Danish elections: Is the Left back in Northern Europe?

by Kathrin Holm
A closer look at the Social Democrat’s negotiations over a new Danish government

A closer look at the Social Democrat’s negotiations over a new Danish government

It seems like Northern Europe is experiencing a red wave these days. With recent centre-left government formations in Sweden and Finland, the Danish national elections have followed the pattern in the region. On 5 June, the so-called red bloc of four centre-left and left-wing parties achieved a historic result. Now it is up to Social Democrat Mette Frederiksen, whose party came first in the elections, to form a government. This could, however, prove to become a more difficult task than one would think at first sight.

A clear majority for the red bloc

The Social Democrats under Mette Frederiksen beat current Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen and his Liberal Party. Despite the Liberals’ triumph in the recent European elections, they only came second with 23,4 percent (43 seats) after the Social Democrats with 25,9 percent (48 seats). But Frederiksen owes a large share of her victory to the strong result of the other parties in her bloc: Both the Social Liberals and the Socialist People’s Party were able to double their mandates since the last elections.

In contrast, on the other side of the political spectrum, the nationalist Danish People’s Party, which supported the current minority government, lost more than 12 percent of its votes. This gives the left-wing parties a clear majority of 96 out of 179 seats in the Danish Parliament making it the ‘reddest’ in almost 50 years. All left-wing parties, apart from the green party the Alternative (5 mandates), have suggested Frederiksen as future Prime Minister who is now leading the first round of negotiations.

(Power) struggles to form a government

Already during the election campaign, the Social Democrats declared to go for a minority government and refused Rasmussen’s proposition of a coalition with his party. Frederiksen therefore needs the support of three parties in the red bloc: the Red-Green Alliance, the Socialist People’s Party and the Social Liberals. Minority governments are very common in Danish politics, so at the first sight, the situation looks like ‘business as usual’. But in order to start governing, the Social Democrats still have to overcome some challenges.  

The positive headlines after the first days of negotiations cannot hide the fact, that there are some significant disagreements between the four parties of the red bloc. Increasing welfare spending and fighting climate change, the topics discussed in the last days, are priorities for all of them. But other policy areas will highlight the differences that have developed within the bloc.

Particularly, the Social Democrats’ strict view on immigration clashes with the other parties. In the last legislative period, the party has moved substantially towards the right on this topic and supported Rasmussen’s centre-right government in various restrictions for migrants. Continuing this strict line was central to Frederiksen’s election campaign, and it will be difficult, if not impossible for her to break this promise. However, the three other parties of the red bloc have demanded changes in future migration policy. Their position is strengthened with the strong election results of the Social Liberals and the Socialist People’s Party, who might have benefited from disappointed voters demanding a less strict stance on immigration. It is therefore unclear, how an acceptable compromise will be made between the four parties.

The impact on Brussels: Who will be the next Danish Commissioner?

The formation of the Danish government is also observed with curiosity in Brussels. Margrethe Vestager, Commissioner for Competition and member of the Social Liberal party is among the top candidates to become the Commission’s next President. Current Prime Minister Rasmussen explained shortly after the European elections, that Denmark would suggest her as candidate putting pressure on the Social Democrats, whose leader so far has not voiced a preferred candidate. However, the strong result of Vestager’s party at national level could increase the chances that Frederiksen will support her.

Not so left after all?

In the end, the Danish political system could help Frederiksen in the formation of a government: She does not need a majority to vote for her in the Parliament, but only needs to ensure that no majority votes against her. If she is able to convince the red bloc with some concessions not to stand in the way of a Social Democrat minority government, she might be able to fulfil her promises: Collaborate closely with the red bloc on left policy areas like welfare, while cooperating with her allies on the right with regards to migration. Consequently, Denmark can expect a red (left) government, but with close ties to the blue bloc.