Denmark raises the bar on citizenship

Ongoing trend:

Denmark plans to tighten the conditions for citizenship, after a deal struck between the government and three opposition parties. The country already has one of the most restrictive immigration policies in Europe.

The Danish government announced on Tuesday that it is tightening the conditions for naturalization, excluding people who have been convicted of crimes. The new rules follow an agreement reached between the Social Democrat government of Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen and three right-wing opposition parties.

“Obtaining Danish citizenship is a great declaration of faith from Danish society, according to the parties to the deal. They are therefore in agreement that it is necessary to raise the bar for who can become a Danish citizen,” the migration ministry said in a statement.

Danish values

In future, applicants for Danish citizenship will have to show that they have had no criminal convictions and that they have been employed for at least three-and-a-half of the last four years.

The agreement also puts a strong emphasis on “Danish values.” Citizenship tests, which have been used since 2015, will now include five questions on these values.

“We want to be absolutely sure that those who receive Danish citizenship, with all the rights that go with it, are well integrated into Danish society and have also embraced it – including Danish values,” the migration minister, Mathias Tesfaye, told the public broadcaster DR. Danish values included freedom of speech and equality, he said.

The Liberal (Venstre) Party’s Morten Dahlen tweeted that there was “strong agreement” on the new rules.

Non-Westerners targeted

According to Statistics Denmark, 11% of Denmark’s 5.8 million inhabitants are of foreign origin – either born abroad or with parents born abroad. Of those, 58% are citizens of a country classified as “non-Western,” the AFP news agency reports. In 2020, of the approximately 7,000 people who became Danes, more than half were Europeans.

In March, the Danish government announced plans to swap controversial laws on “ghettos” that affect marginalized neighborhoods for tighter measures targeting “non-Western” residents. The move led to concerns expressed by human rights groups about discrimination against the country’s non-European ethnic communities.

Denmark is also the only European country to revoke the residency permits of Syrian refugees, having declared that Syria is a safe country for return.

Source: Denmark raises the bar on citizenship

In Denmark, Fears Grow Among Syrian Asylum Seekers As Residence Permits Are Revoked

Of note:

In 2019, Danish authorities issued a report stating that the security situation in some parts of Syria had “improved significantly.” Last year, that report was used as justification to begin reevaluating hundreds of Danish residence permits granted to Syrian refugees from the area around and including the capital Damascus.

Now some of those refugees are being told, officially, that their time in Denmark is up.

Among those affected are Heba Alrejleh and Radwan Jomaa, a couple from Damascus. Jomaa left Syria in 2013, traveling first to Egypt and later making his way to Italy. Upon landing there, he says, the Syrians on his boat set off in different directions, with some heading for Sweden and others for France.

Jomaa chose Denmark, having heard about the country’s welcoming reputation.

He was soon joined by Alrejleh and the kids — Aya, who is now 11, and Mohamed, now 10. Their youngest, four-year-old Lilian, was born in Denmark.

The family lived for several years in the town of Skive, though it was far from Jomaa’s job at a pizzeria near Aarhus.

Meanwhile, in neighboring countries like Germany and the Netherlands, friends and family who had fled Syria around the same time were starting to get permanent residence and even citizenship. Surely, they thought, the same would soon be true for themselves.

So in December, with a mind to putting down roots, the couple found a small row house just outside the city of Silkeborg. Here, their three kids could go to a quieter school, Jomaa would have a shorter commute and Alrejleh would be able to continue her studies. She dreams of becoming a nurse.

On the day they were packing to move, a notification arrived from the immigration service informing the family that they were being sent back to Syria.

Jomaa was shocked.

“This decision means life or death,” he says. “The words ‘to send us back to Syria’ means to destroy our lives.”

Jomaa says his family has nothing and no one left in Syria. Because he participated in protests against the Assad regime, he fears he would be arrested upon return.

The couple has appealed the decision, but for now their lives are on hold. The walls of their new apartment remain bare, the living room almost empty.

Alrejleh, whose first husband was killed before her eyes in Syria, says this is not the new beginning she’d dreamed of.

