Friday, 16 September 2011

Denmark's election: is the Left clawing its way back?

The centre-left Social Democratic Party scored a victory in yesterday's closely-watched general election in Denmark, ending the 10-year reign of a conservative coalition that had been moving steadily further and further to the right.

The campaign of the centre-left coalition, called the 'Red Bloc', was centred around a promise to raise taxes on the country's investment banks and wealthiest citizens, reversing a trend of decreasing corporate taxes led by the previous government. The victory for this message is a stinging rebuke to the current austerity crusade dominating the governments of Europe. The Social Democrats, led by Helle Thorning-Schmidt (pictured above), promised to actually expand Denmark's welfare system, which is already one of Europe's largest. They have also promised to use the proceeds from increasing taxes on investment banks and the wealthy to improve roads, schools and hospitals.

So is this a sign that Europe's hobbled left may be on it's way back? Are voters across Europe growing tired with the messages of the right and ready to turn to a new direction? Or are the circumstances of this change in direction limited to Denmark?
Centre-right governments across Europe have been making increasingly populist moves in order to keep themselves from losing voters to the far right. From Nicolas Sarkozy's gypsy deportation last year to David Cameron's 'multiculturalism is a failure' speech, the centre-right has been keen to co-opt some of the ideas of the far right, which has been growing in popularity in Europe.

Nowhere has this been more evident than in Denmark. The centre-right even invited the far-right Danish People's Party into an alliance to support their governing coalition. That coalition government introduced drastic new limitations on immigration which particularly targeted Muslims and asylum seekers. Following an aggressive push from the DPP, the government picked a fight with the European Commission by unilaterally imposing controls at its borders with Sweden and Germany – something forbidden under the Schengen passport-free agreement.

It may be that the increasingly aggressive moves in this direction backfired on the party. It is also highly likely that the far-right terrorism in neighbouring Norway in July influenced the election, with voters not looking to kindly on a coalition that has embraced the far right. The Danish People's Party lost seats in this election for the first time in three election cycles.

But are these conditions that exist throughout Europe? With the exception of Italy, no governing centre-right government has co-opted the ideas of the far right as much as Denmark's government has over the past few years. The revulsion felt toward the far right and those who collaborate with them following the Norway attack would likely not have the same resonance in France or Germany than it did in Denmark.

It's hard to say whether the Denmark election victory heralds new momentum for Europe's Socialists, who have been locked out of power in member states for several years now.  One thing is for sure – the map of European governments looks a lot more promising to the left than it did last week. With the addition of Denmark, the left will once again have a voice in Northern Europe. On the other hand Denmark is a small, low-populated country that is not in the Eurozone, and therefore will not be centrally involved in the upcoming discussions over tighter financial union in that bloc. 

But every journey begins with the first step.


Captain Kid said...

Have a look at this year's elections in Germany's Bundesländer. You will notice that there is a shift to the left. Recent opinion polls suggest that Merkel's coalition partner, FDP, wouldn't have a single seat in parliament if there was an election tomorrow.

Περιπετών said...

Excuse me, but the divide between socialdemocratic neoliberals and conbservative neoliberals is completely artificial. In the map you're attaching you have Greece and Spain as if they belong to the left. Two countries that have implemented some of the most austere cuts to education, health, culture and the well being of their citizens. On the other hand, you have conservatives such as the Hungarian government (which is a dangerous right wing nationalist government) implementing some progressive policies and refusing to adopt the austerity imposed by the EU and IMF. So this fake division that we had been made to believe in (socialdemocracy vs. conservatism) does not exist.

The real division is the puppets of the bankers vs. the free people who serve (under any ideology) the interests of their people.