Europe's Changing Immigration Policy

Denmark: Rebuffing Immigrants

Anders Fogh Rasmussen
July 3, 2002: Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen presents his country's agenda for its European Union presidency. Denmark, which assumed titular leadership of the Union on July 1, 2002, is expected to address the thorny subject of illegal immigration (Photo: AFP).

“Are you all racists in Denmark?” read a May 22 headline in Jyllands-Posten, followed by an article on the Swedes’ perceptions of the Danish swing to the right. That seems to be the question many Scandinavians are asking following the passage on May 31 of long-anticipated new immigration legislation. Ever since Nov. 20, when a center-right coalition defeated the reigning Social Democrats, and the anti-immigration Danish People’s Party (DPP) took 12 percent of the vote, curbing the influx of asylum seekers and immigrants, who are joining their families, has been high on the legislative agenda.

But Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s minority government was well aware that without the DPP’s 22 votes, it would not be able to pass new immigration laws. After months of closed-door negotiations, during which the DPP sought further concessions and harsher measures from the government, a compromise paving the way for the new legislation was reached in early May.

In Copenhagen, headlines spoke of  “a historic agreement” between the parties. Among the provisions were reduced welfare benefits for immigrants during their first seven years, a longer waiting period for permanent residency (seven years instead of three), restriction of “family reunions” and foreign spouses unless both parties are at least 24 years old, and a higher threshold for Danish citizenship, including a nine-year waiting period and a Danish language and history exam, about  which Politiken commented on (May 8): “There is a certain irony to the fact that so great a knowledge of Danish society will be demanded of naturalized Danes, more than what the public schools achieve in nine to 10 years of schooling.”

Berlingske Tidende (May 7) saw no reason for alarm, downplaying the influence of the DPP. Søren Kassebeer and Marlene Sørensen wrote: “Apart from a few individual concessions, the DPP agreed to vote for an immigration bill that is exactly what the government wished for....The DPP has in effect said yes to legislation whose actual impact they seriously doubt.”

Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson pronounced that his government had deep misgivings about the new Danish asylum laws in Denmark and expressed concern that DPP leader Pia Kjærsgaard has “given Danish politics a face that we have not seen before.” Meanwhile, Sweden fears that it will have to absorb the refugee overflow created by a Danish crackdown on immigration. And Sweden’s integration minister, Mona Sahlin, warned that tightening immigration laws might present problems when Denmark takes over the six-month presidency of the European Union on July 1.

The Swedish press was more blunt. “Pia Kjærsgaard’s advertising campaign and public statements are of a sort that ought to make every democratic party scared and every democratic politician keep his distance,” opined Dagens Nyheter (May 28) and added: “But not in Denmark.” Prime Minister Rasmussen was quick to counter such accusations by declaring that “Danish immigration policy is carried out in Denmark, and the Swedes should not get involved.”