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Danish politicians consider autumn visit to Taiwan 

Members of the Danish parliament from six different political parties say they would consider travelling to Taiwan after a possible election this autumn.

Danish politicians consider autumn visit to Taiwan 
Taipei, Taiwan. Danish politicians from six different parties have talked up the possibility of visiting Taiwan this year. File photo: Ann Wang/Reuters/Ritzau Scanpix

Representatives from six Danish parties told newspaper Politiken that they are prepared to take part in a possible trip to Taiwan.

The six parties, which encompass both the left and right wings, are the Conservatives, the Red-Green Alliance (Enhedslisten), the Social Liberals (Radikale Venstre), the Danish People’s Party (Dansk Folkeparti, DF), the Liberal (Venstre) party, and the new Denmark Democrats (Danmarksdemokraterne) party. 

“What Taiwan needs now is our support. We must be firm on this – Taiwan should not be isolated in the way that China wants it to be. They must not succeed in that,” Michael Aastrup Jensen, foreign affairs spokesman for the Liberal party (Venstre) told Politiken. 

A group of politicians are already planning a trip to Taiwan in the autumn, Jensen said.

The group of parties includes two close allies of the minority government – the centrist Social Liberals and the left-wing Red Green Alliance.

The foreign affairs spokesperson with the Social Liberals, Martin Lidegaard – a former foreign minister – stressed that such a trip must have a “relevant purpose”, however.

But Karsten Hønge, foreign affairs spokesperson with another left-wing ally of the government, the Socialist People’s Party (Socialistisk Folkeparti, SF), said stirring the pot in Taiwan could cause more harm than good. 

Talk of a Danish visit comes shortly after high-profile visits to China by leading US politicians, including speaker of the United States House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi.

In response to the US visits, China has carried out a number of military exercises close to Taiwan.

A 2019 visit to Taiwan by former DF leader Pia Kjærsgaard resulted in the Chinese Embassy in Copenhagen submitting a complaint to parliament.

Speaking to Politiken, Andreas Bøje Forsby, a researcher of Chinese foreign policy at the Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS), said a visit by Danish politicians to Taiwan would be “risky” in the current climate.

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POLITICS

‘Bloc politics’: A guide to understanding general elections in Denmark

How do parties and candidates get elected in Denmark, and why are some new parties already in parliament? Our five-minute guide to Danish party politics and elections helps make sense of the chaos.

'Bloc politics': A guide to understanding general elections in Denmark

Danish politics can take a bit of getting into, and it’s not just because of the terminology.

The number of parties in parliament frequently changes as new parties pop up and others sometimes disappear, while politicians commonly change allegiances, go independent or form their own groups.

The ‘red’ and ‘blue blocs’ of allied parties and the consensus system that sometimes results in brede aftaler (cross-aisle political agreements) can also be hard to follow.

A good understanding of the political system can help to understand life in Denmark – particularly with the announcement of a general election expected imminently.

What is the ‘blue bloc’ and ‘red bloc’?

There are currently a monster 13 different parties in the Danish parliament – 17 if you count the two parties from the Faroe Islands and two from Greenland which have mandates in Copenhagen.

The total number of parties can change from one election to the next, mostly because new parties are regularly formed. It has recently been as low as 9 and was 11 a year ago.

The ‘bloc’ classification commonly referred to in Danish politics broadly denotes whether a party or group of parties is on the right or left of centre.

The governing Social Democrats, for example, are the largest party and de facto leader of the ‘red bloc’, meaning if these parties get the most votes in a general election, the prime minister will come from the Social Democrats. This is the case with the current PM, Mette Frederiksen.

On the other side, the Liberal (Venstre) party is the largest on the right wing or ‘blue bloc’, closely followed by the Conservative party.

In recent years, the leader of the Liberals was the nominative prime minister when the blue bloc took an overall majority in a general election. 

That may not necessarily be the case at the next general election because the leader of the Conservatives, Søren Pape Poulsen, has announced that he will run in the election as a prime ministerial candidate. Should the blue bloc get a majority, each individual ‘blue’ party would have to decide between Poulsen and the Liberal leader, Jakob Ellemann-Jensen, as its preferred PM.

READ ALSO: Who do Denmark’s right-wing parties want to be prime minister?

It should be noted that because these blocs include so many parties, they encompass a range of political ideology, even though they can be grouped into two main competing factions.

On immigration, for example, the restrictive policies of the Social Democrats are far removed from the humanitarian-first approach of the far-left Red Green Alliance (Enhedslisten).