“All I can think about is the decision from the immigration service,” she says. “Otherwise I would be doing many things: continuing my studies, raising my children, dreaming about their future. Lots of things. But it’s all at a standstill.”

Jomaa, who says he’s been having nightmares, doesn’t understand why Denmark would do this.

“The name Denmark used to be a shining example when it came to human rights. But now racism is ruining Denmark’s reputation in the whole world,” he says.

But scaring asylum seekers away seems to be the government’s goal, says Michala Bendixen, who heads the Danish advocacy group Refugees Welcome.

“We have a new expression now among migrant researchers called ‘negative nation branding,'” she explains. “We’re trying to scare people away from Denmark, deliberately, by telling stories about how bad life is as an asylum seeker is here, how very, very limited your rights will be if you are granted asylum — that you should never feel safe or secure about your future here, because even if you are among the lucky ones who are granted asylum, you will be kicked out sooner or later.”

Bendixen says Denmark has been moving in this direction for decades. But the country’s most recent hard turn on immigration is part of an attempt by the center-left government, voted into office in 2019, to capture the populist vote back from the far right.

It’s referred to as the “paradigm shift” and also underlies a current debate about whether to bring home Danish children of women who joined ISIS and are now stranded in refugee camps abroad.

Politically, this strategy has helped the Social Democrats. But Bendixen says it’s also putting Denmark on a cliff’s edge when it comes to international humanitarian law.

“They’re trying to find out where is the limit, actually,” she says. “They’re stepping as close to the limit or a little bit across it to see ‘how far can we go?'”

But even as organizations like Amnesty International and the United Nations criticize Denmark’s stance on refugees, Bendixen says international guidelines on repatriation are open to interpretation, making the government’s policy hard to challenge.

The irony is that because Denmark has not resumed diplomatic relations with Syria, rejected asylum seekers cannot actually be deported.

Of the 94 Syrian refugees who lost their Danish residence permits in 2020, some — like Jomaa and Alrejleh — are still under appeal. If they’re lucky, these people may be granted a more protected status and allowed to stay.

But Bendixen says some 30 people have already lost their appeals. The choice, at that point, is either to live indefinitely in a Danish deportation center, go back to Syria voluntarily — or go underground and try to start over in another European country.

When Denmark’s Integration Minister Mattias Tesfaye announced last June that the government would be reevaluating residence permits, he emphasized that Syrian refugees who choose to go back get a “bag of money” from Denmark in order to rebuild their lives in Syria.

The government will provide funds for travel costs, four years of medical coverage, plus a flat sum of about $23,000 per adult. But last year, only 137 of Denmark’s roughly 35,000 Syrian refugees took advantage of that offer — which Bendixen says speaks volumes about conditions in Syria.

When asked what will happen to his family if their appeal is denied, Jomaa sits quietly for a moment as his eyes fill with tears.

“I don’t have an answer,” he says.

He and Alrejleh have tried to protect their children from what’s happening, but it’s hard to hide the frustration.

Still, 11-year-old Aya knows she does not want to go back to Syria, which she remembers only vaguely as a place where “many people died.” Now, speaking in perfect Danish, she says that Denmark, her new home, is a good place.

Why?

“Because,” she says, “people don’t go around killing each other.”

Source: In Denmark, Fears Grow Among Syrian Asylum Seekers As Residence Permits Are Revoked

Danish politicians could reject more citizenship applications under new proposal

Denmark keeps on proposing new barriers to citizenship based on country of origen:

A proposal by the far-right Nye Borgerlige (New Right, NB) party would change the way the Danish parliament processes citizenship applications so that individuals can be more easily rejected, according to a report by newspaper Politiken.

The plan has received the backing of the Danish People’s Party (DF) , the other anti-immigration party on Denmark’s far right. Significantly, it also has signs of support from the governing Social Democrats, the newspaper writes.

Under Danish law, citizenship can only be granted to foreign nationals via legal nationalisation: applications must actually be voted for by a parliamentary majority.

