Social Democrats in Iberia and Scandinavia Try Opposite Strategies

Prime Minister António Costa of Portugal greets his Spanish counterpart, Pedro Sánchez, in Lisbon, July 2
Prime Minister António Costa of Portugal greets his Spanish counterpart, Pedro Sánchez, in Lisbon, July 2 (Governo da República Portuguesa/Clara Azevedo)

What is the future of European social democracy? Your answer to that question may depend on where you live.

If you’re in the Mediterranean, it’s cooperation with the far left. Social democrats in Portugal and Spain have come to power under deals with far-left parties. In both cases, unwieldy coalitions were greeted with skepticism, but now Prime Ministers António Costa and Pedro Sánchez are riding high in the polls.

In Greece, Alexis Tsipras’ Syriza party has even supplanted the center-left altogether.

In Scandinavia, by contrast, social democrats are trying to win back working-class voters by taking a harder line on borders, crime and defense.

Both strategies appear to be working. Read more

Denmark’s Left Must Find Balance Between Nativists and Progressives

View of the Christiansborg Palace, seat of the Danish parliament, in Copenhagen
View of the Christiansborg Palace, seat of the Danish parliament, in Copenhagen (Shutterstock)

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

The Case for Permanent Coalitions on the Left

Swedish Social Democratic Party leader Stefan Löfven makes a speech in Stockholm, August 10, 2014
Swedish Social Democratic Party leader Stefan Löfven makes a speech in Stockholm, August 10, 2014 (Socialdemokraterna/Anders Löwdin)

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

Clear-Eyed Danes Have Lessons on Immigration

A street in Copenhagen, Denmark
A street in Copenhagen, Denmark (Unsplash/Ethan Hu)

As European countries struggle to cope with a record-high influx of asylum seekers this year, there is a thing or two they could learn from Denmark, writes James Kirchick in Foreign Policy magazine.

The country was the first in Western Europe to curtail immigrant marriages and last year cut social benefits for refugees nearly in half.

Such policies may be ungenerous; they have helped reduce the flow of people coming in and raise native acceptance of those immigrants who are admitted. Read more

No Contradiction in Denmark

A street in Copenhagen, Denmark
A street in Copenhagen, Denmark (Unsplash/Ethan Hu)

Hugh Eakin finds a contradiction in the Danish character. He writes in The New York Review of Books that this egalitarian and open-minded people in the north of Europe have reached a consensus that large-scale Muslim immigration is incompatible with their social democracy.

Although Eakin recognizes in the end that the Danes have nevertheless been able to maintain a “more stable, united and open society than any of their neighbors,” he avoids drawing the logical conclusion: that they are prospering because, not in spite, of their shared sense of belonging and refusal to compromise with foreign values. Read more

Danes Set to Keep Opt-Out from European Justice Policy

Danish prime minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen emerges from the Amalienborg Palace in Copenhagen after a meeting with Queen Margrethe II, June 28
Danish prime minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen emerges from the Amalienborg Palace in Copenhagen after a meeting with Queen Margrethe II, June 28 (Venstre/Jens Astrup)

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. Read more

Denmark’s Liberals Take Office Without Allies

Danish prime minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen emerges from the Amalienborg Palace in Copenhagen after a meeting with Queen Margrethe II, June 28
Danish prime minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen emerges from the Amalienborg Palace in Copenhagen after a meeting with Queen Margrethe II, June 28 (Venstre/Jens Astrup)

Danish liberal party leader Lars Løkke Rasmussen was named prime minister on Sunday at the head of a minority government that has only 34 lawmakers in the Nordic country’s 179-seat parliament.

Rasmussen’s Venstre failed to form a coalition with other parties on the right, notably the Danish People’s Party that beat it into third place in an election two weeks ago.

“We are perfectly aware that we are a minority government that will have to work in cooperation,” Rasmussen told reporters as he left the royal palace in Copenhagen from a meeting with Queen Margrethe II.

Venstre will now have to negotiate with the nationalist People’s Party, the dwindling Conservative People’s Party and the libertarian-leaning Liberal Alliance every time it wants to pass legislation.

Even with the support of all three right-wing parties, Rasmussen only has a one-seat majority.

The Social Democrats are still the largest party with 47 seats. But other left-wing parties lost support in the election, forcing Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt to resign.

Coalition talks between the People’s Party and Venstre broke down over the liberals’ demand for tax relief. The nationalists were critical, fearing that tax cuts would lead to cuts in pension and welfare spending as well.

The People’s Party advocates a restrictive immigration regime and strong law and order policies traditionally associated with the right as well as an extensive welfare state traditionally supported by the left. It is a combination that appeals especially to blue-collar voters.

Given that Denmark already has one of the strictest immigration regimes in Europe, the party is more likely to seek reform in Europe in exchange for giving Rasmussen its support.

An early test will come later this year when the Danes vote in a referendum on whether or not to give up their exemption from European Union justice rules.

Rasmussen says Denmark needs to join the European law and justice policies it opted out from in 1997 in order to continue participating in the Europol police agency. The People’s Party is opposed to surrendering the exemption.

However, Rasmussen also supports British prime minister David Cameron’s European reform efforts, telling reporters before the election that he could count on Denmark’s support for “a new arrangement that secures British welfare and in the process pave the way for us to push through some of the things we want.”

Like Cameron, the Danish People’s Party would like to restrict migrant workers’ access to welfare benefits in other European Union states.