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Transatlantic Blog

The European left and immigration

Danish elections are usually not high on the list of must-watch political contests but the forthcoming election on June 5 is one that I think worth watching. As this Guardian article illustrates, it is distinguished by the fact that the Danish Social Democrats—the main center-left party in Denmark—have revisited and substantially changed their approach to immigration.

Under the leadership of Mette Frederiksen, the Danish Social Democrats have broken with the reigning consensus on the European left, essentially adopting many of the restrictive migration policies that have been implemented by Denmark’s center-right government. There’s no question that this is a reaction to the loss of blue-collar, working-class Danes to center-right parties who have hitherto been as perceived as willing to address the social and economic upheaval often associated with mass migration in ways that European center-left parties have refused to contemplate.

As the Guardian article states:

A victory for Frederiksen would be a boon for Europe’s social democrats as they gaze across the continent at a dispiriting political landscape. But it would not be without controversy, for under Frederiksen the party has been ruthlessly reshaped: dragged to the left economically—and sharply to the right on immigration.

Frederiksen has been very up-front about what she views as the European left’s willingness to abandon the concerns of their traditional working-class constituencies in favor of the type of agendas favored by middle-class social liberals. One of the most vivid examples of this was Brexit. Much of the British Labour Party’s traditional blue-collar constituency parted ways with Labour’s more upwardly-mobile supporters on this question. There’s little doubt that the perception that Britain had lost control of its borders, and that the cross-party political class simply didn’t care, played a role in shaping those electoral dynamics.

Whatever one thinks of immigration, the point is that the political shifts which we are seeing on the right in Europe and America have echoes on the left. But these resonances only seem to receive greater attention when the degree to which center-left parties are apparently out-of-touch with what some of their more long-standing support base think about various questions becomes evident in election-results. A good example of this was the recent Australian election.

The art of politics, it seems, on both the right and the left in Europe and the West more generally is moving rapidly in the direction of which parties are best able to “manage” the increasingly different expectations of those inclined to vote for them. And that is not a recipe for political stability or predictability.

(Photo credit: News Oresund. This photo has been cropped. CC BY 2.0.)


Dr. Samuel Gregg is director of research at the Acton Institute. He has written and spoken extensively on questions of political economy, economic history, ethics in finance, and natural law theory. He has an MA in political philosophy from the University of Melbourne, and a Doctor of Philosophy degree in moral philosophy and political economy from the University of Oxford.