Accepted applications are normally processed via bills put in front of parliament twice yearly, in April and in October.

NB wants to change this practice so that, instead of approving a single bill with hundreds of (pre-approved) citizenship applications, parliament can more easily reject individual claims by splitting them into different bills.

The party wants to discriminate claims based on the nationality of the applicant, according to Politiken’s report.

We favour, for example, that persons from so-called ‘Menapt’ countries [Middle East, North Africa, Pakistan and Turkey, ed.] be put on a separate bill so they can be voted against,” NB citizenship spokesperson Mette Thiesen told the newspaper.

“We want to be able to vote for the people who really deserve a citizenship, but not those who we absolutely don’t think should have it,” Thiesen added.

People who apply for Danish citizenship must fulfil a series of criteria and pass a citizenship test, and their claims are assessed by the Ministry of Immigration and Integration prior to being sent for the parliamentary bill. As such, the applications that come before parliament have already fulfilled the legal criteria.

Negotiations over potential changes to citizenship rules are ongoing between Danish parties. Earlier this week, the centre-right Liberal party said it wanted assessment of applicants to include a personal interview to determine whether that person has “Danish values”.

Thiesen told Politiken that “of course” politicians could sort citizenship applicants based on source country if they so wish.

“We’re the ones giving out citizenship. It’s not a right to get Danish citizenship,” she said.

It should be noted that, even if applications were voted for in different bills, it would still require a parliamentary majority to reject them.

The Danish People’s Party said it backed the idea. The party has previously voted against bills formalising citizenship applications.

“We would actually like to vote yes to many Nordic citizens and people from South Schleswig [German border region, ed.], but because we oppose so many from Middle Eastern and Muslim countries getting citizenship, we vote no to the bills as they are. And thereby end up voting no to some people who we really want to have citizenship, and that situation is a shame,” DF citizenship spokesperson Marie Krarup told Politiken.

The spokesperson for the governing Social Democrats, Lars Aslan Rasmussen, appeared open to the suggestion in a comment given to the newspaper.

“The premise itself, that there are special problems with people from those Menapt countries, we recognise that,” Rasmussen said.

How to design language tests for citizenship

Immigration-based countries tend to have more pragmatic approach to language training than some of the European examples cited:

“Perfect swedish is overrated. But comprehensible Swedish is deeply underrated,” says Ulf Kristersson, the leader of Sweden’s centre-right Moderate party, which supports a language requirement to become a Swedish citizen. The left has come round, too: the Social Democrat-led government plans to introduce a language test. Sweden would thereby leave the small club of European countries that do not make passing such a test a condition of naturalisation.

To learn the language of the country you live in is the key to a full life there. But many experts in language policy oppose testing for citizenship—because they suspect a less compassionate motive in some who propose them. “Becoming a Danish citizen is something one has to become worthy of,” said Inger Stojberg in 2015, when she was the immigration and integration minister in Denmark’s centre-right government—implying that the unworthy had been slipping through. Her thinly camouflaged goal was not to improve immigrants’ Danish, but to naturalise fewer of them.

Denmark: Parliament to discuss proposal to grant citizenship after 10-year stay – The Copenhagen Post

Denmark has some of the more restrictive approaches to granting citizenship that will remain unless in the unlikely event that Parliament and the government agree to make it truly automatic:

A citizen proposal to automatically grant foreigners with Danish citizenship after staying in the country for 10 years has exceeded 50,000 supporters.

Now, the proposal is qualified to be put forward as a motion for resolution and then discussed and voted on in Parliament.

However, the collection of signatures has been challenged by the fact that only citizens with voting rights can support petitions. This means that the ones directly affected by the proposal are excluded from the signature collection process.

‘Tremendous pressure’  
Authors of the proposal emphasised that one needs to receive a residence permit before being granted citizenship, and the rules for getting the permit have been repeatedly tightened in recent years.

According to the proposal, even if foreigners receive a temporary residence permit, there are still too many uncertainties. They are afraid to start a family, buy housing or pursue self-employment as their permission to be in the country may end at any time.

