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The European Left’s Dangerous Anti-Immigrant Turn

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Denmark’s center-left Social Democrats came in first in the country’s June 5 parliamentary elections—the third Nordic country where voters recently backed a left-leaning party in a Europe otherwise marked by social democracy’s decline.

Wednesday’s outcome broke with the past two decades of Danish politics. Social Democrats leader Mette Frederiksen, 41, became the country’s youngest-ever prime minister and the second woman to hold the job. Her party’s success—91 of the parliament’s 179 seats—upended a political landscape long dominated by the right. And on the heels of the European Parliament elections, in which populist, xenophobic parties saw important gains in France, Hungary, Italy, and Poland, the far-right Danish People’s Party saw its votes cut by more than half, after an unprecedented score in 2015.

But this week’s vote says less about the far right’s demise than about its steady creep into the mainstream. In something of a paradox, the center left returned to the scene only by lurching to the right. The Social Democrats, faced with waning support in the past two decades, have parroted the Danish People’s Party on immigration, backing hard-line policies they characterize as necessary to save the country’s prized welfare state.

Social-democratic parties across Europe have opted for that strategy, but in Denmark the dynamic is particularly pronounced. “While other social-democratic parties have adopted tougher immigration laws in times of ‘crisis’ and used anti-immigration and Islamophobic language, no party has so openly ran on a nativist and welfare-chauvinist agenda as the Danish Social Democrats,” Cas Mudde, a political scientist at the University of Georgia who specializes on populism, said by e-mail.

Take, for example, the so-called “ghetto package,” a series of policies aimed at improving integration and reducing crime in low-income areas that the state categorizes as “ghettos” because more than half of their residents are of “non-Western” background, among other criteria. The package, introduced by the Danish People’s Party but backed by the Social Democrats, included measures ethnic minorities consider discriminatory: one law doubles punishments for crimes committed in “ghettos”; another requires “ghetto children” from age 1 to 6, the age when public education is required for the general population, to attend mandatory courses in Danish values and traditions, as well as language courses. Families that refuse to comply risk being stripped of government benefits.

The “ghetto package” is among the slew of policies targeting immigrants—particularly Muslims—that Denmark has embraced in the past few years, often with the Social Democrats’ support. These include a 2016 law that allows authorities to seize cash and valuables from asylum-seekers ostensibly to help the state finance their benefits, or a 2018 ban on the burqa—the full-face veil worn by only about 200 Muslim women nationwide. A law making handshakes a mandatory requirement for citizenship followed, clearly targeting Muslims who refuse to shake hands with the opposite sex. Plans are underway to isolate foreigners who have criminal records and served their sentences—asylum-seekers among them—on a far-off island, currently home to a center for researching highly communicable animal diseases. In 2005, the government required UN resettlement to be based on “integration potential,” and in 2016 it withdrew from the UN resettlement program entirely, with the Social Democrats’ support.





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