The Danish Social Democrats – both socialist and nationalist – are gaining ground with a call to take back control of the country’s borders.
- Wednesday, 31 October 2018
For some time now the ghost of "left wing sovreignism" has been hovering over Europe, a strange concoction of socialism and national defence, that has recently opened a path for itself among the debris of the Socialist and Social Democratic parties of the Old Continent, with a nationalist rhetoric which closely mimics that of the populist parties. The focus of this supra-national school of thought that has secured support pretty much everywhere are the policies on immigration, refugees and the multi-ethnic society; the European Socialists are looking for ideas, solutions or perhaps a miracle, to find a way out of the profound crisis that in many cases has decimated consensus and meant forsaking any true leadership role in the political arena.
But now it seems to have found a winning model it might be able to exploit: with the pollsbillowing its sails, the star of the Socialdemokratiet, the centre-left party that governed the country up until 2015, is shining bright once more. The fresh face here is that of 40 year old Mette Friedriksen, a former deputy prime minister in the Helle Thorning-Schmidt government, the first in Danish history led by a woman, preparingto get the Social Democrats back in the driving seat after 4 years in opposition behind the motto "I don't want to lead a Denmark that can't manage its own borders". A slogan that apparently goes down very well, despite the fact that it has sanctioned the final rupture with the red-green left of theDe Rød-Grønne party and the Liberal Democrats of RadikaleVenstre; a divorce that has been on the cards for some time, at least ever since the Socialist started to vote in favour of the restrictive measures against minorities and refugees introduced by the Rasmussen II government; including a ban on the burqa.
Immigration and the multi-ethnic society have become so central to the political debate of the most southern Scandinavian country that they occupied 44 pages of the electoral programme the Socialdemokratiet is about to present before its electorate. The premise and certain proposals contained in the text, entitled RetfærdigogRealistisk, "Right and Realistic", in truth are even further to the right than those of the League in Italy. "The project contains a number of proposals with the "aim of regaining control over our borders" and others that affect those already in Denmark. Among the main ones, a ceiling to non-western foreigners, hot-spots outside the EU to assess asylum requests; a European system of quotas for each country and a stop to individual requests; a stop to "ghetto-neighbourhoods" by imposing a residential limit of 30% on non-western immigrants. And finally the requirement that all refugees receiving subsidies contribute with volunteer work to the welfare system.
Denmark is well-known in Europe for its restrictive approach to immigration, but the drastic metamorphosis of the Social Democrats has caught the attention of much of the world's press. "In actual fact, Socialdemokratiet is not moving to the right, it's simply going back to its origins", says Peter Nedergaard, a professor of political sciences at the University of Copenhagen. "The party considers itself to be the guardian of the Danish welfare state and the exponential growth of non-western immigrants in recent years, as they see it, has jeopardized everyone's acquired rights, for Danes and immigrants already living in Denmark". Then again, according to Nedergaard, the stiff competition among workers in a neo-liberal market system is not part of the Social Democratic tradition: "The Danish Social Democrats deviated from their usual position when they embraced liberal principles in the 80's, especially on the issue of immigration and part of its electorate has "punished" the Socialdemokratiet by voting for Dansk Folkeparti". DF is a party that international observers situate on the far right but unlike parties like the PVV in the Netherlands, the League in Italy and AFD in Germany, it promotes strong social programmes.
In spite of the harsh tones, at least as they are perceived in SouthernEurope, the "sovreignist" programmes of the Danish Social Democrat's do not want to shut borders off completely. They want to put a ceiling to new arrivals, based on quotas set in agreement with other European countries. In this sense, Nedergaard explains, the Danish option embraced by the centre-left straddles the fence. "Their position is half way between the more radical stance of the Visegrad countries and the much more liberal German and Swedishone". In other words, the Danish left wing may not be giving in to anti-immigration posturing, but it can't be denied that it is moving away from the values shared by most European Socialist parties. And that the matter may create a little embarrassment in the party, especially after the unusual attention given to their stance by the international press, is understandable. That's probably why the Social Democrats have refused to speak to us.
"This orientation is the result of a tendency that has spread throughout most of Europe but doesn't have a real explanation", according to Sebastian JuelFrandsen of the Danish Council for Refugees, the main Danish NGO supporting refugees and asylum seekers. "The number of arrivals has dropped drastically in recent times, therefore the alarmistic tones of the political debate in Denmark – where 75% of parliament is in favour of restrictive rules on immigration– are hardly justified if it weren't for the political elections scheduled next year", the NGO representative adds. However, both sides point to the risk that the welfare system might collapse if immigration is not restrained. "There's no doubt that the welfare state is under pressure but migrant integration is a long term investment for our country", according to Frandsen, "and being welcoming is first of all a duty from a humanitarian point of view". But is it true that migrants create "parallel societies" or "ghetto neighbourhoods" beyond state control? "We work very hard to ensure that refugees are distributed as uniformly as possible, throughout the country, to avoid these very phenomena. But it's understandable that members of a community, for linguistic or cultural reasons, should tend to seek each other out. It happens everywhere, even among Europeans living in other member states".
The answer to the question of whether the Socialdemokratiet's "sovreignist" move is a return to their origins or an attempt to catch up with the right wing on its own turf is an open one but the issue could create a few problems for the European Socialist Party – to which the Danes belong with three representatives – especially with the European elections a year from now. However, for the Euro-parliamentarian Elly Schlin, despite the popularity of the "reasonable" anti-immigration policies promoted by the Danish Social Democrats there is no "risk of contagion" between the left-wing parties of the rest of Europe: "The position Socialdemokratiet has taken in Denmark is a national matter but within the group of Socialists and Democrats, the majority still leans towards humane and reasonable policies", she adds. "The decision to abstain in the vote on the Dublin reform and the Danish directive on the confiscation of refugees assets, voted by their party as well, have certainly led to a lively debate within the group, but the European centre-left", the member of Possible, an independent member of the S&D group, explains "still respects human rights and international conventions".
In the meantime, however, the Social Democratic front that backs a third course of action between open and closed borders is growing and, among other things, has gained traction with the Dutch, Austrian and Belgian Labour parties. And after the European elections, it could represent an added element of uncertainty in what is already a very fragmented continental political scenario.