Politics For Members

What are the big issues in Danish politics this autumn?

Michael Barrett
Michael Barrett - [email protected]
What are the big issues in Danish politics this autumn?
Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen (right hand side) and Queen Margrethe and Crown Prince Frederik (top centre) can be seen during the opening of parliament on October 3rd 2023. Photo: Ida Marie Odgaard/Ritzau Scanpix

Denmark’s politicians are back debating and voting on bills in parliament from Tuesday, following the annual official reopening of parliament. Bad polls, international labour and the Quran burning law are among the issues and conflicts facing the coalition government and opposition parties this autumn.


Poor government polling 

The government has not fared well in the popularity stakes since it came to office at the end of last year in an unusual coalition constellation involving the two traditional rivals from the centre-left and centre-right, the Social Democrats and the Liberals, and the newly-formed centrist Moderate Party.

The three parties, particularly the two legacy ones have a challenge on hand keeping core voters happy on one side, and compromising on policy to make the coalition work on the other.

For their part, they have argued that a coalition across the centre of politics will bring stability and stop the extremes of the political spectrum from influencing government.

Recent poll results, though, show they are bleeding support. The Social Democrats are suffering the most, with opinion polls putting them down by 7.1 percent on their result at the election last November. The Liberals are down by 4.6 percent and the Moderates by 2 percent.

During the summer, leadership figures from the three parties toured Denmark in a bid to boost connection and support among the public, but instead faced criticism and protests in several places.


Discord over foreign labour 

There is strong evidence of disagreement between the coalition parties over hiring from abroad in response to a longstanding labour shortage.

The Social Democratic employment minister, Ane Halsboe-Jørgensen, said last month that she is not in favour of easing immigration rules to make it easier for companies to recruit foreign labour. That came despite calls from elsewhere in the government to do so.

While Halsboe-Jørgensen said she was against allowing more foreign labour in Denmark, saying it could have a negative impact on society, the leaders of both the Liberals and Moderates have advocated more foreign labour.

Moderate leader Lars Løkke Rasmussen wants work permit rules to be made far simpler and linked to labour market agreements, and has suggested Denmark could make individual deals with non-EU countries on labour, citing Kenya as an example of a potential partner.

The leader of the Liberal party, Jakob Ellemann-Jensen, also wants international labour to help ease the shortage of workers and argued that policy leans too much on a fear of being seen as soft on immigration.

With only the Social Democrats clinging to the established hard line on immigration over the labour shortage, it is unclear how the coalition will iron out its differences on this area and come up with a viable solution to a shortage which has seen businesses repeatedly call for government action.

READ ALSO: Can Denmark solve its labour shortage by finding workers in Denmark?


Voting on the Quran burning law

With parliament now back in the chamber, the government’s proposal to change the law to make it illegal to burn the Quran in public will be debated and voted upon.

The proposal was made by the government this summer after repeated Quran burnings in Copenhagen damaged relations with Muslim majority countries.

The government has said it solely wants to restrict Quran burnings at embassies, arguing they risk damaging Denmark’s international standing as well as threaten security, but the move faces criticism in parliament, with opponents saying it is the beginning of a ‘slippery slope’ to further free speech curbs.

On Monday, legal spokesperson Steffen Larsen of the opposition Liberal Alliance party challenged the government not to instruct its lawmakers how to vote on the bill (the equivalent of “whipping” in British politics). Larsen told news wire Ritzau he wants “clear demonstration of who is for and who is against this law”.

The move would potentially raise the chances of the bill failing if there are any members of government parties prepared to vote against their own bill.

READ ALSO: ‘One in two’ in Denmark support ban on Quran burnings


What is going on with the Conservatives? 

The Conservative party, one of the more influential opposition parties is in a muddled state with some doubt about the future of its leader Søren Pape Poulsen.

Poulsen is struggling to hold on to the support of local party figures including municipal councillors and committee chairpersons, newspaper Politiken reported in September after it conducted a survey.

Some 50 of the 143 local Conservative leaders who responded to the anonymous survey said Poulsen was no longer the right leader for the party.

The Conservatives have seen their poll numbers tank from a strong position at the beginning of last year, precipitated in part by Poulsen’s ill-fated decision to run as a candidate for prime minister in the general election.

Poulsen maintains he is still the right person for the job but has conceded in interviews that the last year was a difficult one.

Broadcaster DR writes that there are internal concerns in the Conservatives that he cannot lead the party to a comeback because he is so closely associated with the failed election campaign.

Whether he holds on to his job could depend on the party's polls in the coming months, but also whether a potential replacement emerges with strong enough backing, according to DR.


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