Immigrants and their descendants in Denmark are increasingly leaving democracy. From 1997 to 2009 the share of foreigners who voted in municipal elections fell by 11% in Copenhagen and 17% in Aarhus.
This according to a historically extensive study, conducted by the Ministry of Integration.
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"It should be noted as a very dramatic drop, which certainly isn't good for democracy. There's negative socializing, where immigrants meet other immigrants, who don't vote either. It's a bad loop," says one of the authors of the study, Kasper Møller Hansen, professor of political science at the University of Copenhagen.
44 municipalities contributed to the study, the biggest one of its type in the world, and which included 2.4 million votes just in the 2009 municipal elections. 37% of immigrants and 36% of their descendants voted in those elections, compared to 68% among ethnic Danes.
The integration ministry's think-tank produced a series of reports from 2000 to 2007, in which they set goals for successful integration. In a report from 2001, the think-tank recommended to get foreigners to 'engage in the political life of society on an equal footing with Danes." But since then fewer foreigners went to vote.
"It's sad and very problematic democratically, that it's gone the wrong way. One of the most important criteria for integration is vote turnout," says CBS professor Erik Bonnesen, head of the now defunct think-tank.
The Council for Ethnic Minorities is looking for volunteers to inform immigrants and their descendants about the political process.
"It's incredibly important that the municipalities take proactive action and create confidence in the system by foreigners, long before the elections. I met many who didn't think it was beneficial to vote," says the head of the council, Lally Harpal Parwana.
In March the government and the Danish People's Party limited foreigners' right to vote in municipal elections, and now they need to have lived in Denmark for four years before being able to vote.
Integration spokesperson for the Social Democrats, Henrik Dam Kristensen, says the development was 'deeply worrying' and blames the government.
"This shows that integration didn't work well enough at all. The government failed time and time again in this area, and now there should be more focus on democracy - you must simply make sure to provide better information," says Henrik Dam Kristensen.
Integration Minister Birthe Rønn Hornbech (V) is upset by the result, but insists that there have been enough efforts to get foreigners off the couch.
"I'm naturally disappointed, but you can't force people to vote. We distributed brochures and posted informational material in the libraries, and then people can take it or leave it. I think we've done a lot," she says.
Q: what do you think this says about integration?
"It's an indication that people didn't understand yet what it means to be a citizen. But it's also painful, that just two out of three Danes votes. It is way too little."
Source: Politiken (Danish)