How damaging is local election result for Danish PM Frederiksen?

The Social Democrats, the party of Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, endured a difficult night during municipal and regional elections on Tuesday in what could be a sign of trouble on the horizon for the PM.

Danish PM Mette Frederiksen following local elections on Tuesday.
Danish PM Mette Frederiksen following local elections on Tuesday.Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

Frederiksen’s party did not perform well at the polls, despite a historic triumph in Frederiksberg which heralded the end of 112 years of Conservative mayors in the Copenhagen district.

A headline defeat for the Social Democrats also came in Copenhagen. In the Copenhagen Municipality, the left wing party Red Green Alliance won the biggest vote share, humiliating the Social Democrats, who have held the mayor’s office in the city since it was created in 1938.

Despite the Red Green Alliance victory, the Social Democrats keep the mayor’s office with their candidate Sophie Hæstorp Andersen taking over the job. That is because an absolute majority of parties backed her candidacy, giving her more overall support amongst the elected representatives than Red Green Aliance rival Line Barfod.

But Barfod’s party has taken a bigger share of the seats in the city government, giving it the power to strongly influence areas like awarding contracts for city development or appointments to semi-public companies, and weakening the influence of the Social Democrats.

A 10-point loss of the vote share in Copenhagen – from 27.6 percent in the 2017 election to17.3 percent in 2021 – represents a big defeat and reflects the unpopularity in Copenhagen of the politics of the parliamentary Social Democrats, who have often directed unfavourable rhetoric at metropolitan demographics and, for example, cut university education in the capital in favour of smaller towns.

The party also moved backwards in Denmark’s other major cities, its vote share shrinking in Aarhus, Odense and Aalborg as well as in Copenhagen.

Nationally, the 28.45 percent vote share for the Social Democrats is a 4 percent loss compared to 2017. This also looks damaging for the party, and Frederiksen, more broadly.

Commenting on Tuesday’s election results, Frederiksen attempted to ward off the suggestion that her party’s poor performance in traditionally Social Democratic cities was a consequence of the government’s focus on rural areas ahead of urban Denmark.

“We have made a lot of good decisions which benefit large parts of Denmark. And if there are some people in cities who say ‘hang on, now you have to look at us. There are some decisions we want to be made on our behalf’, we’ll take a look at that,” she said according to news wire Ritzau.

“This applies not least on the housing market. Everyone must be able to afford to live in cities,” she added. The government earlier in the autumn announced a spending plan to boost affordable housing in major cities.

Frederiksen also conceded that controversy over deleted text messages related to last year’s decision to cull all of Denmark’s fur farm minks may have impacted the party’s popularity at local polls.

The PM has faced questions over a policy to automatically delete texts after 30 days, a practice not universally applied across government ministries.

READ ALSO: Why are Danish PM Frederiksen’s deleted mink texts causing controversy?

“I stated yesterday that, as we know, there has been some discussion of SMS messages (during the election campaign). Can I exclude the possibility that discussion of minks and SMS’ has rubbed off in some places? No, I can’t,” she wrote in a Facebook post on Wednesday.

A bad result in local elections could see the PM’s hitherto extremely strong support inside her party come into question for the first time since she won the general election in 2019, according to an analyst who commented on the matter prior to the elections.

“One of the reasons she has no internal opposition is that she’s so strong and she’s winning,” Jakob Nielsen, editor-in-chief of Danish political news outlet Altinget, said to media including The Local at a pre-election briefing.

“And once she stops winning, she’s not going to be above the natural laws of politics. She’s going to get people (within the Social Democrats) talking about being against her immigration policies, against her policy on climate change.. against her moving education out of the big cities,” Nielsen said.

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Lawyers criticise Danish parliament for ‘special treatment’ of party leader

Two lawyers have accused parliament of double standards for deciding not to legally pursue Alex Vanopslagh, the leader of the Liberal Alliance party, after he was found to have breached rules relating to apartments provided to MPs.

Lawyers criticise Danish parliament for ‘special treatment’ of party leader

Parliament’s decision not to take Vanopslagh’s case to the courts suggests that the public and politicians are not equal before the law, according to two lawyers who spoke to broadcaster DR.

As an elected member of parliament, Liberal Alliance leader Vanopslagh was provided with a free apartment in Copenhagen and given parliamentary subsidies for “double household” (dobbelt husførelse) because he was registered as living at an address in Struer, West Jutland.

It later emerged he did not genuinely use the Struer address as his home and had thereby broken the rules. He later paid back the subsidies in full and returned the Copenhagen apartment.

“I’m not for one second in doubt that if this had been a municipal case, the municipality would have asked for the money back and reported him to the police,” lawyer Mads Pramming, a benefit fraud specialist, told broadcaster DR.

In 2019, parliament – including Liberal Alliance – voted for stricter rules on benefit fraud, including obliging municipalities to report certain types of cases to the police.

“It looks a bit funny that parliament is enacting strict control to prevent the public being paid money they are not entitled to, and giving municipalities an obligation to report it. And when it then comes to parliament itself, things are a lot less strict,” Pramming told DR.

Struer Municipality has ruled that Vanopslagh broke CPR (central person registration) rules by not living in Struer enough between 2020 and 2022 for it to be deemed his actual residence, as he claimed at the time.

Two left-wing parties, Red Green Alliance and Alternative, have called for the Præsidium – speaker’s council – in parliament to consider whether Vanopslagh should be prosecuted over the issue.

The speaker of parliament, Søren Gade, has told DR that the case will not be taken further. A previous case from 2015 has been cited as precedent for the decision.

A second lawyer, Michael Bjørn Hansen, called that stance “absurd” in comments to the broadcaster. Hansen also has expertise in benefit fraud cases.

“Based on some kind of objective consideration, this is certainly benefit fraud. Because he has cheated on some rules and received public benefits which he is not entitled to,” he said.

Equal status before the law “is not present here” unless parliament files a report with police, he argued.

“This is different to the demands parliament is making on municipalities,” he said.

The Præsidium is responsible for managing Denmark’s 179 lawmakers. Five members of parliament sit on the council, with the speaker being the senior member.

Vanopslagh has admitted to wrongdoing in the “double home” scandal and said his knowledge of the rules had been lacking.

“It’s my fault, I made a mistake. But other people make the judgement and say what I have to pay back,” he said earlier this week.

A number of legal experts previously told newspaper Dagbladet Information that the matter should be investigated by the police.

Vanopslagh received a total of around 75,000 kroner to which he was not entitled, according to DR.