Danish Municipal Elections – A Big Win for the Red-Green Alliance

On 16 November 2021, municipal elections were held in Denmark, which turned out to be a big win for Enhedslisten/Red-Green Alliance (RGA), the most left party in the Danish parliament and a member Party of the European Left.

67.2% of the Danish electorate voted in the elections, both local and regional elections, a lower participation than 2017.

As such, the elections ‘only’ marked a 1.3% electoral upturn nationally for the RGA compared to the last municipal elections. Its end result was 7.32%, compared to 5.95% in 2017. 

The outstanding victories for the Red-Green Alliance were the big wins in the city of Copenhagen and in the small island of Bornholm, in the middle of the Baltic Sea. In both places RGA became the biggest party with the support of about a fourth of the local electorates.

However, as the right-wing/bourgeois parties in both municipalities were opposed to an RGA (Lord) Mayor, the Lord Mayor of Copenhagen has remained Social Democratic. But the Red-Green Alliance has gained two out of seven major posts in Copenhagen, one covering mainly the area of the environment/roads/public transport, etc., the other social issues. In Bornholm the Red-Green Alliance’s top candidate, Morten Riis, has become the Deputy Mayor.

Both wins had been considered likely, but not certain. The Social Democrats, who had been the biggest party in Copenhagen’s municipal council for years, fell by more than 10 percentage points compared to the previous election. Another explanation is that the fairly recent left party Alternativet, which did very well in 2017, has gone through a meltdown as a party, and were nearly wiped out in these elections – down from over 10% in Copenhagen to 2.9%. However, they did gain two seats in Copenhagen. But many of the party’s voters clearly went over to the RGA this time.

This is a big defeat for the Social Democrats. Not only in Copenhagen, where the defeat was historic as the Social Democrats have been the biggest party there for over a hundred years. But they also lost over 10 percentage points of their voters in 3 other large Danish towns. The other big losers of the elections were the extreme-right Danish People’s Party (DPP). Both because they were squeezed out by the good showing of a relatively new extreme-right party, the New Bourgeois Party, and because DPP voters have for some time now been attracted to the Social Democrats or other parties.

The failure of the Social Democrats in Copenhagen is due especially to certain of their policies and positions, which have been widely unpopular. One involves the Danish nurses’ strike for higher and equal wages, which the Social Democrats did not support, another is their ambitious building plans in Copenhagen, where among other things they hope to construct a new big island, Lynetteholmen, a large-scale development plan, which creates a big climate and environmental problem. This should be seen also against the background of a general urban development plan which has been favouring the rich for years. 

These issues are not decided by the municipalities, but by the Parliament, which intervened to stop the – still ongoing – nurses’ strike. The Social Democrats are instrumental in this move, as well as in the case of the Lynetteholm project. But the Lynetteholm project was debated with major disagreements in Copenhagen’s Municipal Council, and just before and during the election campaign Lynetteholmen became a major issue opposed by a rapidly growing number of Copenhagen residents. 

It should be added that Danish municipalities in general have more power than their counterparts in other European countries. This means that there is usually major conflict after municipal elections, which show no sign of ending.

The debate over city development and Lynetteholmen will surely continue after the elections, and with their electoral gains in Copenhagen, the Red-Green Alliance will be stronger to continue the struggle against Lynetteholmen but also for better social conditions, more affordable housing, etc., which were other central issues during the election campaign.