What do Denmark’s left-wing parties want in talks to form new government?

Denmark's likely new prime minister Mette Frederiksen must reach agreement with the other parties on left in order to secure a platform on which to form government.

What do Denmark’s left-wing parties want in talks to form new government?
SF leader Pia Olsen Dyhr at Christiansborg. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen / Ritzau Scanpix

Aside from Frederiksen’s own Social Democrats, the three other parties in the traditional ‘red bloc’ on the left of the Danish parliament are crucial to forming the new government.

That is because, even though the Social Democrat leader wants to work with both the right and left when in government, it is the left-wing parties who must vote to confirm her as prime minister.

That would normally be expected, just as the standard position for parties on the right would be to favour Liberal leader Lars Løkke Rasmussen.

But the left wing parties – the Social Liberals, Socialist People’s Party and Red Green Alliance – will now all seek to secure guarantees on their key policy areas in return for using their overall majority to confirm Frederiksen as PM.

READ ALSO: Frederiksen cancels holiday plans as challenging negotiations over new Danish government begin

On Friday, Red Green Alliance political leader Pernille Skipper said that her party would take a pragmatic approach to negotiations, and expected others to do the same.

“Our position is that we will all accommodate each other. Nobody is going in the door with 90 of their own seats, including us. We are ready to compromise and negotiate. But the Red Green Alliance also has its limits,” Skipper, whose party has 13 seats, told Ritzau.

The furthest to the left of the three, Skipper’s group is seeking to remove limits on social welfare support known as kontanthjælpsloft and its equivalent for people granted asylum and family reunification, integrationsydelsen.

Skipper has also called it “imperative” that any new government follows a left-wing approach to the economy.

That could provide an obstacle with the Social Liberals, a centre-left party which wants to ease Denmark’s strict approach to immigration while maintaining a reserve in public spending.

Morten Østergaard, leader of the Social Liberals, has called for Frederiksen to pledge a new direction on immigration – including rolling back the controversial ‘paradigm shift’ law which the Social Democrats helped to pass earlier this year.

The Social Liberals, who doubled their representation to 16 seats in the election, want promises on the environment, as well a reduction in the minimum salary required for non-EU skilled professionals to qualify for working and residency permits (Danish: beløbsgrænse). Østergaard’s party want to reduce the annual amount from 417,800 kroner to 325,000 kroner.

READ ALSO: How Danish salary rule can stack odds against skilled foreign workers

The Socialist People’s Party (SF), led by Pia Olsen Dyhr, ran on an environmentalist platform and also want more lenient immigration and asylum politics, notably lifting the current block on UN quota refugees and better conditions for children at controversial asylum facility Sjælsmark.

Dyhr also made it clear prior to the election that SF would seek an introduction of minimum requirements for staff-child ratios at childcare facilities.

With Frederiksen having stated she seeks to “broadly continue” the immigration policies of the previous government, and rejecting the childcare ratios, these look like potential sticking points for SF, which also doubled its share of seats in the election, to 14.

READ ALSO: Analysis: How immigration shift was key to Social Democrats victory in Danish election

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Power shifts in Denmark with the giving of gifts

Transfer of power between governments can be associated with antagonism, ill feeling and tension. In Denmark, it is accompanied by the exchange of gifts.

Power shifts in Denmark with the giving of gifts
Mette Frederiksen hands Lars Løkke Rasmussen his new cycling jersey. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen / Ritzau Scanpix

The quirky tradition was continued on Thursday as Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen took over from predecessor Lars Løkke Rasmussen as head of government.

Tradition in Danish politics dictates that all outgoing ministers, including the prime minister, exchange gifts with their successors on the day portfolios officially change hands.

The gifts, often referred to in Danish as drillegaver (‘teasing gifts’), are normally chosen with an element of humour in mind, while not forgetting to reference political opposition.

As the keys to the PM’s office were exchanged at Christiansborg Palace, the seat of parliament on Thursday, Rasmussen handed Frederiksen a pair of gloves and blue trousers from a set of overalls.

“I’m now handing over a Denmark in top form. And that must be looked after. I know will you do that, Mette,” Rasmussen said.

“One of the keys to achieving that is for us Danes to pull on our working gear,” he added.

In response, Frederiksen gifted Rasmussen, known for his enthusiasm for bicycle racing, a polka-dotted cycling jersey, making reference to his tendency to “break away from the pack” during the election campaign.

“I hope you will be spending a lot more time cycling in future,” Frederiksen joked as she gave her predecessor the jersey.

Also noting that she had probably not seen the last of the Liberal (Venstre) party leader in politics, the new PM had warm words of tribute for Rasmussen, who has served two separate terms as the head of Denmark’s government, from 2009-11 and 2015-19.

She thanked him for a being a decent opponent and for “everything you have done for Denmark”.

Rasmussen, who was not short of joking remarks himself, said he “had a habit of handing over the keys to a Social Democrat”.

After losing the 2011 election, he gave then-Social Democrat leader Helle Thorning-Schmidt his government’s budget repurposed as a handbag, while Thorning-Schmidt gave Rasmussen a bus ticket.

Roles were reversed in 2015, when Rasmussen, having regained power, gave Thorning-Schmidt a selfie stick and received festival tickets in return.

The Danish tradition of giving gifts while handing over power is a modern one, having gradually emerged in the 1980s and 1990s.

“Transition of power used to be very formal,” DR’s political commentator Bent Stuckert told Politiken in 2011. That is evidenced by the below video, which shows Anker Jørgensen making way for Poul Hartling in 1973.

The 2019 version, coming at the end of a long negotiation period to form government, continued Denmark’s overtly friendly approach to handing over the keys to power.

READ ALSO: Here is Denmark's new Social Democrat government