With election looming, is Denmark’s opposition irreversibly split over immigration?

With Danes set to vote in general elections no later than June 17th, opposition parties that normally form an allied bloc in parliament could be irreconcilably split over immigration.

With election looming, is Denmark’s opposition irreversibly split over immigration?
Morten Østergaard and Mette Frederiksen pass each other in parliament earlier this month. Photo: Liselotte Sabroe/Ritzau Scanpix

On Monday, Morten Østergaard, the leader of the Social Liberal (Radikale Venstre) party, announced that he would no longer support Mette Frederiksen, the leader of the Social Democrats, the largest party in opposition, unless Frederiksen softened her stance on immigration.

The Social Democrats, traditionally a party of social welfare and workers’ rights, has drawn increasing opposition from the other parties on Denmark’s left over its hardline immigration policies.

Citing a need to protect the social welfare system, the Social Democrats have consistently voted with the right-wing coalition government and populist Danish People’s Party over immigration, including voting for divisive bills such as last year’s so-called ‘burqa ban’ and the ‘paradigm shift’ legislation passed in February.

A key aspect of the latter bill is its shift in focus from integration to future repatriation in Denmark's approach to those who seek refuge in the country, including UN quota refugees.

The environmentalist Alternative party announced in 2018 that it would forward its own prime ministerial candidate, rather than support Frederiksen as Denmark’s conventional ‘red and blue bloc’ system of parliamentary supply and support would dictate.

Østergaard’s comments on Monday mean that the Social Democrats could face losing the election even if left-wing parties receive the majority of votes in the forthcoming polls, by not having enough parliamentary support to form a government.

The Social Liberals would prefer to remain in opposition than support a Social Democrat-led government that continues its current position on immigration after the election, Østergaard said.

“I want us to set out an integration policy which aims to accommodate people who are able to provide for themselves as quickly as possible, but also rewards those who contribute to our society when we decide whether they should be allowed to stay,” he told Ritzau.

“We cannot accept the continuation of the Danish People’s Party’s latest invention — ending integration — in a new government. That is why we are saying that this policy must be changed so that it once again seeks to integrate people and enable them to contribute as quickly as possible,” he continued.

“We have neither the human nor economic resources to stop integration. On the contrary, we must give it momentum. We need a new government to take a new direction – including on integration,” Østergaard also said.

READ ALSO: OPINION: Stop being so hostile to foreign professionals, Denmark. You need us

The Social Liberal leader stressed that he was not seeking the job of prime minister for himself.

“I would nominate Mette Frederiksen because I want a new political direction, and I believe it can be done this way [with Frederiksen as PM, ed.],” he said.

“But if it is not possible, we will have to go into opposition, even against a Social Democratic government, if that government wants to continue the Danish People’s Party’s immigration policies,” he added.

Social Democrat immigration spokesperson Mattias Tesfaye said in comments reported by TV2 that Frederiksen was not considering changing her line on immigration and integration.

“(Danish People’s Party leader) Kristian Thulesen Dahl and all others can be 110 percent sure that, as long as Mette Frederiksen is leader of this party, and I am immigration spokesperson, we will have strict policies on immigration, because our welfare society must be able to cope,” Tesfaye said.

Dahl commented that the Social Democrats must “make it crystal clear that the Social Liberals won’t get a foot on the ground” with their challenge over immigration, according to TV2’s report.

Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen is yet to call a general election, but one must be held no later than June 17th.

READ ALSO: Social Democrats go it alone in break with allies over immigration

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KEY POINTS: What is in Denmark’s 2023 budget proposal?

Denmark’s coalition government presented on Thursday a new budget proposal in which it said it was “stepping on the brakes” on state spending.

KEY POINTS: What is in Denmark’s 2023 budget proposal?

Danish budgets are usually tabled and eventually adopted during the autumn, but last year’s election disrupted the normal timetable.

The proposed budget, given the title “A Responsible Way Forward” (En ansvarlig vej frem) was presented by ministers from the three coalition parties on Thursday: Finance Minister Nicolai Wammen, acting Defence Minister Troels Lund Poulsen and Culture Minister Jakob Engel-Schmidt.

A cautious economic approach to spending is needed given global circumstances including the war in Ukraine, inflation and last year’s energy crisis, Wammen said.

“Even though a lot of things look good when we look at the Danish economy, that doesn’t change where we are. Uncertain times,” he said.

Engel-Schmidt added that some might describe the proposed budget as “boring”, given that it “doesn’t bring a shower of presents”.

Key points from the proposed budget are outlined below. The proposal will go into negotiations with other parties in parliament before being voted through in its final form.

Inflation assistance to lower income groups 

Last year saw the highest inflation rate for 40 years in Denmark, and the effects will still be felt in 2023 even if the inflation percentages themselves are less severe.

Although the government wants to “step on the brakes”, it has still set aside 2.4 billion kroner for financial assistance to people vulnerable to rising prices.

Some 1.1 billion kroner will be spent on 5,000 kroner “cheques” for elderly persons who receive social welfare. People who have high medicine costs and students who receive subsidies because they must provide for others, such as single parents (SU-forsørgertillæg) are also among groups to be assisted with the inflation spending.

READ ALSO: Danish government agrees inflation package for vulnerable families 

‘Acute plan’ for hospitals

An agreement with regional health authorities on an “acute” spending plan to address the most serious challenges faced by the health services has already been agreed, providing 2 billion kroner by the end of 2024.

The agreement was announced by the government along with regional and municipal officials in February.

READ ALSO: What exactly is wrong with the Danish health system?

‘Lower than ever’ reserve fund

A so-called “negotiation reserve” (forhandlingsreserve), a pool of money in the budget that can be allocated at a later date based on agreements between parties, has been significantly cut to 200 million kroner.

A 2023 budget proposal from August last year, which was not adopted due to the election, had the fund at 600 million kroner. The reserve has been as high as 1.5 billion kroner in the past, according to broadcaster DR’s report on Thursday’s proposal.

The previous, single-party Social Democratic government was reported to favour mental health services and the elderly as areas which could benefit from the fund in 2023.

The lower amount is partly due to the shorter timescale of this year’s budget. The 2024 budget will be proposed and passed in late 2023 under the regular timetable.

“There are still things we can prioritise but we are asking you to take responsibility to get Denmark through while inflation is still a major challenge,” Wammen said.

Spending on courts system

Some 32.2 million kroner has been put aside to specifically target a reduction in waiting times for court dates, DR writes. The money is part of a larger amount, 185 million kroner, to be spent on the courts.

Denmark’s courts system has in recent years seen a rising number of criminal cases and lengthy processing times.

Broadband internet to get boost in rural spending

The “broadband fund” or bredbåndspulje will get an additional 100 million kroner to improve coverage in areas that still have patchy connection.

Another 100 million kroner will go into the landsbypulje or “Village Fund”, giving rural municipalities funding for demolition or renovation of deteriorated buildings.


A majority in parliament has already voted in favour of a seven-billion kroner fund in 2023 to help Ukraine defend itself against the Russian invasion.

The fund will be spent on Danish military, civilian and commercial assistance to Ukraine.

Part of the spending is funded by Denmark’s international development budget, while over 5 billion comes from spending an increased portion of the national GDP on the 2023 budget.

READ ALSO: Denmark announces seven-billion kroner Ukraine fund