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Last Updated: Saturday, 19 February, 2005, 11:42 GMT
Denmark's immigration issue
Pia Kjaersgaard of the far-right People's Party casts her vote
Pia Kjaersgaard heads the Danish People's Party (DPP)

The Danish election on 8 February has turned the spotlight on the country's immigration policy.

The most enthusiastic advocate of placing restrictions on immigration, the far-right Danish People's Party (DPP), increased its support from 12% to 13.3% of the vote, moving from 22 to 24 seats in the country's 179-member parliament, the Folketing.

The party that most vocally criticised the last government's immigration restrictions, the Radical Liberals, more than doubled its support from 4% to 9.2% of the vote and has 17 seats in the new parliament, as opposed to eight in the outgoing one.

These two parties are widely seen as the election's big winners.

The Danish People's Party is a relative newcomer in Danish politics. Formed in 1996, it won 7.4% of the total vote in the March 1998 elections and took 13 seats. The 1998 elections were won by the Social Democrats and Radical Liberals, who formed a coalition government.

The Danish People's Party first became a significant player after the Conservatives and Liberals triumphed in November 2001 and formed a coalition government reliant on DPP support for a parliamentary majority.

The Liberal-Conservative government introduced what it described as Europe's strictest immigration laws in May 2002.

The right to asylum on humanitarian grounds, which had previously seen up to 60% of applications approved, was scrapped, the acceptable grounds for being granted asylum were cut to the bare minimum required under the Geneva Convention for Refugees, and social benefits for refugees were cut by 30%-40% for their first seven years in the country.

If they [Swedes] want to turn Stockholm, Gothenburg or Malmoe into a Scandinavian Beirut, with clan wars, honour killings and gang rapes, let them do it. We can always put a barrier on the Oeresund Bridge
Pia Kjaersgaard

New provisions stipulated that Danish citizens could not bring a foreign spouse into the country unless both partners were aged 24 or over, passed a solvency test showing the Dane had not claimed social security for 12 months and had to lodge a bond of 53,000 kroner ($9,300).

Most importantly for Danish citizens who are themselves immigrants or second-generation immigrants, the Danish citizen has to be judged to have stronger links with Denmark than any other country.

The new laws had an almost immediate effect. Some 13,000 family reunification permits were granted in 2001, but this had fallen to fewer than 5,000 in 2003.

One effect of the new laws is that Copenhagen-based Danes with foreign spouses have been moving to the southern Swedish citizen of Malmoe at a rate of about 60 couples a month, continuing to work in the Danish capital by commuting across the Oeresund Bridge, which has since been nicknamed "the love bridge".

Sweden's Social-Democrat government has castigated the Danish government, accusing it of undermining Scandinavian solidarity, and the Danish laws have also been attacked by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Council of Europe's human rights commissioner.

The leader of the Danish People's Party, Pia Kjaersgaard, responded to Swedish criticism by saying: "If they want to turn Stockholm, Gothenburg or Malmoe into a Scandinavian Beirut, with clan wars, honour killings and gang rapes, let them do it. We can always put a barrier on the Oeresund Bridge."

Denmark's share of asylum applications in the three Scandinavian countries fell from 31% in 2000 to 9% in 2003, while Sweden's rose from 41% to 60% and Norway's from 28% to 31%.

Immigrants and the descendants of immigrants account for about eight per cent of Denmark's population.

BBC Monitoring selects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaus abroad.

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