Denmark’s Government Ousted as Anti-Immigration Party Surges

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Lars Loekke Rasmussen & Helle Thorning-Schmidt
Lars Loekke Rasmussen, left, & Danish PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt debate in Copenhagen on May 31. Photographer: Asger Ladefoged/Scanpix Denmark/AFP via Getty Images

Danish voters ousted the government of Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt and backed an opposition in which the anti-immigration Danish People’s Party emerged as the biggest force.

After talks on Friday, Liberal Party leader Lars Loekke Rasmussen was given the mandate to try to form a majority government comprising his group, the Danish People’s Party, the Liberal Alliance and the Conservatives.

“I’ll start talks to form a government tomorrow,” Rasmussen said in a TV2 broadcast late Friday. “It has been a tough campaign for everybody involved.”

Rasmussen was overtaken by the People’s Party, which won one-fifth of the votes and almost doubled its backing since 2011 after promising Danes tougher immigration and asylum laws. The party is also skeptical toward Denmark’s European Union membership and has argued in favor of border controls to defy the single market’s free movement of labor.

“What’s key for us is that we get the most influence,” Kristian Thulesen Dahl, leader of the People’s Party, said in an interview in Copenhagen.

Since calling an early election three weeks ago, Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt has managed to erase her opponent’s lead amid promises of billions in extra welfare spending
Since calling an early election three weeks ago, Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt has managed to erase her opponent’s lead amid promises of billions in extra welfare spending
Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg

EU Crisis

The result marks a blow to a beleaguered EU, which faces the threat of a U.K. exit and a worsening crisis in Greece. The People’s Party has said it’s willing to enter an alliance with other EU-skeptical parties that would ask Danes to vote much more often on European reforms.

Should the People’s Party take on Cabinet posts, “then Denmark’s relationship with the EU will become a bit more difficult,” Eva Soerensen, a professor at Roskilde University, said by phone.

Rasmussen, head of the opposition group and the man now set to become prime minister, got 90 seats in the parliament, versus 85 for the government. The margin was wide enough to ensure that four seats reserved for Denmark’s former Atlantic colonies of Greenland and the Faroe Islands weren’t able to tip the balance.


Thorning-Schmidt, Denmark’s first female prime minister, said she would step down as leader of the Social Democrats. “Our efforts didn’t get us as far as we’d hoped,” she told party members. “We were defeated at the finishing line.”

She earlier today visited Queen Margrethe II as part of the process of resigning from government.

The opposition won because Rasmussen, who was also prime minister from 2009 until 2011, was able to direct the focus of the election campaign toward immigration, Soerensen said. “Images of masses of refugees trying to cross the Mediterranean probably” also played a role, she said.

Despite emerging as the biggest group in the winning bloc, Thulesen Dahl said it’s not a given the Danish People’s Party will aim for Cabinet posts.

“My view on where we can achieve the most influence isn’t necessarily from inside the government,” he said. The last time the party was part of a ruling alliance was from 2001 until 2011, when it provided parliamentary support without joining the Cabinet.

Income Inequality

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Danes live in one of the world’s few remaining AAA-rated economies, where growth has made a timid return since a 2008 housing-market collapse stalled consumer spending. Famous for its generous welfare system, Denmark has also seen an increase in income inequality in recent years. The sitting government’s response to the tougher economic climate was to means-test some benefits.

Rasmussen has promised tax cuts and zero growth in welfare spending. The Danish People’s Party is likely to resist those plans, targeting a bigger public sector. According to Nordea, the economy is now “on the brink of a solid economic upswing,” Chief Economist Helge Pedersen wrote in a note. The challenge is to keep the recovery on track without creating the risk of “overheating,” he said.

“This election is very different from the vote in 2011,” Kasper Moeller Hansen, a professor of political science at Copenhagen University, said before the results. Back then, it “was all about the economic crisis and the crisis agenda. That’s not the case now. As the economy is improving, the issue of immigration has resurfaced.”

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