COPENHAGEN, Denmark (CN) — When Morten Messerschmidt, the chairman of the Danish People's Party, landed at Copenhagen airport after a trip to Paris and unlocked his phone from airplane mode, he probably had to check the news more than once to believe it.
In a span of two hours, his party suddenly lost around a third of its influence in Parliament, when four of his fellow party members decided to quit the Danish People’s Party this past Monday.
Even so, a calm and collected Messerschmidt faced the press in Copenhagen Airport.
“It is a shame that four of my colleagues decided to do this. I will reflect upon this,” he said. “I will also encourage them to handover their position for our substitutes, who are still members of the Danish People’s Party."
But the exited party members have declined Messerschmidt's suggestion and have decided to continue working in Parliament within their own group.
And to make matters worse for Messerschmidt, another member of Parliament left the party the following Tuesday. A sixth member left the party this past Saturday, leaving the Danish People’s Party with a total of 10 mandates out of 179 seats in the Danish Parliament — a big contrast to the 37 seats that in 2015 made them the second largest party in Parliament prior to the most recent national election in 2019.
The Danish People’s Party was established in 1995, originally created as a protest party advocating for less immigration and strict integration. The party continued gaining members and seats in Parliament, peaking there in 2015. From that term they voted for increased border control and supported a law making it possible to bar immigrants from Danish citizenship if they do not shake hands with a representative from the municipality, among other laws that makes it difficult to obtain a Danish passport.
Mostly known for its right-wing immigration and integration policies, the party tried to combine this with their center-positioned economic policies.
“The Danish People’s Party wants to maintain higher taxes for the highest incomes in Denmark,” Flemming Juul Christiansen, associate professor at Roskilde University’s School of Governance, told Courthouse News. “They like the public sector and aims to strengthen health and welfare for the elderly."
He added: “Their welfare politics are based on ‘deservingness,’ that is prioritizing Danes who have obtained these rights based on a lifetime paying taxes. It is a system where the Danish People’s Party wants to see money spend on hard working Danes rather than foreigners who have not contributed as much — according to them."
The appeal to the common Dane built the party’s success over the years. But the unprecedented success in 2015 and the party’s image afterward may have disappointed some voters, Christiansen said — the party slowly transitioned from a protest to mainstream.
Messerschmidt, 41, won the internal vote for new chairman of the Danish People’s Party in late January after former chairman Kristian Thulesen Dahl withdrew his leadership due to a catastrophic municipality election in 2021, where the party shrank from 223 mandates to 91 nationally.
And a legal case about possible fraud concerning EU funds has tainted Messerschmidt’s backing in the party. A city court judge found him guilty of misusing EU funds intended for facilitating EU debates in a weekend assembly arranged for the Danish People’s Party.
But judge Søren Holm Seerup was deemed unfit after an investigation launched by Danish People’s Party revealed he had “liked” social media posts criticizing the party. Seerup had also openly criticized Messerschmidt and the Danish People’s Party on Facebook ahead of Messerschmidt's trial.
Despite being elected chairman by the majority of all party members, which includes people not involved in professional politics, the potential of having a convicted leader proved too much for the party’s Parliament members who decided to leave the Danish People’s Party last week. But Messerschmidt’s case may be just the tip of the iceberg.