16 June 2015

Denmark: A multi-party country

Denmark is historically a multi-party country. No single party has held an absolute majority in the Folketing, the Danish Parliament, since 1909.  Danish parties can be broken down into two loose coalition blocs, the centre-right “blue bloc” and the centre-left “red bloc”. The blue bloc consists of: the centre-right Venstre, the ‘immigration-sceptic’ Danish People’s Party, the Conservatives and the libertarian Liberal Alliance. The red bloc consists of: the Social Democrats, the centrist Social Liberal Party, the left-wing Socialist People’s Party, the newly founded left-wing populist Alternative Party and the far-left Red-Green Alliance. Government coalitions are typically formed within the bloc, although cross-bloc coalitions have occurred.

Will Thorning-Schmidt retain power?

Helle Thorning-Schmidt has come a long way since entering power in 2011 as the first female Prime Minister of Denmark. Her main rival is Lars Løkke Rasmussen, leader of the largest opposition party, Venstre. Until recently, the blue bloc has dominated the polls since the 2011 election, reaching a 17% lead at one point (see graph below).

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However, thanks to a bold election campaign – and a tougher rhetoric on migration – Thorning-Schmidt has managed to close the gap. The red bloc was actually leading by 1% in a poll last week. In other words, this election will be a much tighter race than many expected.

A ‘blue bloc’ victory would secure greater support for UK’s EU renegotiation

After the Conservatives won the UK general election last month, all four of Denmark’s blue bloc parties voiced their support for Britain’s renegotiation bid – for example they also seek to curtail EU migrants’ access to welfare. The parties have since reached an agreement, named ‘Danish Welfare in Europe’, stating that they will back Britain’s renegotiation project if they win Thursday’s election – in return for support from the eurosceptic Danish People’s Party.

Lars Løkke Rasmussen, who is tipped to become the Danish Prime Minister if the ‘blue bloc’ wins, recently said,

I have been in dialogue with Downing Street…The UK can count on a new Danish government to support them in their efforts to negotiate a new arrangement that secures British welfare, and in the process pave the way for us to push through some of the things we want.

Rise of the anti-establishment and eurosceptic parties

The success of the Danish People’s Party, which sits with the UK Conservatives in the ECR Group in the European Parliament, would increase the heat in the EU debate. The party only received 12.3% in national elections in 2011, but finished first in last year’s European Parliament elections, securing 26.6% of the vote, and it is currently polling at around 18% – possibly beating Venstre to second place. The Danish People’s Party has shunned the responsibility of governing, acting as an external support party for the pro-EU Venstre-Conservative cabinet between 2001 and 2011. The big question is whether or not the party will join government. Danish People’s Party ‘s leader, Kristian Thulesen Dahl, who has moderated the position of his party, has repeatedly said that his party, which is on the left of Venstre when it comes to economic policies, is not interested in entering a coalition government – arguing that it has more influence as a support party.

Regardless of whether Denmark ends up with a centre-left or a centre-right government, the Danish People’s Party, Liberal Alliance, and Red-Green Alliance have made a pact. Should they gain 60 seats or more, the Constitutional threshold to be able to call a referendum, they plan to force binding referenda on whether Denmark should join the banking union and other major EU policy decisions. The three are currently polling to gain 59 seats, and as little as two weeks ago they looked set to gain 63. A series of referenda on major EU policies could also impact the British EU debate, with rejections empowering Denmark’s eurosceptic parties to push a Venstre-led or Social Democrat-led government to change tack and become more supportive of the UK’s EU reform agenda.

A referendum is expected to be held in any case no later than March 2016 on whether Denmark should end a string of EU opt-outs, amongst others on justice cooperation. The centre-right Venstre supports dropping this opt-out, unlike the Danish People’s Party.

With so much at stake, this Danish election will be well worth watching.