- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 27, 2001

Hamlet, Prince of Denmark could never make up his mind. But last week, the Danish people did. And they confirmed a global trend in prosperous democracies for far tougher immigration and law and order policies.

Last week, Denmark's center-right Liberal Party decisively tipped the ruling Social Democrats out of office. The Social Democrats and their coalition partner parties lost 12 seats in the Danish parliament, going down from 89 to 77 in the 179-seat body.

The Liberals became the largest party in the nation for the first time in 81 years, going up to 56 seats. The anti-immigration, upstart Danish People's Party also did well, going up to 22 seats becoming the third largest in the little nation of 5.3 million people for the first time. Denmark may be small, but the dynamics of the election contest are likely to have reverberations across the 15-nation European Union and much further than that.

The result was an upset. Social Democratic Prime Minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, the undisputed master of domestic Danish politics, had held office for eight years. Two months ago, he looked all set to retain it in a new term. The prime minister offered strong support of the United States after the terrible terrorist attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center in New York City, killing around 5,000 people on September. 11. And this stand proved extremely popular with the Danish people.

But the election was not fought on the issue of supporting the United States and its crusade against international terror. The main opposition parties entirely agreed with those policies too. Like Australia's recent general election on the other side of the globe, it was fought over the issue of tougher immigration controls. And the Danish people provided exactly the same political upset as the Australians did by strongly supporting such moves.

Denmark halted unlimited immigration back in 1973, but since then, the number of Third World, especially Muslim, immigrants has quietly but steadily risen as people have come in through marriage or other close family ties. About 350,000 people, or 7 percent of the Danish population, is now of foreign descent and the number has been rising relatively rapidly.

That development was causing widespread unease in the placid, historically tolerant but also homogenous little nation at the mouth of the Baltic Sea even before September 11. Since then, it has become the main issue, eclipsing even traditional concerns about growing centralization of power and loss of sovereignty to the bureaucratic European Commission in Brussels.

Since September 11, a significant consensus has hardened on the issue. The difference between the political parties was that Social Democrats just issued a general pledge without specifics and said they wanted to study the issue. The Liberals came flat out and pledged to impose a seven-year waiting period before new arrivals could take advantage of Denmark's cradle-to-grave welfare system, one of the most generous even in traditional left-leaning Scandinavia.

That proved to be the decisive concern for Danish voters. Despite the high personal regard in which Poul Nyrup Rasmussen continues to be held, they turned him out of office and replaced him with, though no relation, Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

Now Anders Fogh Rasmussen is set to govern with a new coalition of Liberals and Conservatives. Together, they would still be in a minority in parliament, but they could count on the decisive support from outside their partnership from the Danish People's Party, with its 56 swing seats, and the small Christian People's Party.

The defeat of the Social Democrats, coming as it does right after the failure of the Australian Labour Party to evict Prime Minister John Howard and his Liberals in Australia recently, suggests several significant new trends are developing in major industrialized democracies.

First, immigration, and related law and order issues, are now taking center stage around the world following the mega-terrorist horrors of September 11.

Second, the Danish result, like the Australian one, suggests that the tidal wave of center-left governments that combined conservative free-market economics with radical and multicultural social ones over the past decade since the collapse of communism has now spent itself and is in full retreat. The last victory for those values came in British Prime Minister Tony Blair's second election landslide on June 7, a full three months before the terrorist horrors in New York.

Third, "big tent" conservatism triumphed in Denmark, just as it had in Australia, by combining traditional middleclass conservative support with working class voters concerned over law and order, abuse of the welfare system and the possible threat of unlimited immigration.

In Denmark, the right remained apparently fragmented in terms of parties, but political dynamics still favored it. The Liberals pulled off the same trick as Mr. Blair's "New" Labour did in Britain half a year before by wooing from the moderate middle and their traditional power base simultaneously.

Unlike in Australia, the tough, radical right still did well, but its success did not eat into the moderate right's support. On the contrary, the Liberals were able to appear moderate and above the fray while still in the end being able to count on the support of the Danish People's Party from outside their government to implement the tougher measures the electorate wanted.

Fourth, the victory of the Liberals and the rise of the Danish People's Party acted as a further counterbalance to the bureaucratic, socialist-leaning centralizers and micro-managers of the European Commission in Brussels. The Liberals are far more likely to reject and critique such creeping measures.

Denmark is small and its election produced a shift in power, not a dramatic landslide. But the implications and ripples from its election this week are likely to last long and spread far.

Martin Sieff is managing editor, international affairs for United Press International.

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