Irish Times view on the Danish elections: real-life Borgen drama

What price power for Social Democrat Mette Frederiksen?

Social Democrat leader Mette Frederiksen is aiming be Denmark’s next – and at 41 youngest-ever – prime minister. Photograph: Reuters

Social Democrat leader Mette Frederiksen is aiming be Denmark’s next – and at 41 youngest-ever – prime minister. Photograph: Reuters

 

The Danish television series Borgen gripped international audiences with its portrayal of political intrigues and coalition intricacies in and around Copenhagen’s Christiansborg parliament.

Now Denmark’s likely new leader, Social Democrat Mette Frederiksen, faces the same question that haunted Borgen’s fictitious prime minister Birgitte Nyborg: what price power?

Denmark’s Social Democrats topped the poll in Wednesday’s general election – 26 percent of the vote and 48 of the 179 seats – with a programme that straddles the political spectrum. The party promises to defend Denmark’s high tax welfare model, reversing spending cuts in schools and hospitals.

But on immigration, for years the burning issue of Danish politics, Frederiksen has hardened up her party’s already hard line. Her analysis: globalisation and free movement are undermining social cohesion by pressuring the welfare state and hitting the most vulnerable in society.

Her strategy worked at the ballot box, pulling back voters from the far-right populist People’s Party, more than halving its support and breaking its hypnotic hold over Danish politics. Of two extremist parties who pulled remaining populist voters further right, just one scraped into parliament. Now Frederiksen has to test her policies in practice, most likely with the common Danish practice of a minority coalition seeking interchangeable majorities for legislating.

But Denmark’s leftist bloc, natural political allies for welfare reform, are unsure whether Frederiksen bettered the People’s Party by beating or by joining it. They are wary of her migration proposals, in particular the idea of Danish camps in northern Africa for asylum seekers while their applications are processed.

Social Democrats say it is better to speak openly about the knock-on effects of immigration rather than ignoring the problems, suppressing debate and accusing anyone who speaks out of being racist.

Will Mette Frederiksen’s hybrid approach save or betray European social democracy? Her ailing allies around the continent are already glued to this real-life Borgen drama.

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