“It’s a tremendous pressure to live under,” the authors said, especially since 2019 when it was decided that language skills, a Danish spouse or children or in-country education cannot improve chances of being granted citizenship.

In the meantime, the number of foreigners permanently residing in the country has been growing over the years.

According to Statistics Denmark, the share of citizens with foreign citizenship has increased from 4.5 percent in 1997 to 9 percent in 2019, which equals 525,898 residents.

Going both ways
The proposal’s suggestion was made by Inge Christoffersen from Aarhus who was willing to help an acquaintance who has spent 15 years in the country but still without citizenship.

In her interview with TV2, she said: “We, who have made the citizen proposal, believe that integration goes both ways. You cannot expect people to integrate unless you give them back a little.”

She also pointed out that the argument regarding foreigners’ criminal activity in Denmark is not valid: “No matter whether you are a citizen or not, you are sanctioned if you break the law. Danish criminals also have citizenship and voting rights, so I do not understand why one focuses so much on crime when it comes to the question of citizenship.”

Source: Parliament to discuss proposal to grant citizenship after 10-year stay – The Copenhagen Post

Denmark’s immigration ministry declares it ‘wonderful’ more migrants left than entered in 2019

Danish candour. Almost Trumpian:

Denmark’s immigration ministry says more migrants left Denmark in 2019 than entered, with the minister in charge of the matter calling the official figures ‘wonderful’.

It was the first time since 2011 that net migration – the difference between immigration and emigration – was negative.

Mattias Tesfaye said: ‘Whenever possible, it is only natural for refugees to travel back to their homeland. I am glad that we can give people protection while it is needed. But I’m also happy every time a refugee can return home’.

Net immigration to Denmark has been falling since 2015. Last year, a net 730 people left the Scandinavian country of 5.8 million.

The figures released by the Immigration Ministry showed that the main groups of people who left last year were Somalis, Syrians, Iraqis and Bosnians – while people from Eritrea, Iran and Afghanistan sought shelter in the country.

Eva Singer of the Danish Refugee Council, a nongovernmental organisation, said the drop should not be attributed to Danish immigration policy but to the fact that fewer people have been able to reach Denmark, in part because of Turkey closing its border to the European Union.

Denmark in recent times has grabbed international attention for its strict stand toward immigrants.

The current Social Democratic minority government has taken a softer, albeit tough stance than the previous centre-right government that had the parliamentary support of the anti-immigration Danish People’s Party (their leader Kristian Thulesen Dahl is pictured)

The current Social Democratic minority government has taken a softer, albeit tough stance than the previous centre-right government that had the parliamentary support of the anti-immigration Danish People’s Party.

Across Europe, the surge of more than million refugees and economic migrants that arrived in 2015 prompted a populist backlash that gave a huge boost to anti-migrant parties and drained votes from mainstream parties, particularly left-wing parties with welcoming migration policies.

Many newcomers from Africa, Asia and the Middle East headed to wealthy nations in northern Europe with generous taxpayer-supported welfare systems.

Thousands transited via Denmark to reach neighbouring Sweden, which took in 163,000 migrants that year alone – the largest number per capita of anywhere in Europe.

Source: Denmark’s immigration ministry declares it ‘wonderful’ more migrants left than entered in 2019

Denmark’s ‘ghetto plan’ and the communities it targets

Hard to see how these measures will improve integration instead of promoting separation and exclusion, particularly those related to differential penalties and punishments:

At the end of each year, the Danish government publishes a list of what it classifies as the country’s “ghettos”. There are currently 28.

Areas where more than 50 percent of residents are immigrants or descendants of “non-Western countries” can be designated a “ghetto” based on the following criteria: income, percentage of those employed, levels of education and proportion of people with criminal convictions.

Denmark is currently executing its controversial national “ghetto plan” – One Denmark without Parallel Societies: No Ghettos in 2030 – introduced by the previous government in March 2018, and now passed into a set of harsh laws and a housing policy.

