Denmark says ‘Nej’ to more EU

Danishh headline

The front page of Danish tabloid, Ekstra Bladet

The Danes have done it before and now they’ve done it again. Just when Brussels was counting on Denmark to vote ‘yes’ in an EU referendum, the country has said ‘no’. Or as one tabloid headline put it rather delicately this morning: “Løkke fik f***-fingeren”, which loosely translates as Denmark gave their prime minister the finger.

So what was at stake here? Well a cross-party group of politicians, lead by Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen, was hoping to persuade Danes to opt-in to EU Justice and Home Affairs rules. These included becoming an official member of the European police service, Europol, the law enforcement body that tackles crime and terrorism. (As you can read here in my previous blog, the UK signed up to some of these rules last December.)

DF

Leader of the Danish People’s Party (DF) Kristian Thulesen Dahl

But the no campaign, led by the Eurosceptic Danish People’s Party (DF), turned the referendum into one about trust. Who do you really believe here – the parties wanting to give away more powers to Brussels, or those of us who want to keep our sovereignty in Denmark? To Brits, it sounds pretty familiar doesn’t it? Add to the mix, the refugee crisis plus mass confusion about what Danes were really being asked to vote about, and you get this result – 53.1% ‘Nej’ and 46.9% ‘Ja’.

So what happens now? Well to be honest, no-one seems quite sure. Fast forward a couple of years and if David Cameron loses the EU referendum in the UK he’ll surely resign. But that doesn’t seem to be the precedent here in Denmark. Lars Løkke Rasmussen may only preside over a right-of-centre minority government, but he had support on both the left and right.

And what about Denmark’s membership of Europol? The Danish People’s Party had always argued that the country could negotiate a separate agreement to stay in, but no-one is sure whether that will be possible. Prime Minister, Rasmussen, is due to meet EU ministers next week to try to strike a deal. So it looks like more talking and compromise lies ahead.

Ahead of the Brexit referendum, David Cameron and co must be feeling a little hotter under the collar today. Already the British Eurosceptic UKIP leader, Nigel Farage, has told Danish media “hopefully our British counterparts will suffer the same fate”.  Afterall if the Danes can do it, what’s to stop the Brits from being next?

Danish Election: Denmark turns right

huff pic ras

My election piece for The Huffington Post

I wrote this piece this morning for The Huffington Post and you can see it on their website here. Otherwise, it’s in full below, with some extra comments from Helle Thorning-Schmidt’s husband, Stephen Kinnock.

______________________

In the early hours of this morning, Helle Thorning-Schmidt resigned as Danish Prime Minister and leader of the Social Democrats. Yet it was her party that won more votes than any other in yesterday’s election. The problem was that her coalition partners didn’t perform nearly as well, leaving the centre-left with fewer seats than the right.

Helle TV

Helle Thorning-Schmidt on Danish TV as Danes were voting

It’s expected that Lars Løkke Rasmussen, who’s already been PM once, will become Denmark’s next leader. Over the last few months he’s had to battle criticisms over his expenses. His party, The Liberals (Venstre) had its worst election night in twenty-five years, losing around a quarter of its votes. It’s now only the third largest party in the Danish parliament. But with the support of those parties on the right, Rasmussen can form a government.

rasmussen

Anti-racism posters cover the face of Lars Løkke Rasmussen

The majority of that support needs to come from the anti-immigration Danish People’s Party (DPP). It did better than anyone predicted, winning more than 21% of the vote. It’s now the second largest group in Danish politics. But it’s not going to make life easy.

I’ve just spoken to the party’s leading MEP, Morten Messerschmidt, a populist figure who won a fifth of all votes in the European elections in Denmark last year. He told me that last night was a “surprising and great result”. But he stressed that “it’s not our plan” to enter into a formal coalition with The Liberals, preferring instead to support from the side-lines. Of course anything could happen in the on-going negotiations. But at the moment it looks like the DPP will only lend its backing to Rasmussen when it feels like it. And that could make life pretty difficult for the new prime minister.

huff pic 2

My Huffington Post piece from earlier this week

The policies the party will of course support will centre around cuts to immigration – a popular issue in Danish politics. Rasmussen has already promised to hold emergency talks to discuss the rise in asylum seekers. The Danish People’s Party wants to go much further, including a return to border controls – even between Denmark’s neighbours Germany and Sweden. “We want to be more like the UK over our borders,” Messerschmidt tells me.

And this love affair with the UK’s right is only set to continue. All the parties in the Danish blue bloc have already pledged to support David Cameron over EU negotiations and in particular cuts to ‘benefit tourism’.

Screen Shot 2015-06-19 at 20.37.06

The website of the Danish People’s Party

That doesn’t mean it will be easy for Rasmussen to keep the right bloc in order. While the Danish People’s Party is fairly critical of the EU, his own Liberal Party is supportive. The Liberal Alliance, another likely member of the new coalition, wants a smaller state while the DPP campaigned for more public spending. Just like in the Danish TV series ‘Borgen’, it will be all about deals, concessions and compromises.

The Danes themselves take their politics and democracy extremely seriously. It’s estimated that almost 86% of people who could vote in this election, did.

As for the out-going Prime Minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, there will be no shortage of job offers for her.  Meanwhile her husband, the British Labour MP, Stephen Kinnock sent me these comments this evening:

For over ten years Helle has led her party and governed her country with a huge amount of courage, compassion and competence. She fought an inspiring election campaign, and lost on the night by a whisker. Thanks to Helle’s success, whoever takes over as party leader will truly be able to hit the ground running, and I have no doubt that the social democrats will be returned to government at the next election. I am very proud of everything that Helle has achieved, and we are now greatly looking forward to some family time over the summer.

I’m British: So why is it so damned hard to vote in UK elections?

registertovote

Ever since I turned 18, I have always voted in British elections.  This year, though, it’s proving much harder to cast my vote.

As I am currently living in Denmark I am classed as an Overseas Elector, along with millions of other British expats around the world. Back in January I decided to heed the advice from the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office and apply online to register. It was pretty straight forward.

vote

Letter from my local council in London

A few weeks later I received a letter from my borough council in London telling me that I had been successful. The electoral services department included a postal vote application – which is by far the easiest way in which to exercise my right. However, it came with this advice:

“Although ballot papers can be sent abroad by post, they are only posted out about a week to ten days before an election. You are strongly advised to appoint a proxy.”

A proxy? Someone I trust enough to put the ‘X’ next to the name/party to whom I’m giving my vote? Am I the only British citizen who finds this deeply uncomfortable? Where’s the ‘secret ballot’ in all this? Given the numerous investigations into postal election fraud in the UK, why is it considered ‘democratic’ to ask someone else to vote on my behalf?

I was hoping my parents would help me. But it turns out they’re out of the country on election day. So now I have to think of someone else who will exercise MY right on Thursday 7th May.

When I do convince someone to help, they then have the whole issue of how to cast MY vote. Either they do it in person in my South London constituency, or they can receive my ballot papers by post. If they choose the latter, there’s an application form he/she will have to fill in – one that I have to send them first, from Denmark.

The whole system seems crazy. With all this technology at our finger tips, why is it so damned hard to vote? Surely it’s time the Electoral Commission and the British political system in general moved into the 21st century.