In Copenhagen, an Election Turns Denmark to the Left

After Norway's Massacre, Could Europe be Changing its Tone on Immigration?

Courtesy Reuters

Although Tina Jensen and Nadine Hammad kept interrupting each other, they agreed on one thing: They wanted a new government. The two women were talking last Thursday outside the Blagard School in Copenhagen, where they had both come to vote in Denmark's national election. From where they stood, the public school that both their children attend hardly appeared different from any other Danish elementary school: red walls, a Danish flag flapping in the wind. But the Blagard School stands apart, as it claims one of the highest percentages of students with immigrant backgrounds -- around 70 percent -- in all of Copenhagen.

Both Jensen, a 52-year-old teacher, and Hammad, a 35-year-old university student wearing a traditional headscarf (she is part of Denmark's four percent Muslim minority), said they were voting for the Red-Green Alliance, a coalition on the far left of Danish politics. Theirs would also be a protest vote against Pia Kjaersgaard's Danish People's Party (DPP), the anti-immigrant faction of Copenhagen politics that has long been part of Denmark's center-right ruling coalition. "We want our vote to make a real difference on immigration," Hammad said. Jensen concurred. And as the votes were counted later that night, the women's wishes were granted.

Like Jensen and Hammad, Denmark was ready for a political change. On Thursday, voter turnout topped 88 percent, a historic high. For the first time since its founding in 1995 as a right-wing, populist, anti-immigration party, the DPP lost ground. Meanwhile, the leftist politicians gained votes, ushering in Denmark's first female prime minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, a Social Democrat who will preside over the country's first center-left government in a decade.

Although Denmark is a staunchly liberal state -- it offers free universal health care, free university education, and, in 1989, became the first country in the world to legalize civil union between same-sex couples -- Copenhagen has long pushed the most stringent immigration policy of the 27 member states of the European Union. For example, since 2001, the government has tightened at least 20 immigration and

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