Denmark’s Left Must Find Balance Between Nativists and Progressives

Danish Social Democratic Party leader Mette Frederiksen, June 28, 2016
Danish Social Democratic Party leader Mette Frederiksen, June 28, 2016 (Facebook)

Denmark’s Social Democrats are eying cooperation with the nationalist People’s Party which they have shunned for years.

Under Mette Frederiksen, who took over the party leadership after its 2015 election defeat, the center-left has supported such far-right policies as a ban on prayer rooms in schools and universities.

The two parties, who are both in opposition to a liberal minority government, have also made common cause against raising the pension age.

Frederiksen argues she is defending the Danish welfare state from the challenges of globalization.

Her strategy is not too dissimilar from her Swedish counterpart’s. Stefan Löfven, the ruling Social Democratic Party leader in Stockholm, has taken a hard line on border control, crime and defense in a bid to stem working-class defections to the far right. Read more

Finland’s Brain Drain: When Talent Leaves a Small Country

View of Helsinki, Finland from the sea, May 13, 2010
View of Helsinki, Finland from the sea, May 13, 2010 (Aaronigma)

Young Finnish professionals are attracted to major European capitals. They move to Stockholm, Berlin and Amsterdam, as well as farther away. The sun shines in Dubai; the world’s top organizations and institutes are in New York and Washington. The occupations of these migrants are manifold: bankers, graphic designers, computer engineers, photographers and researchers, to name only a few.

They leave Finland because of poor employment opportunities and future prospects. This has been happening for a long time. Finns were moving to North America 100 years ago and to Sweden after World War II — in both cases because growing economies needed factory workers.

The difference with today’s migrants is they are better educated (PDF) and leaving a welfare state that ranks as one of the best places to live in the world according to most indices. The likelihood of them returning has nevertheless fallen sharply. Why? Read more

Sweden’s Social Democrats Take Risk with Hardline Policies

French president François Hollande and Swedish prime minister Stefan Löfven attend a meeting with other European socialist leaders in Brussels, June 28, 2016
French president François Hollande and Swedish prime minister Stefan Löfven attend a meeting with other European socialist leaders in Brussels, June 28, 2016 (PES)

Sweden’s Stefan Löfven is taking the fight to the far right. Politico reports that the prime minister and Social Democratic Party leader is implementing a hard line on border control, crime and defense.

With his tough stance, Löfven hopes to avoid the fate of sister parties elsewhere in Europe who have failed to convince voters that they are still relevant now that the welfare states they helped build are well-established.

Polls show the Swedish left down a few points. The nationalist Sweden Democrats have moved up.

Löfven’s party would still get nearly 30 percent support on its own and 40 percent in combination with its left-wing allies; a far cry from the dismal performance of center-left parties in France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

But like social democrats elsewhere, Sweden’s are losing their traditional, working-class supporters to the far right. Read more

The Case for Permanent Coalitions on the Left

Prime Minister Stefan Löfven and other members of Sweden's cabinet deliver a news conference in Stockholm, May 25
Prime Minister Stefan Löfven and other members of Sweden’s cabinet deliver a news conference in Stockholm, May 25 (Socialdemokraterna/Victor Svedberg)

Social democratic parties in Europe should make permanent alliances with smaller parties to their left and right in order to keep their constituency united, argues a Dutch political scientist.

Joop van den Berg, formerly of Leiden University, writes that the traditional social democratic alliance, between workers and the intellectual middle class, is breaking down. The former are defecting to either populists on the far left (Die Linke in Germany, Podemos in Spain) or nationalists on the right (the Danish People’s Party, the Dutch Freedom Party). The latter are switching to Greens or centrist liberals in the middle.

One way to stem this, Van den Berg proposes, would be for social democrats to ally permanently with the other parties of the left. Then they would no longer need to fight on two fronts at once. Read more

Löfven Despairs at Swedes’ Gloom

Swedish prime minister Stefan Löfven gives a speech in Stockholm, December 19, 2015
Swedish prime minister Stefan Löfven gives a speech in Stockholm, December 19, 2015 (Socialdemokraterna/Victor Svedberg)

Their economy is growing 4.5 percent this year and unemployment has fallen to its lowest level since the financial crisis yet Swedes are acting “as if everything is going in the wrong direction,” complains their prime minister, Stefan Löfven.

In an interview with the Financial Times, the Social Democrat insists that “all the numbers are going in the right direction, but the picture the public have is that the country is now going in the wrong direction.”

Recent surveys put his party and its left-wing allies almost 5 percentage points behind the right-wing opposition.

Migrant crisis

Löfven is convinced this is because “everything has been overshadowed” by the migrant crisis.

The Nordic country of 9.6 million admitted 163,000 asylum seekers last year, making it, along with Germany, the highest recipient of migrants relative to its population in Europe.

Long welcoming of foreigners, the record influx last year threatened to overwhelm Sweden’s asylum authorities and its welfare system.

Löfven’s government toned down provisions for newcomers while neighboring Denmark reinstated border controls across the Øresund. The combined measures appear to have reduced the inflow of asylum seekers.

