The Denmark Dilemma
Center-left parties all over Europe are struggling. Could they find their foot-hold by turning against immigration?
Several factors lie behind the Social Democratic policy change on immigration.
First, welfare state ideology. SD believes itself to be the prime sponsor of the Danish welfare state. As various scholars have pointed out, there is a fundamental contradiction between a very liberal immigration policy and the survival of the welfare state. A welfare state simply cannot afford anything other than a restrictive immigration policy if welfare arrangements are to remain at a reasonable level. This has now been fully agreed upon by the Danish Social Democratic leadership.
The contradictions between a liberal immigration policy and the continued existence of the welfare state has most recently been emphasized in an analysis from the Danish Ministry of Finance, which shows that immigration from third world countries costs the Danish exchequer more than DKK 30 billion (€4bn) a year. This, of course, means a loss of public money which cannot at the same time be spent on the welfare state’s core activities.
In its latest manifesto, “United on Denmark”, SD describes the dilemma as follows: ‘As Social Democrats we believe that we must help refugees, but we also need to be able to deliver results in Denmark via local authorities and for the citizens. For the Social Democratic Party, it is about finding the balance between helping people in need and ensuring the coherence of our country, and continuing to be able to afford the high level of welfare provision that characterizes our society. […] We have therefore been tightening asylum rules and increased requirements for immigrants and refugees. And we will continue to pursue a tight and consistent asylum policy, which makes Denmark geared to handling refugee and migratory pressures’.
It could be! One of the problems they have is when the center-right parties are sufficiently centrist on the issue that they get challenged from their right. In turn, they end up occupying political middle ground and having a cultural pose that makes it difficult for center-left parties to distinguish themselves. That, combined with post-Cold War communist chic splitting the broader left between center and left, is a significant part of their problem. This does at least shake up the board.
For those who imagine Denmark as some form of progressive paradise, the notion of parents being forced to hand over toddlers or face punishment might seem bizarre and alarming. The idea of some criminals receiving lighter punishment because they robbed someone in a well-to-do area seems equally concerning. We look to Scandinavia for wind-turbines and nice furniture, not baby-snatching and Apartheid-lite. The story behind the measures is, however, more complex, if not less alarming: They have been presented as a way of easing social and residential segregation in Danish cities.
The measures come as part of a national plan to get rid of concentrated areas of poverty, and the attendant problems such as low educational performance and lower levels of public health. Also included in the plan, for example, is a ruling that in areas of high deprivation, no more than 40 percent of future housing can be public—an attempt to increase the country’s social mix. Denmark is not alone in Europe in trying this approach. As CityLab has noted in the past, cities like Berlin and Rotterdam have experimented with public housing quotas aimed at diluting concentrations of ethnic minorities, while the Paris region offers frequent tax breaks to encourage businesses to relocate to the deprived banlieues.
Denmark also aspires to integrate by acculturation: The plan would dilute other cultures with (typically wealthier) residents from Danish backgrounds and oblige ethnic minorities to send their children to institutions where their inculcation into official Danish culture is overseen by the state.