Morten Uhrskov Jensen, a Danish historian, journalist for the daily Jyllands-Posten newspaper, and national chairman of the Dansk Samling (Danish Unity) political party, spoke to a July 19 Middle East Forum webinar (video) about proposed restrictions to Denmark's immigration policy and their significance for the rest of Europe.
Since the 1983 Aliens Act liberalized the nation's immigration policy, Denmark has witnessed a steadily increasing influx of foreign asylum-seekers, especially from Muslim countries. The small country (population 5.8 million) "has not had control of its borders," said Jensen, because the law has allowed migrants "to turn up at the Danish border" claiming grounds for asylum and be admitted unless the Danish authorities could prove otherwise.
Denmark "has not had control of its borders" since the early 1980s.
Consequently, the past four decades have brought major demographic changes to Denmark. The portion of the population that has "third world ancestry" has grown from one to ten percent, and those of third world ancestry account for fifteen percent of all births in the country.
Muslim immigrants to Denmark have not integrated well. Jensen said that the Muslim community is plagued with "low education levels, low participation in ... [the] labor [market], and high crime rates." A large percentage of these immigrants "do not want to assimilate," preferring instead to "build up parallel societies" in their new host country. Jensen attributes this to the "rigid" precepts in the Islamic religion. These precepts, which include ingrained prejudice against women, Jews, and homosexuals, clash sharply with Denmark as a "modern country where equality ... is taken for granted." The "clan mentality" and distrust of state institutions prevalent in the Arab world also contrast sharply with Danish values.
Among other immigration restrictions, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen is pushing a plan to require that migrants seeking asylum be interned in third countries partnering with Denmark.
While such proposals are increasingly common on the political right, Frederiksen's Social Democratic Party and its governing coalition partners are left-of-center. The Social Democrats dominated Danish politics for decades, in large part because the Danish population overwhelming supports its left-wing economic policies. Roughly 70-75% of Danish voters endorse an "extensive" welfare state with its "high taxes, free healthcare ... public schools ... elderly care ... [and] high level of social security."
Following 9-11,however, the Social Democrats experienced several election losses, mainly because of growing opposition to their liberal immigration policy. The populist Danish People's Party, which combined opposition to massive immigration with support for Denmark's welfare state, "stole massive numbers" of working-class votes from the Social Democrats. In 2015, the Danish People's Party garnered more than 21% of the vote with its combined welfare state/limited immigration platform.
Frederiksen, who became head of the Social Democrats in 2015, recognized that if immigration continued unabated "the welfare state would be lost," and that at any rate her party's immigration stance was politically untenable. She subsequently has moved her party's immigration policy to the right. In 2019's general election, the Social Democrats' new platform of "a center-left economic policy and a center-right ... immigration policy" proved to be a winning combination among Danish voters, leading to Frederiksen's ascension as prime minister. Other left-wing parties in parliament had no other choice but to throw their support behind Frederiksen, even those that don't support the government's immigration policy, because the only other remaining option would be to support the political right. Jensen expects the Social Democrats to prevail again when elections are held in 2023.
Frederiksen's immigration policies contrast sharply with those of other Nordic countries, especially Sweden, despite the fact that the latter is suffering the ill effects of Muslim immigration in even greater measure. Denmark and Sweden's divergent approaches can be attributed to their political histories, said Jensen. Sweden has a political tradition of elites determining policy, while Denmark's tradition is more "bottom up."
Denmark can "set an example" for dealing with the rest of Europe's immigration woes.
Still, Jensen views Denmark as a "canary in the coal mine" that could "set an example" for dealing with the rest of Europe's immigration woes if the Social Democrats continue with their policy of "halting the mass inflow of refugee seekers in Denmark."
Marilyn Stern is communications coordinator at the Middle East Forum.