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Europe

Denmark Turns Right, as Promised

Foreign residents of Denmark will get their own ministry. It’s a gift many would rather do without.

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Danish voters have said "yes" to a pro-European party's right-wing ideas on immigration

Keeping a campaign promise that has drawn accusations of xenophobia , the man designated as Denmark’s new premier announced plans Tuesday to establish a special Ministry for Refugees, Immigrants and Integration.

It will be the first of its kind in Scandinavia and an extreme rarity in the European Union, where open borders and liberal immigration policies abound. Denmark now is the exception to the EU’s unwritten rule.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the premier designate, announced that fellow Liberal Party member and former Euro MP Bertel Haarder will lead the ministry.

The choice of Haarder may calm some fears. He is an outspoken critic of “Danish nationalism” and the creeping “soft cynicism” he says makes many Danes sceptical of European integration,

But the very idea of the ministry still offends many. The Danish newspaper Politiken anticipated the announcement and spat back with sarcastic praise for Rasmussen, opining that “the government’s programme for immigration and development policy is every bit as intolerant and divisive as promised.”

Foreigners and money

"It is necessary to reduce the influx of foreigners to Denmark and focus on ensuring that those who are here get work,” said Rasmussen.

New restrictions on immigration will be passed only if the new premier and his minority government – composed of ministers from his Liberal Party and allied Conservatives – receives support from parliamentary opposition.

But the far-right Dansk Folkparti (Danish People’s Party), which Rasmussen excluded from his planned ruling coalition of parties, is highly likely to sympathise.

This surge of right-wing populism, focusing on immigration policy is odd for Denmark, a country where fewer than 5 per cent of the population is foreign. But what got voters attention before the election, when they threw the incumbent Social Democrats out of power, is the high rate of unemployment in that part of society. One in two foreign residents has no official job in a land where 95 per cent of the overall population works.

Danish citizens want to guard their state purse, and the Liberal Party promises just that.

Rasmussen, 48, a career politician and former economics minister, has long advocated austerity and reform of Denmark’s welfare state. The man who once wrote that high taxes and welfare bureaucracy were “enslaving” the country’s population has toned down his rhetoric. But many of his allies have not, and their goal remains the same.

Europe's eyes roll

Rasmussen’s politics have got more than a few European leaders rolling their eyes. Sweden’s are among those who have spoken out.

Yet Denmark’s neighbours have been much slower to criticise Rasmussen and his new team than they were when the right-wing Freedom Party joined Austria’s governing coalition in Austria almost two years ago.

That event caused a mini-crisis among Europe’s ruling elite and prompted the E.U. to send a high-profile delegation of investigator-diplomats to Vienna. The Freedom Party is called “far right”, while Rasmussen only yields the label “right wing”. But his ideas regarding immigration are similar in character.

A key difference is that Rasmussen happily advocates European integration, though "Euroscepticism" is alive and well in Denmark, even among many of his supporters.

How this contradiction will play out in Danish policy will not be known untill Rasmussen takes power officially, in early 2002, and turns to the parliament to pass reforms.

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