This involves the physical demolishment and transformation of low-income, largely Muslim neighbourhoods. Residents of these areas – working-class, immigrant and refugee communities – say the measures are aimed at containing as well as dispersing them.

The term “ghetto”, with its negative connotations of festering crime, unemployment and dysfunction is a source of anguish for residents who believe the plan stigmatises them further while offering no improvements to their conditions. Anger, confusion and a feeling of betrayal are mounting among those deemed to be living in “ghettos”.

Residents of “ghettos” are now subject to a different set of rules. Penalties for crimes can be doubled. Certain violations, for example, which are normally finable offences could mean imprisonment.

Laws passed last March require children from the age of one to spend at least 25 hours a week in childcare to receive mandatory training in “Danish values”. There was even a proposal from the far-right Danish People’s party that “ghetto children” should have a curfew of 8pm, although that was rejected by the parliament.

But perhaps one of the most insidious rules is that public housing in so-called “hard ghettos” will be limited to only 40 percent of total housing by 2030. This means that public housing is now either being torn down, redeveloped or rented to private companies. The fear is that thousands across Denmark may have to leave their homes. By some reports, that number could be more than 11,000 people.

Poul Aaroe Pedersen, a spokesperson at the Ministry of Transport and Housing, which is overseeing the housing changes, said in an email that the aim “is to prevent parallel societies” by integrating “socially disadvantaged residential areas” with the surrounding community through the development of different types of housing.

Pederson said it is not possible to provide an exact number for how many people would need to move.

According to lawyer Morten Tarp, two communities, one in the city of Helsingor and the other in the town of Slagelse, whose residents he is working to support, will receive the country’s first housing contract termination notices in early 2020.

Mjolnerparken, a so-called “hard ghetto”, is a four-block housing complex situated in Norrebro, a lively, multicultural and gentrifying district in Copenhagen.

There, 260 residencies will be sold. Residents have been informed through the housing association that they will have to move and are being encouraged to relocate to other areas. Many are uncertain about what will happen next.

We visited Mjolnerparken and spoke to four residents about how the regulations are affecting their lives and their fears for the future.

Source: https://aje.io/8qwf7

Citizenship in Scandinavia – What are reasonable demands for full membership?

Interesting comparison, showing despite the different approaches, the underlying views on citizenship requirements in all three countries were very similar:

In 2018, together with our colleagues in the other Scandinavian countries, we undertook a representative survey in Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. Young people from ages 20 to 36 were interviewed – just over 7500 in total. Individuals from the majority populations, descendants of immigrants from Iraq, Pakistan, Poland, Somalia, Turkey, and Vietnam, were included. Immigrants from Iraq and Somalia also participated in the survey in all three countries, while immigrants from Pakistan, Poland and Turkey were included, in addition, in the Norwegian sample. All respondents were asked what they considered reasonable requirements for citizenship, what they thought of the existing rules in their respective countries, and to what extent they felt they were recognized as members of the national community.

Citizenship is the last stop on the way to formal membership in a new homeland. Before this, immigrants with legal status already enjoy many rights. New members of Scandinavian societies have access to some civil and social rights, from day one in the country. Still, citizenship is regarded as important and attractive, especially among those who come from countries with greater legal, economic, and political uncertainty. Citizenship in Scandinavia protects them from deportation, in principle at least. It bestows help overseas, grants the right to vote in parliamentary elections – and not least, gives access to a Scandinavian passport, with all the rights to travel freely and work in the entire EU region.

In the last few years there has been a trend to implement stricter requirements for citizenship in many European countries, such as knowledge tests (language, history, and society), proof of self-sufficiency, and longer waiting times.

Among researchers, these stricter requirements are often interpreted from either a control or an integration perspective: Recent increases in immigration have made authorities keen on finding legal ways to control access to citizenship. On the other hand, concerns over integration have raised the bar for competence in language and knowledge about society, and those who are permanent residents and seek citizenship are required to meet this higher bar in order to become full members.

Regardless of how one interprets the politics, these laws create indisputably higher barriers. There has been an (implicit) assumption among researchers that the stricter requirements are not in immigrants’ interest, but no empirical research has been done. This new survey is the first to investigate these issues empirically.

