COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - A right-wing eurosceptic party that was one of the biggest winners in Denmark's parliamentary election stood by demands including a referendum on European Union membership as its price for joining any center-right coalition.
The Danish People's Party (DF) made big gains to become the second largest party in a new parliament after Thursday's vote, behind the defeated center-left Social Democrats of caretaker Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt.
The center-right bloc as a whole garnered more seats in parliament than her center-left alliance and the mainstream Liberals are expected to attempt to form a coalition government with former premier Lars Lokke Rasmussen regaining the top job.
"We're quite happy to be outside of the government. It's up to Rasmussen whether he wants an easy ride or not," Soren Espersen, a DF vice chairman, told Reuters on Friday.
"Mr Rasmuseen is very interested in getting us on board; it would be quite difficult for him to maneuver if we're out of the government -- it's up to him now."
DF is acutely aware of the experience of other small parties in Denmark and elsewhere in Europe who, once in government, bled support due to compromises made with mainstream parties. Staying on the sidelines may paradoxically secure it more influence.
DF has four policy initiatives which Espersen said were a "red line" for the party.
DF has said it wants to hold a referendum on EU membership, although only if Britain does the same after renegotiating its relationship with the European Union. DF wants reform of the EU but does not seek to leave the bloc.
It seeks to reimpose physical border controls, which were swept away after Denmark joined the passport-free Schengen zone, to stem a flow of illegal immigrants and smuggling.
It also wants stricter rules on immigration and, going against its right-wing character, to increase state spending by more than even the Social Democrats promised before the election.
Thorning-Schmidt formally handed her government's resignation to Queen Margrethe on Friday. Earlier, she also quit as party leader.
Rasmussen, aware that his party had actually suffered its worst election results in a quarter century, has spoken only of an "opportunity" to form a new government and that an outcome could be apparent in the coming days.
(Reporting by Sabina Zawadzki, editing by Alister Doyle and Ralph Boulton)