What Denmark’s new government will change and what this means for Europe?
After Denmark’s elections last month, the country now has a new Prime Minister. Not only is this Prime Minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the first women ever to be elected to this position in Denmark but she is from the Social Democrats, a centre left party which has formed coalition government along with two other parties. The centre-left bloc now holds 89 out of the 179 seats in Parliament, with the Danish Peoples Party now holding 22.
Denmark signed up to the Schengen Agreement in 1997 but since has been clamping down on immigration laws because of pressure from the Danish Peoples Party (DPP) and certain elements of the Danish media. With the introduction of stricter border controls, the European Commission and Germany denounced these measures as illegal. Denmark was one of the 25 countries that signed the agreement that allowed travel without border controls, but recently Denmark started to introduce border controls not seen since before the Schengen Agreement. The reason behind these controls could be linked more to an anti-immigration agenda rather than just to reduce cross-border crime. The new Prime Minister on her first day agreed to roll back these border controls, which were heading in an anti-Schengen direction. Indeed Schengen controversies aren’t new. Concerns were raised in public by Italy and France during the Arab Spring, when many migrants from North Africa were landing in the Italian island of Lampedusa, seen as one of the doorways into Europe.
Since more border control were employed on Denmark’s Swedish and German borders earlier in June, it was questioned whether this controversy would spread across Europe, and represent a move away from the ideals of the EU. Denmark, like the United Kingdom has retained its own currency and did not convert to the Euro like many other countries. Before the election results put the centre left in government, there were questions about whether Denmark was moving in an opposite direction to the rest of Europe. However with Denmark’s new government deciding to recall back border controls Denmark seems to be realigning herself back with Europe.
This is a country where citizens enjoy free universal health care, free education including university and the first country to legalise same-sex civil unions. However liberal the country may appear, the attitude to immigration is the most stringent in all of the European member states. This new government has already addressed border controls so asylum and anti-immigration laws might be next on the agenda.
There seems to be a change in the winds since July of this year when a right wing fanatic murdered 77 people in Norway. The election in Denmark has been the first general election since July and ends over a decade of right-wing politics in Denmark. In an election with an 88% voter turnout, many voters changed from voting for the Danish Peoples Party to the Social Democrats.
It is early days for the new Danish government but making peace with Germany and the EU Commission seems to be a priority for the Prime Minister. Whether the results of these elections are a barometer for the political atmosphere in the rest of Europe, it may be too early to tell.