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POLITICS

Why should foreign residents vote in Denmark’s local elections?

If you find Denmark's multiple political parties and consensus system a bit opaque, fear not. The upcoming municipal and regional elections are about things you have opinions on — from healthcare and schools to noise complaints and alleviating traffic. And crucially, many foreign residents are eligible to vote.

Local election placards on display in Helsingør. Foreign residents in Denmark have the chance to vote on issues that matter to them on November 16th
Local election placards on display in Helsingør. Foreign residents in Denmark have the chance to vote on issues that matter to them on November 16th Photo: Keld Navntoft/Ritzau Scanpix

Local elections are just around the corner on November 16th. According to Denmark’s interior ministry, 1 in 11 eligible voters in Denmark’s municipal and regional elections are foreign citizens.

Foreign citizens living in Denmark suffer from chronically low voter turnout in the local elections—only 32.1 percent of eligible foreign residents cast their ballots in the 2017 election, an analysis by the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Political Science revealed. And while the cryptically-named Danish political parties can be baffling to newcomers, experts say you don’t really need to understand national level politics to be involved in local elections.

“Most local politics are about very local issues,” Jakob Nielsen, editor-in-chief of Danish political news outlet Altinget, told The Local at an election briefing.

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On Tuesday’s ballot are candidates for municipal and regional councils. Your municipality handles local administration of welfare and social needs—encompassing social services, primary schooling and childcare, infrastructure, transportation, and the somewhat euphemistic “integration” of refugees and immigrants.

The job description for the regions is similar—healthcare, welfare, and social development. They administrate public hospitals and the GP system, orchestrate regional mass transit, and manage initiatives to create economic growth. While there are 98 municipalities, there are only five regions.

Immigration, refugees and foreign workers

While immigration has been a front-and-centre issue in the past several Danish election cycles, “this is probably one of the elections with the least focus on foreigners, immigrants, and people not originally from Denmark,” said Professor Ulrik Kjær of the University of Southern Denmark’s of Political Science department.

A tacit agreement to leave the debate on immigration issues until after the November vote means it hasn’t been discussed publicly in the context of the local elections, Kjær explained. 

Quality of life questions 

Perhaps the most practical reasons for foreign citizens to vote in local elections are the quality of life questions unique to that area. Should Vejle invest in a tunnel under the city centre to ease the traffic gridlock? Should Copenhagen make it harder for bars and restaurants to serve alcohol to ostensibly loud patrons after midnight? 

“Most local politics are about very local issues,” Nielsen said. “Vote as you would in any election for those you trust to do the most for the schools or the elderly, or to steer the local economy in a responsible way.” 

How to learn what the candidates stand for 

Danish broadcasting agency DR offers a helpful “candidate quiz” (in Danish) for each of Denmark’s 98 municipalities — just answer around 30 questions about changes you’d like to see in your area and the quiz will show you the candidates that are most aligned with your opinions. 

Altinget offers a similar quiz for each municipality and a separate version for the regional candidates and issues.  

All of these quizzes are unfortunately only available in Danish, so keep Google Translate or your favourite Dane handy. 

The environment 

While schools, elderly care and other social services regularly top the list of issues voters prioritise, “this local election might be the breakthrough of the environmental question on the political agenda,” Kjær said. 

“They might discuss [environmental policy] in Glasgow, they might discuss it in the national parliament, but they definitely discuss it” — and make meaningful decisions — “in each of the 98 municipal councils,” he added. 

Member comments

  1. Thank you for the article. I think people with foreign background have a hard time to connect to local politics, because first of all, everything is in Danish, and there are many issues a foreigner will not necessarily understand, I know many who have no clue in what condition the elderly care or school system is because they didn’t grow up in Denmark and could never relate, that is why those political candidate tests are useless and misleading. Second of all, most Danish politicians never approach people of foreign backgrounds and never communicate to them their goals, thus the strong disconnection we have today. I can completely understand that people don’t vote, it is no good to vote for just a candidate that you get from the candidate test, but rather vote for those who you feel considers your wishes. I have been involved in political activism in Denmark and for the 10 years of residence, I only witnessed one small local election debate that was in English and where residents of foreign background could get their moment of questions and answers. If we are not invited to participate by politicians and political parties, then why bother… I would encourage people to vote blank instead, if they feel it is important to vote but they don’t know for whom.

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POLITICS

Denmark’s acting government blocks own proposed relief for vulnerable families

A proposal which would have provided extended financial support to low income families in Denmark appears to have little hope of clearing parliament after the acting government said it would not vote for the bill, which it agreed on prior to the election earlier this month.

Denmark’s acting government blocks own proposed relief for vulnerable families

The government said it voted against its own proposal to provide emergency financial relief for low income families because it is currently fulfilling a caretaker function while talks to form a new government are ongoing.

The bill was originally tabled before the election, when the government was still actively passing legislation.

Because of the bill’s likely failure, acting employment minister Peter Hummelgaard said that the current temporary subsidy for vulnerable families was not guaranteed to continue into the new year, broadcaster DR reports.

Originally proposed in the summer, when Hummelgaard said it would help families “here and now”, it was not backed by the Social Democratic government at its first reading on Tuesday.

The party said it would not vote for any new legislation because it stepped down following the election on November 1st.

Social Democratic leader and acting Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen is currently leading talks with other parties to form a new government after a slim victory in the election.

“There’s set precedence that you do not pass new legislation when there isn’t a government and we are therefore awaiting a new government to be formed so that we can follow up of political agreements that were made before the last election and legislate what can be agreed upon,” Hummelgaard said.

Extension of the existing subsidy arrangement required a change to the law, and the government tabled a bill in October. But all outstanding bills lapsed when the election called.

After children’s charities called for action amid protracted negotiations to form a new government, the left wing Red Green Alliance (Enhedslisten) party re-tabled the bill.

The party’s parliamentary group leader Peder Hvelplund aimed sharp criticism at Hummelgaard and the Social Democrats after Tuesday’s debate.

“I think this is disappointing and completely incomprehensible. An agreement was made which had a parliamentary majority before the election. That majority remains after the election,” Hvelplund said in reference to the one-seat majority won by left-wing or ‘red bloc’ parties at the election.

Red Green Alliance lead political spokesperson Mai Villadsen said “poor families have been massively failed” by the decision, while another member of the party’s parliamentary group, Pelle Dragsted, tweeted that “an agreement is apparently not an agreement with the Social Democrats”.

The subsidy expires on January 1st 2023 but families will continue to receive payments until February, DR writes.

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