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With election looming, is Denmark’s opposition irreversibly split over immigration?

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With election looming, is Denmark’s opposition irreversibly split over immigration?
Morten Østergaard and Mette Frederiksen pass each other in parliament earlier this month. Photo: Liselotte Sabroe/Ritzau Scanpix
14:22 CEST+02:00
With Danes set to vote in general elections no later than June 17th, opposition parties that normally form an allied bloc in parliament could be irreconcilably split over immigration.

On Monday, Morten Østergaard, the leader of the Social Liberal (Radikale Venstre) party, announced that he would no longer support Mette Frederiksen, the leader of the Social Democrats, the largest party in opposition, unless Frederiksen softened her stance on immigration.

The Social Democrats, traditionally a party of social welfare and workers’ rights, has drawn increasing opposition from the other parties on Denmark’s left over its hardline immigration policies.

Citing a need to protect the social welfare system, the Social Democrats have consistently voted with the right-wing coalition government and populist Danish People’s Party over immigration, including voting for divisive bills such as last year’s so-called ‘burqa ban’ and the ‘paradigm shift’ legislation passed in February.

A key aspect of the latter bill is its shift in focus from integration to future repatriation in Denmark's approach to those who seek refuge in the country, including UN quota refugees.

The environmentalist Alternative party announced in 2018 that it would forward its own prime ministerial candidate, rather than support Frederiksen as Denmark’s conventional ‘red and blue bloc’ system of parliamentary supply and support would dictate.

Østergaard’s comments on Monday mean that the Social Democrats could face losing the election even if left-wing parties receive the majority of votes in the forthcoming polls, by not having enough parliamentary support to form a government.

The Social Liberals would prefer to remain in opposition than support a Social Democrat-led government that continues its current position on immigration after the election, Østergaard said.

“I want us to set out an integration policy which aims to accommodate people who are able to provide for themselves as quickly as possible, but also rewards those who contribute to our society when we decide whether they should be allowed to stay,” he told Ritzau.

“We cannot accept the continuation of the Danish People’s Party’s latest invention -- ending integration -- in a new government. That is why we are saying that this policy must be changed so that it once again seeks to integrate people and enable them to contribute as quickly as possible,” he continued.

“We have neither the human nor economic resources to stop integration. On the contrary, we must give it momentum. We need a new government to take a new direction – including on integration,” Østergaard also said.

READ ALSO: OPINION: Stop being so hostile to foreign professionals, Denmark. You need us

The Social Liberal leader stressed that he was not seeking the job of prime minister for himself.

“I would nominate Mette Frederiksen because I want a new political direction, and I believe it can be done this way [with Frederiksen as PM, ed.],” he said.

“But if it is not possible, we will have to go into opposition, even against a Social Democratic government, if that government wants to continue the Danish People’s Party’s immigration policies,” he added.

Social Democrat immigration spokesperson Mattias Tesfaye said in comments reported by TV2 that Frederiksen was not considering changing her line on immigration and integration.

“(Danish People’s Party leader) Kristian Thulesen Dahl and all others can be 110 percent sure that, as long as Mette Frederiksen is leader of this party, and I am immigration spokesperson, we will have strict policies on immigration, because our welfare society must be able to cope,” Tesfaye said.

Dahl commented that the Social Democrats must “make it crystal clear that the Social Liberals won’t get a foot on the ground” with their challenge over immigration, according to TV2’s report.

Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen is yet to call a general election, but one must be held no later than June 17th.

READ ALSO: Social Democrats go it alone in break with allies over immigration

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