Anders Vistisen is a 35-year-old member of the European Parliament for the Danish People’s Party, which is part of the Parliament’s Identity and Democracy (ID) group. He was first elected in 2014 at just twenty-six years old, making him the youngest MEP at the time. On the sidelines of CPAC Hungary, Vistisen gave his take on the future of the European Right, whether it can be united, and his thoughts on the future of the EU. He also provided an in-depth overview of Danish politics and explained how his party plans to re-establish its once strong support base.
A considerable portion of our readership is in North America. For them, and others who may not be as familiar with Danish politics, can you provide an overview of the present political landscape of Denmark?
Danish politics has entered quite an unstable phase. Under normal circumstances, foreigners already tend to find Danish politics atypical given the many parties it has due to the very low threshold for getting into Parliament, which amounts to a mere 2% nationally. Consequently, we are used to a system whereby six or seven parties are represented in parliament at any given time.
Now, however, I believe we have 12 or 13 parties in the Folketing, Denmark’s unicameral national legislature, many of which come from opposite ends of the left-right spectrum, a clear indication of the country’s deeply polarized political landscape.
To further add to the already peculiar political composition of the parliament, we have parties that are less than a year old as well as parties that date back 100 to 150 years. Therefore, Denmark’s unique political situation, in which the ruling coalition’s partners are center-right and center-left parties, what the Germans refer to as the ‘Grand Coalition,’ has only taken place two times in the country’s history: during the First World War and the Second World War.
So it is a government with a social democratic prime minister and two liberal parties. One is the old rival to the social democrats, called Venstre, which has its origin as a classical liberal party. In Denmark, unlike the United States, liberals and conservatives form together the ‘right-wing’ generally speaking. So, Venstre, or the Liberal Party, is considered a right-of-center party, and it has its origin in rural areas and with farmers. And then a break-away party from this very party that was established by its former leader and its former prime minister, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, who went on to form the Moderates, which he modeled on its Swedish center-right counterpart. Together, the Social Democrats, Venstre, and the Moderates make up the ruling coalition.
It was a majority government when it was formed. So formally they still have a majority of parliament seats, but their voter support is down below 40%. It has not been a very happy marriage in the voters’ eyes. But it has created a situation that we’re not used to in Danish politics, where you normally have a group of parties identifying as left-of-center which normally support a social democrat for the prime minister position.
Conversely, there is a group of parties identifying as center-right, which tend to support a liberal or conservative prime minister candidate. Thus, what you have now in Danish politics is three divisions of the government bloc, whose popularity has decreased substantially, then you have a leftist opposition and the right opposition.
After witnessing support for your party, the Danish People’s Party (DF), peak in the 2015 general election when it garnered 21% of the vote and became the second-largest party, DF has since seen a steady decline in support. Is there anything, in particular, you can point your finger at and say ‘that is why we lost support’?
There are a multitude of reasons that have contributed to the electoral downturn of the Danish People’s Party. However, the first, and without a shadow of a doubt the most decisive factor, was that the left-wing Social Democrats adopted a strict position against mass migration, which up until that point had been an issue only discussed by our party, and it was our party’s flagship issue.
Furthermore, there was a lot of internal party turmoil following our very good election result. Our party leader at the time had wanted to take the party in a mainstream direction in order to ‘consolidate’ the political base. Our election result did not accurately reflect the strength of our core support base, however, since a good portion of our votes came from those who cast their ballots for us not because they agreed with our party’s program but because they were so unhappy with the other major parties—essentially protest votes.
Next, our party’s leadership, in an effort to hold on to what it perceived to be the newly acquired voters from the mainstream parties, shifted our political program to the left, thus leaving our right flank completely exposed. The move, for obvious reasons, was widely regarded as a blatant betrayal of the party’s base, and perhaps predictably resulted in a small but steady and pronounced exodus from the party.
Yet another major strategic error that made voters lose faith came after we garnered 21% of the votes in the 2015 parliamentary election. Our voters, rightfully so, expected us to enter government, but for whatever reason our leadership refrained from even trying to form a coalition. They wanted to have this three-year rule where our party would function outside of the government, to the great disappointment of many in the party, but also—and more importantly—to those who had supported us.
Of course, many of us objected to this, saying that if you are the largest party in the block and you have won the election, then you should take hold of the power, or at the very least join as a coalition partner. We may not have been able to get the prime minister’s position, but we could have led key ministries like the interior, justice, migration, and integration, and so on. This was a monumental failure on our part.