The three Scandinavian countries are interesting to compare because they cover the entire scale when it comes to citizenship requirements. Denmark is one of the strictest countries in Europe when it comes to citizenship. Sweden is on the liberal outer edge, while Norway – as is often the case with immigration and integration policies – finds itself somewhere in the middle.

We began our study with the assumption that these marked political differences would be mirrored in the immigrant groups and descendants’ attitudes in the three countries – that immigrants and descendants in Denmark would be more critical of the country’s rules, than corresponding groups would be to Swedish policies in Sweden, for example. We also thought the majority populations would want stricter requirements than the minorities would, especially in Denmark. The results did not meet our expectations though, and in many ways were very surprising.

Overall the survey does not show big differences between the three countries, and when it comes to attitudes toward how the rules are and should be, there are barely differences between the three groups (majority, immigrants, and descendants). The prevailing attitude is that it is legitimate to set requirements for new members of society who become citizens – the majority across groups believe these requirements should include five years of residence, a simple language and society test, an oath, and being part of the work force. At the same time, they think it should be legal to keep one’s original citizenship when naturalizing. In other words, there should be clear requirements to become a full member of a Scandinavian society, but these should be reasonable and possible to meet. The results paint a picture of consensus on what “reasonable” means – a framework that lies somewhere between the extremes represented by Denmark and Sweden.

Other institutions, like the education system, labor market, and health care system are probably more important as a basis for attitudes toward membership in society than citizenship.

How should we interpret these findings? The alignment in attitudes across our survey respondents is a pointer to the fact that life in Scandinavia is not so different across the three countries, despite the respective states’ different policies on immigration. In fact, other institutions, like the education system, labor market, and health care system are probably more important as a basis for attitudes toward membership in society than citizenship.

The survey does not tell us anything about emphasis placed on different institutions’ importance for feelings of membership, acceptance, and belonging. But we do see indications of experiences of both discrimination and of lower levels of trust among minority groups.

The consensus on requirements, nevertheless, suggests that the citizenship institution continues to matter as a framework for togetherness. The survey also indicates that minority members of society are reflected actors, alongside majority society members, when it comes to guarding the last ticket into society – and what should be demanded, in order to ensure the functioning of an increasingly diverse society.

Source: Citizenship in Scandinavia – What are reasonable demands for full membership?

Latest Danish citizenship test has one-in-two pass rate

In contrast, when the Conservative government changed the knowledge test by increasing the required pass mark from 60 to 75 percent, rotated questions to reduce cheating along with a new citizenship guide (Discover Canada), all pre-C-24, the rate dropped to close to 80 percent from 96 percent.

Adjustments and changes were made subsequently that resulted in a pass rate of about 90 percent last time I checked.

Canadian citizenship tests are largely designed to facilitate citizenship, Danish ones to make it harder:

At a 52.77 percent pass rate, the success ratio for those hoping to become Danish nationals was slightly lower than the previous test in November 2018, which saw 53.48 percent pass.

A total of 3,502 people took the June 6th test at 52 language centres across Denmark, according to figures released by the Ministry of Immigration and Integration.

Since 2015, the Danish citizenship test (indfødsretsprøven), held twice annually, has consisted of 40 multiple choice questions on Danish culture, history and society. The pass mark is 32.

The pass rate for the test, for which the registration fee is currently 783 kroner, generally hovers around the 50 percent mark.

Passing the test is a prerequisite for all applicants for Danish citizenship. The content and difficulty level of the exam is monitored by the immigration ministry’s International Recruitment and Integration Board (Styrelsen for International Rekruttering og Integration, SIRI).

“It makes me very happy to see that foreigners who live here in Denmark want to become Danish citizens. Congratulations to those who passed the test – they are now one step closer to becoming citizens,” Minister for Immigration and Integration Mattias Tesfaye said in a ministry press release.

