Susi Meret


The 2019 general election marked an important moment in the recent political history of Denmark. The Socialdemokratiet (SD - Social Democrats) and the other parties of the centre-left, the Radikak Venstre (RV - Social Liberals), the Socialistisk Folkeparti (SF - Socialist People’s Party) and the Enhedslisten (EL - The Unity List), managed to oust the incumbent centre-right (minority) government. The SD is among the oldest parties in the Danish Parliament (Folketinget) and it has roots in nineteenth-century classic social democratic reformism. The party gained parliamentary representation for the first time in 1884 and was Denmark’s biggest party in the period from 1924 to 2001 .Today it is again the largest party, although in 2019 its share of the vote marginally declined compared to the 2015 results and it remains significantly lower than in the 1990s. The RV is a party with a liberal ideology' on the economic dimension, but with a progressive and left-leaning agenda on value issues. This party was founded in 1905 and in the 1990s it played a crucial role in Danish politics, acting as a strategic partner for the formation of either a ‘bourgeois’ or a Social Democratic led minority cabinet. The SF is a left-wing party, whose ideology is based on democratic socialism and on environmental and social justice issues. It was launched in 1959 by former members of the Danish Communist Party, who maintained that socialism had to be achieved through democratic, nonrevolutionary means by embracing a political agenda based on socioeconomic equality, human and gender rights and pro-environment positions.The EL is placed further to the left. It is also known as the ‘red-green’ alliance and was established in 1989 by the merger of former minor radical left-wing parties: the Left Socialists, The Danish Communist Party, and the Socialist Workers’ Party.

The 2019 election also had important consequences for the right. The Dansk Folkeparti (DF - Danish People’s Party), which is Denmark’s populist radical right party, characterized by nationalism and anti-immigration (nativist) ideology, received its worst electoral result since its foundation in the mid-1990s. At the same time, the Venstre (V - Liberal Party), a classic liberal party with roots in the Nordic agrarian tradition, and the Konsewative Folkeparti (K - Conservative Party), another centre-right political party formed in 1915, were able to regain substantial electoral support compared to 2015. Nonetheless the centre-right lost control of government. Furthermore, the 2019 election saw the emergence of two new far-right parties, the Nye Borgerlige (NB - New Right) and the anti-immigrant and strongly Islamophobic Strain Кип (SK - Hard Line). While only the former passed the electoral threshold of 2 per cent, gaining 2.3 per cent of the vote and four parliamentary seats, the rise of these two new parties is noteworthy, especially when considered in relation to the 2019 electoral collapse of the DF.

The results of the 2019 general election raise questions - relevant for this book - about the role played by the DF as a steadfast external backer of successive Liberal and Conservative governments since 2001. How did the party adjust to this situation? Did the DF’s position ultimately and negatively affect its electoral performance? And what political strategies have mainstream parties put in place to deal with and contain right-wing populist demands in the country? Can these help explain the DF substantial loss of votes at the last election?

The chapter delves into some of the central events and developments that have defined Danish politics in the past decades. It aims to examine the shifting relations between the main Danish political parties and the DF. The first part provides an overview of the context in which support for the DF grew and stabilized. It considers the impact of the Great Recession (2007-2008) and the so-called ‘refugee crisis’ in spring 2015 and it ends with some reflections on the last general election. It also looks at the factors that explain the success of the DF. This allows us to move to an analysis of how mainstream parties of the right and of the left (V and SD, in particular) have engaged with right-wing populist demands. It is shown that they have responded to the challenges posed by the DF by adopting counterstrategies that have changed over time but ultimately converged towards practices of cooperation and co-optation.

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