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IMMIGRATION

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

It's usually a major issue in Danish elections but is immigration actually falling down the agenda?

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

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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POLITICS

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.

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