By Elizabeth McGlamry.
Recently, elections in Western European nations have made headlines due to surprising upsets by newly emerging, far-right wing political parties. First, Sweden took center stage with Swedish Democrats’ victory in becoming the third largest party in Sweden. Then, the United Kingdom Independence Party won a seat in the British Parliament for the first time ever. Both parties are known for their staunch anti-immigration and anti-European Union platforms and are seen as much more radical than most political parties in their respective countries. Here, in Denmark, the Danish People’s Party, a far right-wing party that shares many of the Swedish Democrats and UKIP’s political views, has steadily been gaining success, almost 20 years after its creation in 1995. The party has been the third largest party in Danish Parliament since the 2001 election. Many think, that in a few years, the party’s new and charismatic leader Krisitian Thulsen Dahl may even be in the running for Denmark’s Prime Minister.
The creation and sustained success of such a party, considered radical compared to the other major players in Danish politics, shows a definite shift in the Danish people’s mindset. When Denmark’s tax-based welfare state was created post-World War II, the Danish population was a homogenous group of ethnic Danes ready and willing to pay higher taxes to support their government programs. Today, however, this is no longer the case.
“The main issue, not only in Denmark but in a whole range of European countries right now due to the fact we have a significant number of people, primarily from the middle east and North Africa, coming to Europe these years, and they have caused a bit of disturbance,” said Kenneth Kristiansen Berth, one of the party’s substitute members of Parliament who was on the board of the party for 14 years. “So that’s why parties like the Danish People’s Party are growing all across Europe these years.”
As of 2014, first-generation immigrants account for roughly 12% of Denmark’s population, a larger number than ever before. And this percentage is rising as more people flock to the small welfare-state country, particularly asylum seekers from developing countries in the midst of political turmoil. Despite the country’s relatively strict immigration procedures, more and more immigrants flood into the larger cities, where some reside illegally. Thanks to Denmark’s “cradle to grave” universal welfare model, each new resident receives all social welfare benefits, regardless of their legal status. This is the issue that fuels the Danish People’s Party’s platform and the issue that has helped the party gain a supportive following.
“We have this immigration issue, which has been very top priority for the electorate for a number of years now. And in the beginning, it was only the Danish People’s Party that addressed this issue,” said Berth, who was attracted to join and work for the party after high school. “It’s not as divisive a subject as it has been. But you know, many people like the ‘real deal.’ They know it was the Danish People’s Party that started this debate when it was very unpopular…they believe our viewpoints are genuine and not something the party decided in order to gain voters.”
Berth believes that the Danish People’s Party’s top priorities are to continue to limit immigrants and asylum seekers into Denmark, cut down on the number of refugees that stay in the country permanently, and focus on integrating those that do stay into Danish culture and into the welfare state.
Jacob Buksti, once the Minister of Transportation for the Social Democrats in Danish Parliament and a long-time member of that party, attributes the People’s Party’s success to their appeal to the “common man.”
“Traditionally, the Social Democrats have had strong bases of working class people, but now they are being more attracted to the Danish People’s Party… the Danish People’s Party presents themselves as the people who take ordinary people seriously, while the liberals and especially the government are more elite, educated people.”
But Buksti doesn’t believe that rising support for the People’s Party is necessarily linked to the Danish public becoming more politically radical.
“When Danish People’s Party may be the biggest party next election, it would be a fault saying that’s because Danes are becoming more extreme right wing. They just say that they trust more in them than the other “wise guys” sitting and talking about the balance of payment or unemployment rates and don’t take seriously what is the challenge for ordinary people.”
There are still many Danes that criticize the party for its harsh views on immigrants in Denmark and its skepticism of the European Union. Despite these concerns and despite the party’s reputation as the most radical party in Denmark, the Danish People’s Party is preparing for success in the next election.
“We are going to have elections in maximum one year from now…I’m very optimistic about what our result will be,” Berth said. “I think it will be a great result in comparison to our earlier results. And of course that will give us more influence than we’ve had up until now.”