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Article by Therese Smith
Yesterday, September 15, Danish parliamentary elections turned out in favour of change in the Danish political landscape – A Social Democrat-led center-left coalition is now set to form the new Danish government. The new government has promised to move away from the bloc politics which has characterised the politics of the previous Liberal-conservative minority government, most notably manifested through the power asserted by the right-wing anti-immigration Danish People’s Party. Since 2001, the Danish People’s Party has implemented and legitimised in Denmark the toughest immigration and integration policies of any European country.
Whilst the result of this election definitely points towards a reduction in the political influence of the Danish anti-immigration party, it is not representative of the trend across Europe. In countries such as Finland, Sweden, Norway, Italy and France the issue of immigration is the subject of heated debates, particularly in the wake of ‘the Arab Spring’, which has facilitated a recent influx of immigrants to the borders of Europe. Right-wing populist parties are still on the rise across Europe, benefitting from a growing popular resentment towards the European Union and immigration. Whilst maintaining an image of being moderate, these parties have succeeded in legitimising their policies though a nationalist and protectionist approach which appeals to the citizens of Europe who are living through austere times. These political developments have also raised questions about the support of the Schengen treaty.
The new wall?
The center-right government and the Danish People’s party re-introduced customs inspections at Denmark’s borders with Sweden and Germany. This move in a bigger perspective ties into the problematics surrounding the fact that France and Italy are calling for borderless travel to be reconsidered. The introduction of a new border-controlled Danish frontier seems to be nothing more than a further step towards the de-legitimisation of the Schengen agreement and the hindering of immigration flows to Denmark. Whilst Denmark assures that the intention is not to violate EU law, the policy will inevitably infringe upon the right to freedom of movement, the cornerstone of the Schengen treaty. "Denmark is a firm believer in open borders," Foreign Minister Espersen told the news agency AFP. "What we have here is a customs effort."
Concerns about this new policy challenging the spirit of the Schengen treaty have been expressed throughout Europe both on national as well as supranational level, however the European Commission has opened up to the possibility of ratifying Schengen in “specific” cases”. Currently, a country can impose temporary border controls only in the case of a "serious threat" to public order or internal security. Whilst Denmark enjoys a special status within the Schengen zone, it has opt-outs regarding the treaty.
However, the impact of the Danish decision to introduce border controls could be detrimental.
This may be a slippery slope, opening up for countries to draw their own conclusions on what constitutes a “serious threat”, and it seems that Denmark has already taken the lead in this new development.
During the last ten years, a conservative outlook on issues such as the EU, foreign policy, border control and immigration has been established and implemented in Denmark. However, though signifying a step towards a more left-wing political stand on such issues, this election still does not completely erase the deeds of the past.
Despite the fact that the Danish people have now elected a new leader, Helle Thorning-Schmidt and her Social Democrats are still in favour of the “tight but fair” immigration policy introduced by the former government and Danish People’s Party.
One example of this is the infamous 24-year rule which dictates when people are allowed to get married in Denmark – a policy which was allegedly proposed to hinder forced marriages, but rather seems to function as yet another obstacle for immigrants to enter Denmark.
Furthermore, internally the parties in the new centre-left alliance are split on these issues. The new coalition, consisting of the Social Democrats, the Socialist People's Party and the Social Liberal Party, supported by the Red-Green Alliance, which secured a majority of 50.3% of the votes, is not unanimous on the 24-year rule for example and we have yet to see whether the new forces intend to keep their promise and are even able to push for a less restrictionist immigration policy, distancing themselves from that of the former government.
Whilst this election has demonstrated that the Danish people are split, and that the call for a less restrictionist immigration policy and open doors to Europe is not symptomatic of the whole population, “A majority is a majority” as Helle Thorning-Schmidt stated last night, and the hope is that the Danes will stand together and embrace this much needed political change, whilst also truly embracing their European citizenship.
One small step for Denmark, a leap for Europe.