Under Denmark’s constitution, four seats in parliament or “North Atlantic mandates” as they are termed in Danish politics are awarded to parties from the Faroe Islands and Greenland.
Both are autonomous territories within of the Kingdom of Denmark and have their own parliaments. Before they became autonomous in the 20th century, they were governed from Copenhagen – hence the constitutional need for their representation in parliament.
Because the parliament has a total of 179 seats, 90 are required for a party (in practice, a faction of allied parties under the ‘bloc’ system) to win a majority and form government.
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Usually, the four North Atlantic seats are not required to take one side or the other over the threshold of 90 seats needed to win an election.
For example, the 2019 election saw four red bloc parties secure 91 seats and therefore the parliamentary majority needed to back an agreement that installed Mette Frederiksen as Prime Minister.
But if the red and blue blocs both fall slightly short of 90 seats, the North Atlantic seats – and the parties that win them in the Faroes and Greenland – can come into play.
The most recent poll produces this exact situation because it gives the ‘red bloc’ 87 seats with 71 seats to the opposing ‘blue bloc’.
The centrist Moderate party, which has not aligned itself to either side, under former Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen would get 17 seats if the poll was born out in the election itself.
If the Moderates decided to work with the blue bloc, each side would still be short of 90 seats at 87 and 88 for the red and blue sides respectively.
This would mean the North Atlantic parties would need to join an agreement to put a government in place.
The situation is unusual but has occurred before – most recently at the 1998 election, which was famously decided by 176 votes on the Faroe Islands.
Five of the last six elections in Denmark have seen parties aligned with the Danish ‘red’ bloc take three of the four North Atlantic mandates, with the exception being 2015, when all four went to red parties.
Parties from the Faroe Islands and Greenland tend to back the bloc that aligns most closely with their own politics.
“The Faroe Islands and Denmark have separate economies. The burdens I as a member of parliament can place on Danish voters would have no impact on my voters. And the Danish voters cannot replace me. They do not have access to my place at Christiansborg,” Sjúrður Skaale, a current member of the Danish parliament with the Faroese Social Democratic Party, wrote in a column in media Altinget in January this year.
Skaale said he would prefer North Atlantic seats not to be decisive, despite Social Democratic parties from the Faroe Islands potentially being able to tip the balance in favour of a Social Democratic Danish government in a knife edge election.
“Personally, I hope the [current] government can continue. But it would be completely wrong – verging on undemocratic – if it happened on the basis outlined,” he wrote.