“They have shown the will and motivation to learn about our culture, history and democratic system. Citizenship brings with it many new rights, but also an obligation to protect Denmark and help to build our lovely little country,” Tesfaye added.

The next citizenship test will take place on November 27th.

Source: Latest Danish citizenship test has one-in-two pass rate

The European Left’s Dangerous Anti-Immigrant Turn

Good overview of how far the centre has shifted:
Denmark’s center-left Social Democrats came in first in the country’s June 5 parliamentary elections—the third Nordic country where voters recently backed a left-leaning party in a Europe otherwise marked by social democracy’s decline.

Wednesday’s outcome broke with the past two decades of Danish politics. Social Democrats leader Mette Frederiksen, 41, became the country’s youngest-ever prime minister and the second woman to hold the job. Her party’s success—91 of the parliament’s 179 seats—upended a political landscape long dominated by the right. And on the heels of the European Parliament elections, in which populist, xenophobic parties saw important gains in France, Hungary, Italy, and Poland, the far-right Danish People’s Party saw its votes cut by more than half, after an unprecedented score in 2015.

But this week’s vote says less about the far right’s demise than about its steady creep into the mainstream. In something of a paradox, the center left returned to the scene only by lurching to the right. The Social Democrats, faced with waning support in the past two decades, have parroted the Danish People’s Party on immigration, backing hard-line policies they characterize as necessary to save the country’s prized welfare state.

Social-democratic parties across Europe have opted for that strategy, but in Denmark the dynamic is particularly pronounced. “While other social-democratic parties have adopted tougher immigration laws in times of ‘crisis’ and used anti-immigration and Islamophobic language, no party has so openly ran on a nativist and welfare-chauvinist agenda as the Danish Social Democrats,” Cas Mudde, a political scientist at the University of Georgia who specializes on populism, said by e-mail.

Take, for example, the so-called “ghetto package,” a series of policies aimed at improving integration and reducing crime in low-income areas that the state categorizes as “ghettos” because, among other criteria, more than half of their residents are of “non-Western” background. The package, introduced by the Danish People’s Party but backed by the Social Democrats, included measures ethnic minorities consider discriminatory: One law doubles punishments for crimes committed in “ghettos”; another requires “ghetto children” from age 1 to 6, the age when public education is required for the general population, to attend mandatory courses in Danish values and traditions, as well as language courses. Families that refuse to comply risk being stripped of government benefits.

The “ghetto package” is among the slew of policies targeting immigrants—particularly Muslims—that Denmark has embraced in the past few years, often with the Social Democrats’ support. These include a 2016 law that allows authorities to seize cash and valuables from asylum-seekers ostensibly to help the state finance their benefits, or a 2018 ban on the burqa—the full-face veil worn by only about 200 Muslim women nationwide. A law making handshakes a mandatory requirement for citizenship followed, clearly targeting Muslims who refuse to shake hands with the opposite sex. Plans are underway to isolate foreigners who have criminal records and served their sentences—asylum-seekers among them—on a far-off island, currently home to a center for researching highly communicable animal diseases. In 2005, the government required UN resettlement to be based on “integration potential,” and in 2016 it withdrew from the UN resettlement program entirely, with the Social Democrats’ support.

“The Social Democrats have made it very clear: They realize they’ve lost elections since the late 1990s by being outflanked by the right on immigration,” Rune Stubager, a political scientist at Aarhus University, told me. “They knew they’d have to change their position on the issue to win.”

The Social Democrats’ rightward shift has earned it the moniker “Danish People’s Party lite” among some Danes, disillusioned with what they see as the party’s betrayal of its progressive ideals. “There’s no question: They saw that, without anti-Islam as a central part of their platform, they have no chance of success,” Naveed Baig, an imam and the vice-chair of the Islamic-Christian Study Center in Copenhagen, told me, noting that Islam and immigration have become synonymous in current political debates. The climate has become so toxic, he said, that some Muslim families have considered leaving Denmark altogether.

Natasha Al-Hariri, a lawyer and minority-rights advocate, agreed. “It’s disturbing to see Frederiksen in the prime-minister spot,” she said. “She’ll adopt whatever position gets the most votes, even if that means aligning with the far right. When is enough enough?”

