What do Denmark’s Social Liberals want from new government?

The Social Liberal (Radikale Venstre) party doubled its number of seats from 8 to 16 at the general election, taking 8.6 percent of the vote.

What do Denmark’s Social Liberals want from new government?
Morten Østergaard and Sofie Carsten Nielsen of the Social Liberals. Photo: Philip Davali / Ritzau Scanpix

That puts the centrist party, led by Morten Østergaard, in a relatively strong position in ongoing negotiations to support a new Social Democrat government with Mette Frederiksen as prime minister.

But what is the party aiming to achieve in the talks?

“We have a lot of goodwill. And as the saying goes, ‘where there’s a will, there’s a way’,” Østergaard said to Ritzau on Tuesday as talks resumed after a short break.

But the Social Liberal leader remained cautious.

“I can see a lot of obstacles still to come in the negotiations. There are a lot of areas upon which we are yet to touch. The are many places where there is no answer to how ambitions for things like climate and education will be paid for,” he said.

Østergaard denied that his party was looking to be given ministerial positions as part of a coalition government, in response to speculation to this end.

“For us, the political aspect (of an agreement) is the most important thing. We have said we are not afraid to take responsibility, but it is politics and direction which are important to us,” he said.

A specific area on which the Social Liberals have demanded concessions from Frederiksen is Sjælsmark, a controversial accommodation facility for rejected asylum seekers.

The Social Liberals and other left-wing parties have demanded that families with children be allowed to live outside of the centre, amid a Danish Red Cross report raised concerns over its potential effects on children’s’ mental health.

“This is a very serious situation for families, but it wouldn’t be a huge step for the Social Democrats to take (to allow them to live elsewhere),” Østergaard told Ritzau on Wednesday.

Frederiksen said she would not comment on the content of ongoing negotiations.

Social Liberal targets on climate and social welfare are thought to be similar to those of the other left-wing parties.

READ ALSO: Danish government negotiations latest: parties yet to agree over climate goals

But the economy has been identified as a key aspect in which Østergaard’s party, the closest to the political centre on the area, diverges from the Socialist People’s Party (SF) and Red Green Alliance, as well as the Social Democrats.

In addition to advocating more reforms to the economy than the other parties, the Social Liberals have said they want to reduce a minimum salary requirement for non-EU citizens in Denmark, known in Danish as beløbsgrænsen.

Under the provision, companies can hire employees who are nationals of non-EU countries, provided they are paid at least 427,000 kroner per year.

The Social Liberals want to reduce that amount to 325,000 kroner to enable companies to better fill vacant positions.

But the other parties oppose the move, saying it will not help long-term unemployed Danes return to the labour market, and will undercut Danish wages.

Meanwhile, the Social Democrats have vowed to maintain the strict approach to immigration seen under the outgoing government. The Social Liberals want a change of course.

“We think the time has come to be specific about policies on immigration and refugees, which tackle important problems and do away with symbolism. We hope the Social Democrats want that too,” Østergaard said to Ritzau at an earlier stage of the negotiations, which were ongoing on Wednesday.

READ ALSO: Refugees to childcare: Five issues that could thwart talks to form Danish government

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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