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Will immigration take a back seat in the final days before Denmark’s election?

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Will immigration take a back seat in the final days before Denmark’s election?
PM Lars Løkke Rasmussen and Liberal party colleague MP Jan E. Jørgensen hand out cake and flyers on Monday. Photo: Philip Davali / Ritzau Scanpix
12:58 CEST+02:00
It's usually a major issue in Danish elections but is immigration actually falling down the agenda?

Governing party the Liberals (Venstre) sparked debate with a major newspaper advertisement on Saturday, in which it claimed high costs for voters could result from spending on immigration, should power change hands after Wednesday’s vote.

Using the tagline #DyrtforDanmark (‘Expensive for Denmark’), the party, which is led by Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen, continues to highlight immigration in its campaign.

The opposition Social Democrats appear to have profited from their policy on the area, with a new, tough stance on both immigration and asylum appearing to be a major factor in good polling performances and the downturn suffered by the established anti-immigration party, the Danish People’s Party (DF).

DF has seen a drastic cut in its support, according to polls, with the Social Democrats having adopted a line on immigration which was once the preserve of the right wing.

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In a television head-to-head debate on Sunday, Social Democrat leader Mette Frederiksen responded on the issue of spending.

She stopped short of saying she would follow current government immigration policy to the letter, by rejecting Rasmussen’s request that the Liberals be given a veto on immigration proposals in any cross-aisle agreement to work together on the issue.

Frederiksen said she would retain current “broad immigration policy” but could make small changes, such as an increase to the so-called integration benefit (integrationsydelsen), a reduced social welfare payment (relative to unemployment benefits) given to recently-arrived refugees and family members.

Meanwhile, the spectre of extremism continues to lurk. Rasmus Paludan, far-right provocateur and leader of the Stram Kurs (Hard Line) party, which wants to ban Islam and deport all non-Westerners who have been granted asylum, attempted to disrupt a Ramadan event at Copenhagen’s City Hall Square on Saturday.

Non-Muslim Danes formed a ‘peace ring’ around the iftar event amid a heavy police presence.

But commenters have noted that immigration does not seem to be moving voters as much as expected, deep into the election campaigning period.

“It has not gained the strength in the election which many expected,” political commentator Hans Engell told Ritzau.

“That is first and foremost because the (asylum) situation is under control. Arrivals are low, the number of family reunifications is low. So the pressure which was there a few years ago is gone,” Engell added.

Erik Holstein, political commentator with Altinget, named further reasons.

“One is that the Social Democrats have really changed their policies in this area. Concerns that (immigration in Denmark) while change dramatically after the election are far, far fewer,” Holstein said to Ritzau.

The advent of extremist party Stram Kurs and Paludan’s unruly behaviour in political debates and the public sphere has also had an effect, Holstein added.

“A third thing is of course that everything is being dominated by the climate debate right now. Both immigration, health and pensions which were expected to dominate, have fallen down the agenda,” he said.

Engell did not rule out a return to the fore for the sensitive topic in the remaining days before polls open.

“The Liberals have chosen to play the immigration card hard here at the end of the election campaign. But whether it will have an effect is hard to say,” he said.

READ ALSO: Denmark’s green party wants smoother path to citizenship

 
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