Our party leadership’s handling of the migration crisis of 2015 was, to put it politely, subpar, as we once again let our base down through our failure to implement border measures on the Danish-German border. Had we threatened to withdraw our support from the governing coalition over its refusal to implement these simple cross-border measures amid the massive influx of foreigners, the measures would’ve been implemented, and fewer illegal immigrants would have come to Denmark. This was yet another undeniable mistake and one which we were obliged to apologize to our voters over.
Lastly, the final major issue that ultimately contributed to the electoral implosion of DF was the fact that, during the 2015 migrant crisis, we also failed to threaten the ruling coalition with a motion of no confidence if theywent ahead and signed the Marrakesh Agreement—which they ended up signing.
Can you, for our readers, explain what the Marrakesh Agreement was?
The Marrakesh Agreement was formally known as the “UN Global Compact for Migration,” a non-binding text that, without going into too much detail, puts forward a series of measures to encourage mass migration and dissuade and prevent member states from fighting against it. It got a lot of political heat in Europe because a number of European countries refused to sign, among them Hungary, and the Belgian coalition government actually fell apart over the issue of the Marrakesh agreement. So it was quite controversial at the time.
The European parliamentary elections are fast approaching and are set to take place in June of 2024. What do you see as the single most important issue in next year’s election?
The primary topics of conversation will pertain to migration given that Europe, yet again, is witnessing record numbers of illegal migrants flow into the bloc—and still, it does not have any real solution to solve the problem.
Of course, if the energy crisis remains an unsolved problem—and if the inflation crisis, precipitated first by the pandemic and compounded by the energy crunch, isn’t resolved—it is going to be a major issue. That said, it is very difficult to say what will happen. In Denmark, for example, you are seeing now that inflation is dropping quite significantly. In the U.S. it seems also like the tightening up of the Federal Reserve has helped a lot.
The fundamental problem with the euro zone is that there are countries basically subscribing to the German economy together with countries that do not run their own economies anything like Germany. This is a massive problem that will not solve itself. You can call it a financial crisis, you can call it an inflation crisis, you can call it a COVID crisis, or a supply chain crisis. But fundamentally speaking, what we are going to see is that Southern Europe will never catch up with Northern Europe. I think that Eastern Europe will catch up with Northern Europe far before the Italians and the Greeks or the Spanish will because they are more structured around the economy.
You know, when I came here, to Hungary, in the 1990s and saw a country that had been mistreated first by the Nazis and then the communists and you see where they are today, the leap forward has been so significant that I don’t think that in ten, fifteen, twenty years there will be a significant difference in living standard here and in Western Europe in general, I think.
I think the same can be said for Poland, especially. Some experts are forecasting that in the years ahead, perhaps a decade or so, Poland could very well supplant Germany as the economic powerhouse of Europe. Do you think this is an accurate assessment?
Poland will follow a similar trajectory as other Central and Eastern European countries. Take the Baltic states: If you visit Tallinn in Estonia today you could just as well be in any other Scandinavian city, I would say, when you look at the development of housing and so on. So, I think the real economic divide in Europe, increasingly, is not between East and West but between the North and the South.
To me, the cultural divide in Europe is grounded in religion. It is based on whether individuals and society subscribe to a Protestant conception of society, or an Orthodox or Catholic one. That’s not to say anything bad about it either, but you would say a little bit the same about the U.S.—even though you have a multicultural society, the country is more or less under a Protestant British model and then it has evolved from there. And that is the real difference in Europe.
I’m not suggesting the economic culture or models of Southern Europe are wrong. What I am saying, however, is that it’s not appropriate to force two economies that are fundamentally and radically different from one another to use a single currency unless massive wealth redistribution schemes are also enacted, and no one in Europe believes that the Germans are willing to do this.
So do you see this reaching a breaking point?
At some point, I think, yes.
I would say that the European elite knows that they will not be able to create a European federal state unless it is by deceiving the European people. To be honest, if you look into American history, you had to have a civil war to create what is a more federalist vision of the United States. Up to that point, you could argue that it was quite diversified. And I don’t know if we have to go through that experience, but I define what the European Commission is doing quite cleverly, as an ‘anchor policy’: You throw out an anchor, because if you have the anchor fastened into the ground, the ship has to come with it.
