Friday 23 August 2019

Danes may also opt for vote on EU membership

Most analysts expect a shift from a left-wing coalition to a centre-right alliance led by Lars Lokke Rasmussen
Most analysts expect a shift from a left-wing coalition to a centre-right alliance led by Lars Lokke Rasmussen

Thomas Molloy

Most eyes will be on Greece today, but 2,000km to the north, the Danes will also be thinking about their place in Europe.

A new government in Copenhagen following last week's elections may decide to follow the UK with a vote on EU membership.

The small kingdom, which of all EU states most resembles Ireland in terms of population, agriculture and lack of natural resources, is busy putting together a government after last week's elections.

Most analysts expect a shift from a left-wing coalition to a centre-right alliance led by former prime minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen.

What remains unclear is what role will be played by a right-wing anti-immigration party which has made significant gains and won more votes than the left-leaning Rasmussen and belongs to the same bloc.

The outcome will be a worry for Taoiseach Enda Kenny and may deter him from calling an early election here. His Danish counterpart, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, wrongly gambled that an economic upturn would win her re-election.

In the end, voters backed the right-wing Danish People's Party (DF) to make it the second biggest party in parliament.

Despite the outcome, DF has been coy about whether it would even enter a government for the first time in its 20-year history.

Opinion polls throughout the campaign, as well as exit polls, put the centre-left and centre-right neck and neck.

Thorning-Schmidt called an early election, hoping to capitalise on an economic recovery that followed unpopular reforms after she took power as Denmark's first female premier in 2011.

The centre-left parties supporting her closed a wide gap in recent months and the momentum appeared to be with her, as her personal ratings were far higher than those of Rasmussen.

But Rasmussen reminded voters of the promises broken after the 2011 election when Thorning-Schmidt cut unemployment benefits and student grants as the economy slumped. DF's campaign on restricting immigration also seems to have resonated with many disenchanted voters.

Coalition building by the opposition bloc is now expected to take place and may last days or weeks. When asked whether he saw Dahl as prime minister, Liberal Party vice chairman Kristian Jensen said: "I have a good imagination, but it has its limits."

While the Liberals and DF agree on most policy points, they disagree on public spending - Rasmussen wants to freeze it while Dahl wants to increase it in a country that is the largest state spender as a percentage of gross domestic product in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

But DF has managed to set the agenda on some issues - parties across the spectrum talked about curbing immigration while it won an important concession from centre-right parties on its stance on the European Union.

Just before the election they agreed should they come into power, they would make it government policy to support British Prime Minister David Cameron's bid to reform the EU. DF wants to go further and call an in-or-out referendum on EU membership.

Irish Independent

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