Immigration/Social Policy

The right-wing Danish People's Party shatters Denmark's political establishment

June 19, 2015 - by Trygve Ugland, Bishop's University, and Oliver Schmidtke, University of Victoria

The elections in Denmark ended with what many observers had feared: the right-wing, anti-immigrant Danish People's Party has become the second-largest party in parliament (with 21.1 % of the overall vote). With over one fifth of the votes, the Danish People's Party will play a critical role in determining the next government in Denmark. At the moment, it is uncertain whether the right-wing party will support the former opposition leader Lars Rasmussen and his liberals to form a new government. All that is clear is that Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt has stepped down and put an end to the one term social-democratic rule in Denmark.


The reasons for the spectacular success of the Danish People's Party are driven by factors found both in the domestic arena and the broader political landscape in Europe. In the past electoral campaign, the centre-left and the centre-right have failed to excite the electorate. Both centrist parties engaged in campaigns directed at discrediting the leader of the opposing party rather than presenting citizens with clear ideas for directing the country's future. The populist Danish People's Party could benefit from a declining trust in the country's established parties (a phenomenon in no way restricted to Denmark). Then there is the broader European context that seems to have provided a fertile ground for the rise of several right-wing, anti-establishment parties throughout the continent. A strong anti-EU rhetoric has gained considerable traction in electoral politics during times of uncertainty in the European Union. Similarly, an aggressive anti-immigrant stand has become a significant mobilizing tool of parties on the extreme right. The result is an environment increasingly hostile to immigrants and a growing difficulty to form stable governments in Europe's liberal democracies. Denmark is just the last country experiencing this new political reality in Europe.

Trygve Ugland is  professor in the Department of Political Studies at Bishop's University. His research interests focus on the fields of Comparative Politics and Comparative Public Policy, with a particular interest in European and Scandinavian Politics.  

Oliver Schmidtke is director of the Centre for Global Studies at the University of Victoria. His research interest relate to migration, right-wing populism and European integration. 

Both expert members of the immigration and social policy research group of the Canada Europe Transatlantic Dialogue Strategic Knowledge Cluster.