So, for instance, you create a euro, you are saying it has nothing to do with common European economic policy, it has nothing to do with fiscal policy, it has nothing to do with common bonds. It is just to make it easier for goods, and when you are a tourist, you don’t have to exchange ten times over. But then you find out when you have a common currency and you have different rates of inflation, you have to have inflation, you have to have re-distribution, you have to have common bonds. They knew that when they introduced it, but they just started with something seemingly innocent, convenient. Seemingly. And it is the same with many of the policies.
For instance, if you abolish your national borders—we didn’t have passport control for Schengen, you know, it was quite relaxed. But if you don’t have any internal borders, you have to have common migration policies. If you don’t have any internal borders to control your national sovereignty, then suddenly southern Italy— the Mediterranean—becomes Denmark’s front line. Suddenly you have to have common migration policies—and that’s why I call them anchoring issues.
That’s an excellent way to put it.
And sometimes you can delay it for ten years, sometimes you can delay it for twenty years, but then a crisis comes. So that is the danger of this federalist vision of Europe. They have all the time in the world, and you have to win every battle. You have to win every day to keep it from happening. Now we’re seeing into the furnace, we’re seeing innocent battle groups being initiated. But we are not creating a battle group of 5,000 people if there is no need to use it politically.
If you have a military capacity at some point it is going to be used. And this is a bit of the same, but you have to win the argument every day, and they just have to win it once, and then it is a one-way track. This train can only go forward. It can go forward at different paces, at various speeds, but it is always going forward no matter what. It is a one-way track. And that, I think, was what the British realized when they did their referendum. Even threatening to leave didn’t give them an inch of ground to negotiate real freedom from what they had already been confined into.
That is depressing.
Yeah, that is the reality of European politics.
Do you have any hope for the European Right? Unifying like we are here at CPAC, we have a lot of right-wing or right-wing populist parties coming here. Do you have any hope?
We have always advocated that from a Danish perspective. Back in the day when we started with the FPÖ, first they did not want to meet with us and we did not want to meet with them. Ultimately, the only ones who won were the people in Austria and Denmark who wanted to shame us.
So that is what has been happening all over the European Right: then you couldn’t be seen with Le Pen, then you couldn’t be seen with Geert Wilders, then you couldn’t be seen with Nigel Farage…. We have let the mainstream media and national parties divide us.
Would I have made the media law of Hungary? Probably not. It is a different culture, it is a different country, and so on. But I don’t really have the right to interfere. If the people of Hungary think that is a good way forward, I don’t really see a big problem for me working together with Fidesz.
Do I agree with Marine Le Pen’s policy on economics? No, I think it is reckless. But I think all French politicians are reckless regarding issues of the economy. So it doesn’t really matter, because if I have to find one singular party in France that shares my concern for migration, for Islamic fundamentalism, and so on, it would be Marine’s party. So it doesn’t make sense for me to make this artificial divide.
And they are doing it now with Russia as well. They say, oh, you are sitting together with these awful pro-Russian people. Okay, but who abolished nuclear power and made greater energy dependency on Russia? It was the mainstream German politicians. It was not the AfD. It was not Marine Le Pen.
Does the Danish People’s Party have a sort of Protestant identity?
The Danish Church is a state church, like the Church of England. So the king, currently the queen, of Denmark is the head of the church, just like back in old times. We say that this bond between state and church should continue. We are also saying that Danish culture is based on Christianity in the sense that Christianity is a very big part of what has formed the Danish national identity and cannot just be considered as a coincidence.
I would say we are more coherent in our ideological thinking but that is quite recent as well. So a lot of what we do now is rebuilding our party from beneath—a little bit like Vlaams Belang had to do in the Flemish regions and that Dave Perry had done, and also a little bit like Marine Le Pen did when she gave up on the Front National due to the ghost of the past and decided to create Rassemblement National.
So we are saying, we need to be patient, we need to be consistent, we need to be ideologically well-founded in what we do and what we say, and then we need to be patient. Normally we would say politics is a marathon, not a sprint, so we don’t want to be part of these quick waves. We would like to build up a more steady base that is more ideologically convinced that we represent them, rather than just try to get the disenfranchised voters who are now unhappy with the current government.
And it is also, for us, a transformation from where we began, to say we are not a protest party—we are a party with a current ideology, we are not just against the government. We say, fundamentally we believe that the state is an important instrument of government, and we don’t believe that the Danish state is corrupt or immoral. Of course, I can find individual mistakes made during a crisis situation; I think we can do that in hindsight in all crisis situations.