The Social Democrats say they’ll stick to their new line on immigration, which they describe as critical to maintaining Denmark’s welfare state, one of the most robust in Europe. “We need to have enough money and enough room in our country, to take care of our citizens,” Nanna Grave Poulsen, a party chairwoman, told me. “All of our immigration policies need to be put in the context of the welfare issue.”

But the number of migrants and asylum-seekers Denmark has admitted has actually declined in recent years, and its overall acceptance rate has been far below the EU average. The country’s economy is strong, and research indicates that strains to the welfare state stem from an aging population, not migrants, refugees, or Danes of “non-Western background.”

The mainstreaming of far-right views—and anti-immigrant rhetoric’s ability to capture the national attention—is evident in the emergence of two new parties to the right of the Danish People’s Party: the Hard Line and the New Right, the latter of which managed to enter parliament, just exceeding the 2 percent threshold. In the months leading up to the elections, the media fixated on Hard Line leader Rasmus Paludan, a lawyer who campaigned on a platform to deport all Danish Muslims. Paludan sparked riots in April when he threw the Quran in the air and let it hit the ground during a rally in a multicultural neighborhood in the capital. Since then, the state has spent around $6 million protecting him at his campaign rallies, during which he burns the Quran or stuffs it with bacon.

Although Paludan’s Hard Line didn’t end up entering the parliament, the media’s focus on his provocations propelled him to national significance. Before the April riots, he had garnered only around 5,000 of the 20,000 signatures necessary to present his candidacy; in the days that followed, he managed to multiply his following and enter the race.

The Hard Line and New Right have both solidified the Danish People’s Party’s position as a mainstream party and undermined its appeal. “It’s terrifying that these Nazis, knocking on Parliament’s door, make the Danish People’s Party look ‘meh,’” Al-Hariri said. “But at the same time, it would be incorrect to say it’s not part of the establishment.”

“All the focus on Paludan squeezed the Danish People’s Party, which suddenly seemed moderate on immigration,” Karina Kosaria-Pedersen, a political scientist at the University of Copenhagen, told me. Electorally speaking, the party’s transformation—from the margins to the mainstream—didn’t work in its favor. Its cooperation with major parties and success in dictating immigration policies made it look “more like the elite it had claimed to challenge,” she said. That new dynamic, plus an ongoing scandal over allegations of misused EU funds, have curbed the party’s steady ascent.

The Social Democrats, the clear winners of this political climate, now have to determine just how they will govern. The party has stood fast on its immigration policies. “We don’t want to lose the voters we’ve managed to take away from the far right,” Poulsen, the party chairwoman, told me. But it has also moved to the left on welfare and the environment, two critical issues for Danes. Accordingly, Prime Minister–elect Frederiksen rejected a proposal from the outgoing prime minister to enter a “grand coalition” with his conservative Liberals party, which won 75 seats. Instead, Frederiksen intends to form a minority government, working with parties across the spectrum on an ad hoc, issue-specific basis.

That won’t be easy. “She will be at odds with the left-wing parties, who want her to make concessions on immigration,” Stubager, the political scientist, said. She’s also likely to clash with conservative parties, who seek concessions on the economy; during their campaign, the Social Democrats promised to increase public spending, raise taxes on the wealthy, and make it easier for Danes to take early retirement after 40 years in the labor force. “It’s going to be a lengthy negotiation process,” Stubager said.

Stubager expects left-wing parties to “tie her down,” attempting to block Frederiksen from cooperating with the right on immigration. “They haven’t made it easy for themselves,” he said. “But I’m convinced that without their move on immigration, they wouldn’t have performed as well.’”

One Social Democrat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the party’s slide had cemented Islamophobia into the center of Danish politics, but that Denmark wasn’t alone in this. “When it comes to our debate on immigration, the far right has won,” she told me. “The left has lost. The center has lost. This is true all over Europe.”

Source: The European Left’s Dangerous Anti-Immigrant Turn