Integration

The focus in Swedish politics is now turning to integration, the Financial Times reports.

Foreigners are 2.6 times more likely to be out of work than natives. After ten years in Sweden, only half have a job.

Right-wing parties have proposed lowering the minimum wage to make it easier for unskilled migrants to find work.

Löfven, a former trade union leader, wants migrants to start learning Swedish while they wait for their claims to be processed and employers to accept overseas qualifications.

Germany, Sweden Urge Measures to Slow Immigration

German lawmaker Ole Schröder, Swedish and Danish migration ministers Morgan Johansson and Inger Støjberg and European Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos answer questions from reporters in Brussels, January 6
German lawmaker Ole Schröder, Swedish and Danish migration ministers Morgan Johansson and Inger Støjberg and European Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos answer questions from reporters in Brussels, January 6 (European Commission)

Germany and Sweden called for measures to reduce immigration from the Middle East and North Africa into Europe on Wednesday days after the two reimposed border controls.

Morgan Johansson, the Swedish migration minister, urged other European Union countries to help “slow the highway that has now been introduced right through Europe via Greece, the Balkans, Austria, Germany and then up to the northern countries.”

Johansson said some 115,000 people have applied for asylum in his country in the last four months alone.

Last year, Sweden registered 160,000 asylum seekers, the highest per-capita ratio in the EU.

Speaking alongside Johansson in Brussels, Ole Schröder, a lawmaker for Germany’s ruling conservative party, said, “Our problem at the moment in Europe is that we do not have the functional border control system, especially at the Greek-Turkey border.”

Germany has seen the second-highest immigration rate in Europe relative to its population with up to a million people seeking asylum there last year.

Border controls

Germany imposed border controls in September. Sweden followed suit this week by reintroducing identity checks at the border with Denmark.

Denmark, in turn, introduced similar controls at its border with Germany.

Other countries that have stopped people at their borders are Austria, Hungary and Slovenia.

Hungary, led by the right-wing prime minister Viktor Orbán, sealed off its border with fellow EU member state Croatia last year as well as non-EU Serbia.

The conservative Law and Justice party that won the election in Poland last year has also called for stricter measures to control the flow of people.

Germans grow wary

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel has come under fire from her own right-wing supporters for insisting on an open-door policy.

Wolfgang Schäuble, her hawkish finance minister, has said, “We need to send a clear message to the world: We are very much prepared to help, we’ve shown that we are, but our possibilities are also limited.”

Merkel has since agreed to the creation of “transit zones” on Germany’s borders to check those coming in. Family reunifications have been frozen.

Schengen at risk

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte, whose country assumed the EU’s rotating presidency this month, has warned the bloc could go the way of the Roman Empire if it doesn’t take measure. “Big empires go down if the borders are not well-protected,” he has said.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, has similarly warned that the Schengen free-travel area is at risk.

Many blame Greece which all through 2015 refused to accept help from Frontex, the European border agency, and failed to properly register refugees.

The Balkan nation finally asked for help in December after some countries had warned that it could be ejected from Schengen if it kept barring foreign staff from patrolling the external frontier.

700,000 migrants are believed to have entered the EU through Greece last year.

Danes Set to Keep Opt-Out from European Justice Policy

Danish flags are seen through a fence in Copenhagen, August 14, 2013
Danish flags are seen through a fence in Copenhagen, August 14, 2013 (Flickr/Dorte)

Europe’s ongoing migrant crisis and the recent terrorist attack in Paris could decide the outcome of a referendum in Denmark on Thursday where polls show “no” voters ahead at 38 percent.

34 percent of the Danes intend to vote “yes,” according to a Gallup survey, while 23 percent are undecided.

Should the Euroskeptics win this plebiscite — the eighth since Denmark decided to join the European Union in 1972 — it would be a sad irony: at stake is the very sort of cooperation that would mitigate the refugee crisis and enhance security cooperation.

Time to opt in

The Danes have had an opt-out from European justice policy since 1992 when they voted down the Maastricht Treaty in a referendum. When asylum policy and policing were left out, the Danes voted in favor of the treaty the following year which created the European Union and the euro currency.

European justice cooperation has since ballooned to include everything from cybercrime and data protection to counterterrorism cooperation.

Most parties in Denmark, including Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen’s liberals, want to join the justice and home affairs policy and stay in the bloc’s law enforcement agenda, Europol.

“If Denmark is not part of Europol, Denmark is a less secure place to live in,” Rasmussen argued last week.

New rules would kick Denmark out of Europol if it doesn’t switch to an opt-in.

EUobserver reports that voters are skeptical. Norway and Switzerland, which aren’t EU members, still cooperate with Europol.

According to the website, young and cosmopolitan Danes — the sort of voters who otherwise tend to be the most supportive of the EU — could decide the outcome against opting in. The two parties most popular with young voters, the small-government Liberal Alliance and Red-Green Enhedslisten, both recommend a “no” vote. The latter insists that Denmark must retain full sovereignty over issues like child custody and criminal sentencing.

On the far right, the Danish People’s Party is also opposed.