A new party is overtaking Denmark’s far-right party on the further right.
For more than two decades, the Danish People’s Party ran on an unapologetically anti-immigration, populist platform, pushing Danish politics to the right by rejecting multiculturalism and opposing the transfer of sovereignty to Brussels.
Today, the DPP faces its own challenge from the right.
Nye Borgerlige, or “The New Right,” led by 41-year-old Pernille Vermund, pursues a libertarian economic agenda and wants even stricter controls on migrants in a country that already has some of the most stringent immigration laws in Western Europe.
Vermund, a trained architect, has called for a ban on headscarves in schools and public institutions. Her party wants asylum to be given only to refugees coming directly from the U.N. refugee agency’s resettlement scheme and those with “a job in hand,” and supports limiting Danish citizenship to people who “contribute positively” to society.
“Those who don’t have the ability to provide for themselves, we have to ask them to find another place to stay,” Vermund said.
“When you advance as powerfully as we do, there will always be people who are against you” — Pernille Vermund
Fawaz Taha Zatto, a teacher who came from the Syrian city of Ras al-Ayn two years ago, is “frustrated and disappointed” with Nye Borgerlige’s anti-immigration rhetoric. “The positive contribution in a society depends on feeling welcomed by the community and the authorities,” he said.
Vermund’s party wants to withdraw not only from the European Union but also from the Refugee Convention and the U.N. convention on statelessness, and it wants to strengthen ties with countries such as Norway and the U.K. in order to “safeguard free trade” while “getting rid of the EU.”
After the Brexit referendum, Vermund got in touch with then-UKIP leader Nigel Farage, but they “didn’t continue the communication,” she said.
In her office in the upscale Copenhagen neighborhood of Christianshavn, Vermund chose her words carefully. She didn’t want to be misunderstood. “When you advance as powerfully as we do, there will always be people who are against you,” she said, with a smile.
Vermund, originally from Snekkersten, a southern suburb of Helsingør 45 kilometers north of Copenhagen, studied architecture at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. In 2009, she was elected to the Helsingør City Council for the Conservative People’s Party but withdrew from politics in 2011 in order to get “the family back on its feet” after a divorce. She has three sons between the ages of 6 and 12.
Running her own business, going through a divorce and working in politics put a strain on her personal finances: It’s only been four months since Vermund took a last part-time job as a waitress, according to a recent report in Danish media.
“It costs a lot, on different levels, to start a party from scratch,” she said. For better or worse, she added, she “can no longer be neutral and private” walking down the street.
“So far,” she said, “I haven’t experienced threats or harassment.”
Vermund founded Nye Borgerlige in October 2015 with Peter Seier Christensen, a chemical engineer. The pair left the Conservative People’s Party following Vermund’s unsuccessful bid to become an MP in the general election in June that year.
“We are conservative, Peter and I. The true conservatives,” Vermund said. “We think that the party that currently sits in the Danish parliament is not truly conservative anymore.”
Mostly, the pair clashed with the party over Denmark’s EU membership. Things came to a head when the party supported participation in Europe’s police agency, Europol, which Vermund vehemently opposed.
“I was told that, if I wanted to continue, I had to either be quiet about my opinion — or change it,” Vermund said. “None of the existing right-wing parties in Denmark are against the EU. Some of them are critical, but none of them are critical enough to want to leave.”