Next week, the Danish parliament will reconvene and prime minister Rasmussen will announce the composition of Denmark’s next coalition government. But whatever shape the new government takes, the results of the February general election has implications for refugees, not only in Denmark but across the EU.
Since 2001, Denmark has been governed by a coalition government of the Liberal Party of Denmark (Venstre) and Conservative People’s Party which, though officially excluding the xenophobic Danish People’s Party (DFP), in fact relies on it for support. The election has left the DFP in a stronger position than ever before, and given the Lib/Con coalition a mandate for a further five years. The DFP, which increased its share of the vote from 12 to 13.3 per cent, will now put enormous pressure on the Lib/Con alliance to follow-through on its promise to punish those countries that refuse to accept failed asylum seekers with the loss of development aid. This could provide a model for other European governments to follow. On being returned to office, re-elected Liberal prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen urged Tony Blair to use the Danish example as a model for the UK government’s recently-announced five-year plan on immigration and asylum.
Xenophobic party shapes government agenda
Since 2001, the DFP has shaped the government’s policies on asylum and immigration, to the extent that Liberal Party prime minister Rasmussen has been accused of stealing its clothes. And the DFP has not hesitated to point a gun at the coalition government if it veers from the DFP’s anti-asylum agenda. In August 2004, it threatened to withdraw its support for the annual budget bill and for troops in Iraq unless there were a programme to speed up the repatriation of failed Iraqi asylum seekers. DFP leader Pia Kjaersgaard called refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants a financial burden, while Danish citizens and primarily the elderly were being targeted for cutbacks. In attacking Iraqis generally, Kjaersgaard said that it was ‘unreasonable that Danish soldiers jeopardise their lives while Iraqi men smuggled into Denmark are refusing to go back’.
Election fought on immigration issue
During the run-up to the 2005 election, Rasmussen promised to continue the crackdown on asylum seekers which propelled him to power in 2001. He accused his main challenger, Social Democrat Mogens Lykketoft, of being soft on immigration in contrast to the government which had presided over a fall of around 80 per cent in the number of asylum seekers arriving in Denmark. Also, during the election, DFP leader Pia Kjaersgaard called for the end of the use of foreign languages in all communications between the state and its citizens and the scrapping of the right to permanent settlement for accepted refugees. Nationalised Danes, said Kjaersgaard, should be stripped of their citizenship if found guilty of a criminal offence.
The elections have left the Lib-Con-DF axis with approximately 54 per cent of the vote and ninety-six seats in the 179 seat parliament (Folketing).The DFP outstripped the Conservatives, and now has 24 seats in parliament (up five) as compared to the Conservative’s eighteen. The exact formation of a new coalition government is due to be announced any day now, but the Lib/Cons seem to have few other parties to turn to other than the DFP.
Undermining human rights
The DFP, which has only been an electoral force since 1998 will be well pleased with its gains. But whatever its long-term future, the DFP’s real success has been its influence over centre-Right immigration policy as a whole. Other centre-Right European parties will seek to emulate the ‘Danish model’. Already, the Belgian interior minister has announced that he will visit Denmark to study its immigration policy.
Since 2001, Denmark’s refugee policy has seriously undermined international conventions and this approach has now been given legitimacy. Over the last two years, Denmark has adopted one of the toughest criteria in Europe for qualification for refugee status. It does not accept the claim of any asylum seeker who does not fall strictly within the framework of the Geneva Convention, and the concept of ‘humanitarian protection’, outside the Convention, has subsequently been rendered null and void. The result has been a dramatic drop in the number of asylum seekers from 12,512 in 2001 to 3,222 in 2004. The number of asylum seekers whose claims were accepted has plummeted from 53 to 10 per cent in the same period.
Linking aid and asylum
Now, under enormous pressure from the DFP, the Liberals are examining ways of linking development aid to repatriation agreements for those failed asylum seekers who, at the moment, cannot be repatriated from Denmark to their home countries as conflicts are still ongoing, they lack travel documents, or for other reasons.
A few months prior to the general election, there were several important developments in this area. First, in August 2004, the government increased the portfolio of immigration and integration minister, Bertel Haarder, to include foreign development aid – the first time such a link has been made in a ministerial portfolio in Europe. Haarder then announced another first. In future ‘development assistance’ would be made an ‘active instrument of foreign policy’. This was reiterated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in ‘Security, Growth – Development: Priorities of the Danish Government for Danish Development Assistance 2005-2009’ – a document awash with references to ‘regions of origin measures’. These refer to a plan, favoured by some EU countries, to transfer the ‘refugee burden’ from the developed world to impoverished countries, mainly in the developing South which would be encouraged to host large refugee camps where refugees would be ‘warehoused’ until conflicts were over. The Danish ministry of foreign affairs suggests that development assistance should be targeted at ‘region of origin measures’ and implies that such measures could also provide an opportunity for ‘refugees and internally displaced’ people to return home.
The DFP wants countries that refuse to take back asylum seekers ‘punished’ with a loss of development aid. Howard Mollett of the Global Security Development Network (an international network of NGOs monitoring trends in security and development policy) believes that such a move would be ‘politically unacceptable within the donor community internationally and in Denmark’. The Lib/Con alliance, it seems is mindful of this. While it is attempting the more subtle approach of persuasion via financial incentives, the end result will be the same – aid will become an active tool of Danish refugee policy.
The Danes also want to persuade the UNHCR to play ball. Denmark has been reducing development aid as a whole and cutting funds to the UNHCR to which Denmark had previously been the second biggest per capita contributor. The UNHCR while criticising Danish refugee policy want to keep its government on board. Under ‘Convention Plus’ – a series of ‘global consultations’ with the State signatories of the Geneva Convention (and other ‘stakeholders’) on how to update the 1951 Convention (and its 1967 Protocol) to ‘address all the pressing issues pertaining to refugee protection in today’s changing world’ – the UNHCR is pursuing generic multilateral agreements to tackle three priority challenges, one of which is the ‘more effective targeting of development assistance to support durable solutions for refugees, whether in countries of asylum or upon return home’. Denmark and Japan are the two countries which have been assigned a lead role in crafting the UNHCR’s special agreement on development aid.