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Denmark's election a litmus test for Europe's far-right politics

Denmark's election Thursday is the first national poll in northern Europe to gauge appeal for radical politics since the Norway killings carried out by far-right extremist Anders Behring Breivik.

By Staff writer / September 14, 2011

Leader of the Danish Social Democrats, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, right, gestures while the leader of Danish People’s Party, Pia Kjaersgaard, listens during a TV broadcast debate in Copenhagen Tuesday Sept. 13.

Jacob Ehrbahn/POLFOTO/AP

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Copenhagen, Denmark

After a media firestorm over Danish Muslim candidates accused of “infiltrating” politics here, Prime Minister Rasmussen declared a culture war with immigrants and Islam. Not law or economics but a war of values is “decisive” for Denmark’s future, he said.

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That wasn’t current Premier Lars Løkke Rasmussen talking about tomorrow's Danish national elections. It was declared by Anders Fogh Rasmussen, now NATO secretary-general, in 2002. It signaled the start of a long accommodation by mainstream Scandinavian politics with a radical right that wants to halt the impact of Muslims on European culture.

Whether that message will still sell is unclear. The Danish economy is less well off. Thursday's election also follows the murderous rampage in Norway of Anders Behring Breivik, whose views on immigration and Islam are similar to those of the radical Danish People's Party (DPP) that has been seen as the power behind the Danish throne for a decade.

Polls show Denmark is about to elect its first female prime minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, who leads a center-left coalition.

Extreme goes mainstream

A long shift to right-wing populist extremes in a region known for its liberality and well-ordered prosperity has taken place below the radar. But the July 22 killings by Mr. Breivik brought a largely unwanted focus to it. Breivik shot and killed 69 people at a youth camp run by Norway’s ruling center-left party – the children of an elite class that he saw as aiding and abetting Muslims bent on destroying “Christian Europe.”

Norwegian voters this week sharply rejected the radical right Progress Party with which Breivik was once associated. In local elections, the radical party slipped from 18 to 11 percent of the vote, and from the No. 2 to the No. 3 party in Oslo. Norwegian voters boosted the ruling Labor party – whose children Breivik targeted.

The radical right hardly defines Europe’s northern tier. And the shock out of Norway may stunt extremism. Still, the growth of the Freedom Party in the Netherlands, the new True Finns in Finland, the DPP in Denmark, the Sweden Democrats, and the Progress Party in Norway have shaped politics here in ways unimaginable a decade ago. Views formerly seen as extreme have been brought into the mainstream.

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