at 41 years of age. The Social Democrats ousted Denmark’s Liberal Party after four years in office. The center-left party campaigned primarily on climate change issues and in defence of Denmark’s prized welfare provisions, promising to reverse years of austerity measures on education and healthcare. Despite its victory, the Social Democrats have been criticized for its hard-line stance on immigration, pledging to send refugees back to their home countries rather than integrating them.
Frederiksen has previously said that “because we are not very good at integrating in Denmark… it is neither heroic nor human to bring so many here that the problems become huge in our own country.” Following the win of the Social Democrat Party, Frederiksen announced during a victory celebration that “together we created a hope that we can change Denmark [and] that we can improve Denmark.” Current Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen of the Liberal Party conceded his defeat but stated that while “the Liberal Party is moving on, we’re not going home. We’ll be waiting by the telephone.” Nevertheless, Frederiksen has rejected the proposal of a “grand coalition”, despite the potential of claiming a majority between them.
The victory of the Social Democrats highlights a discrepancy between the generally liberal and leftist domestic policies versus the nationalistic overtones of its foreign policy. This follows a worrying trend of increasingly nationalistic and anti-immigrant, (or more specifically) anti-Muslim sentiment in Denmark.
Not only do these policies revoke the basic right for women to choose how they dress, government encroachment on matters of religious clothing is likely to lead to a rise in racist abuse and discrimination. As Lucie Holk, the Deputy Executive Director of the Danish Institute for Human Rights, says, “Politicians are moving very close to the boundaries of human rights”.
Denmark is the third Nordic country to vote for a leftist party following Sweden and Finland. The nationalist, anti-immigration Danish People’s Party, which has heavily influenced Danish politics over the past two decades, has increasingly reverted to anti-immigration rhetoric and policies, which Frederiksen adopted while campaigning.
The refugee crisis in 2015 – where at its peak, 21 000 refugees sought asylum in Denmark in one year – catalysed bipartisan anti-immigration policies. This included banning women from wearing the niqab and burqa in public places – following from other countries such as Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and parts of Switzerland – as well as the controversial “jewellery bill” that allows police to seize refugees’ valuable in exchange for the cost of their treatment by the state.
Denmark’s anti-immigration policies are an unfortunate blimp, but more worryingly, the trend of discriminatory and anti-immigration policies increasingly found throughout Europe is gradually eroding respect and inviolability of human rights. Europe, as the most successful example of regional cooperation, must continue in the spirit of openness and partnership and metaphorically extend its borders to include its neighbours most in need.
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