On the right wing, the moderate pro-EU stance of the Liberals is very different from that of the vehemently anti-immigrant Nye Borgerlige (New Right), who want to leave the EU.

What are the general election rules?

How do so many different parties manage to enter parliament? To explain this adequately, a brief summary of general election rules is helpful.

A general election or folketingsvalg must take place once every four years, according to the Danish Constitution.

The election decides the distribution of parliament’s 179 seats or mandates, mandater. Therefore, one of the two blocs can seal an overall election victory if it claims 90 or more mandates, giving it a majority.

Parties running in the election must receive an overall vote share of at least 2 percent of the total number of votes cast to qualify for representation in parliament. After this, the mandates are distributed via a form of proportional representation termed forholdstalsmetoden in Danish.

The method gives each party the number of seats in parliament that corresponds to their vote share.

Unlike in British elections, however, Danish valgkredser or constituencies do not have one candidate running from each party. Instead, parties can put up several candidates in the same valgkreds, and voters can either pick their preferred candidate or just vote for the liste, meaning they give a general vote to a party.

The model for distribution of mandates is complex, using a system in which candidates can be elected through two types of mandate: a kredsmandat or a tillægsmandat (“constituency mandate” or “additional mandate”).

There are 135 kredsmandater. These are awarded based purely on local results: the candidate with most votes in a constituency gets that constituency’s seat or kredsmandat.

The 40 tillægsmandater are based on the vote share a party gets nationally and are designed to give parliament an equal reflection of the national vote split.

For example, if a party gets 20 percent of the national votes, it gets 20 percent of the additional mandates (the additional mandate allocations are in fact broken down into three regions, but we’ll leave this out for simplicity).

Candidates with a good number of personal votes, but who didn’t win the election locally, can therefore be elected on a tillægsmandat.

Once elected, there is no differentiation between the type of mandate through which a member of parliament got their seat – neither has superiority over the other.

Two mandates each are awarded to representatives elected in the Faroe Islands and Greenland.

Why are there parties in parliament that didn’t exist in 2019?

To be able to run for an election in Denmark, new political parties must get 20,182 so-called citizens’ nominations (vælgererklæringer) required to be rubber-stamped for inclusion on election ballots.

This means there can be parties which have been approved to run in elections but are not in parliament because there has not been an election since they were formed or approved (general elections are every four years).

This was the case up until recently with the Vegan Party, but that party will not run in the next election after all: after an internal power struggle it first changed its name to Green Alliance and then merged with an existing party, Alternative.

Paradoxically, as many as three new parties are currently in parliament without ever having run in a general election.

The three parties in question are the Moderates, formed by ex-prime minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen after he left the Liberals; the Denmark Democrats, led by Rasmussen’s erstwhile immigration minister Inger Støjberg; and the Independent Greens, led by Sikandar Siddique, a former member of the Alternative party who was elected while still in that group.

Because Rasmussen, Støjberg and Siddique were all elected under their old parties at the 2019 election, they can carry their mandates over to their new parties.

The three new parties have each registered 20,182 citizens’ nominations (vælgererklæringer) and will therefore be on the next election ballot. Before they had enough nominations, their members of parliament were listed as independents (løsgængere). 

Other new parties can have 20,182 citizens’ nominations but never enter parliament because they don’t get enough votes in the election (and don’t have any defectors from other parties). This was thankfully the case in 2019, when the extremist party Stram Kurs failed in its bid to enter parliament.

How do so many parties get anything done? 

Each party appoints a roster of ordførere or spokespersons, broadly covering the same portfolios as the government ministries.

In some cases, parties also have a politisk ordfører (political spokesperson) which is a more senior role. In the Red Green Alliance, which has a flat hierarchy with no “leader” title, the political spokesperson is effectively head of the parliamentary group.

The spokespersons can be invited to meetings with their corresponding government minister to negotiate legislation, depending on the parties involved. They can also summon the minister to a samråd (council) at which they can require ministers to answer questions related to a specified issue.

This is notably different to the titles given to MPs who are not in the government party in the UK, for example, where you will hear “shadow minister” used to refer to the opposition politicians. There are no shadow ministers in Danish politics as such, rather a series of spokespersons from different parties with mandates in the various areas of governance.

It sounds confusing, but feeds into the notion of consensus that runs throughout Danish politics. Even in times of polarisation and distrust, the Danish political system with its many parties is set up to force different factions to work together to find a middle ground, solution or agreement.

READ ALSO: OPINION: Why do the names of Danish political parties have to be so confusing?

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