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Denmark in 2024 For Members

EXPLAINED: What might happen in Danish politics in 2024?

Richard Orange
Richard Orange - [email protected]
EXPLAINED: What might happen in Danish politics in 2024?
Moderate Party leader Lars Løkke Rasmussen, Social Democrat leader Mette Frederiksen, and Liberal Party leader Troels Lund Poulsen at a press conference in March. Photo: Emil Nicolai Helms/Ritzau Scanpix

Denmark's big political experiment -- the grand coalition between the Social Democrats, Liberals and Moderates - has survived its first year. We asked Copenhagen University's Kasper Møller Hansen what lies in store for 2024.

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The new government was more or less unchartered territory for Denmark -- the first majority government since 1993 and the first across the bloc divide since the 1970s. 

"Everyone is having difficulties trying to understand how they manoeuvre," said Møller Hansen, Professor of Politics at Copenhagen University. "I think they had an idea that it would be easy. They started out not wanting to engage with other parties. They wanted to just push things through." 

But this approach led to so much criticism from other parties and from the media that by the time it was negotiating the 2024 budget, the government had reverted to tradition and tried to win broad parliamentary backing, in the end getting every party to sign off on the budget except one.   

"They got so much criticism that now they are trying to find broad coalitions," Møller Hansen explained. "They seem almost to be acting like a minority government even though they have a majority." 

He said he expected this approach to continue into 2024, with the government seeking broad political agreements on difficult issues like the carbon tax for agriculture. 

Might the carbon tax on agriculture force out the Liberals? 

At the end of November, the government postponed publication of its proposed carbon tax for agriculture yet again, with the proposal now scheduled to be released in the week starting February 5th. 

Møller Hansen said that the issue, which is crucial for Denmark's climate goals but likely to hit beef producers, was so difficult for the Liberal Party that it might even ultimately force their new leader Troels Lund Poulsen to take them out of the coalition. 

"The Liberals used to be a farmer's party -- that's their base, that's their tradition -- and they have a big issue with that," he said. "They have just been through a change in leadership and I think that one scenario is that they might want to leave the government. It could easily happen within the next year or so."

If the party opts instead to stay put and help bring in the carbon tax, it risks being punished in regional and municipal elections in 2025, he said.  

"The Liberals used to be a big party locally as well and at the moment if they are tied up in this government coalition and have to swallow this tax on beef production, that might be an issue for all the local Liberal parties." 

He said the party, which has fallen from 23 percent in the polls to just 8 percent in only three years, was likely in 2023 to start focusing more on "maximising electoral support rather than just trying to maximise their influence". 

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European Elections 

Møller Hansen expects the European elections on June 9th to be largely about climate and AI, but said it would be hard to know for sure until the campaign begins in earnest, which is unlikely to happen until about two weeks before the vote.

The Liberal Party was the biggest party in the 2019 European election, winning 23.5 percent of the vote. It was likely to lose heavily in June, he predicted, as would the Social Liberal and Conservative Parties. The libertarian Liberal Alliance and the left-wing Socialist People's Party were both likely to gain votes. 

"The Liberals are looking at maybe being cut in half. They have four MEPs now and I think they will only get two. The new Moderate Party will get one MEP, and you will see the other new party, the Danish Democrats, getting one. The Conservatives and the Social Liberals might not even get in [to the European parliament]."

Will any of Denmark's party leaders be replaced in 2024? 

"I don't expect any big changes among the party leaders," he said. "The speculation among journalists is still that Mette Frederiksen might be looking for another job, in terms of an international position. That is a continuous discussion in Denmark. Was she offered the the NATO Secretary General role, or wasn't she? And so forth."

Given her dominant position within the Social Democrats, if she did leave, it would cause a major upheaval. There is also speculation, he said, over whether Dan Jørgensen, Minister for Development Cooperation and Global Climate Policy, might leave Danish politics for an international role. 

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What will happen to Denmark's three populist right parties? 

Møller Hansen predicted that the populist right in Denmark would remain weak in 2024 so long as the government managed to keep their core issues, migration and refugees, off the agenda. 

"The populist right is still about the same size -- in 2015 it was 21 percent, now it's maybe 18 percent. It is just divided among three different parties," he said. "In terms of parliament, that's definitely a weaker position but their position among voters is still there." 

The Danish People's Party, New Right, and Denmark Democrats, he said, were waiting for the government to start relaxing Denmark's strict asylum and immigration rules.  

"Even though discussion on refugees has almost disappeared in Denmark, it's still there right under the surface, so as soon as the government becomes somewhat more inclusive in terms of immigrants and refugees, that will just open up the discussion yet again."

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What will happen to immigration and asylum rules? 

This determination not to let immigration and asylum back on the agenda, he said, meant that none of the government parties would be in a hurry to relax Denmark's tough asylum legislation or even to make changes to the country's cumbersome work permit and restrictive citizenship rules. 

The Moderate Party supports allowing people brought up in Denmark who lack Danish citizenship to include time spent studying at university towards citizenship. The Social Democrats and Liberals, meanwhile, only want time spent in paid internships as part of education to count. But the issue is not part of the coalition agreement between the three parties, so may not come onto the agenda next year. 

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