The victory of Denmark’s Social Democrats in the election on Wednesday would some seem to vindicate leader Mette Frederiksen’s lurch to the right. She hardened her party’s policy on immigration and supported such far-right proposals as a ban on prayer rooms in schools and universities.
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.
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.
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 “No Contradiction in Denmark”
Denmark’s right-wing parties instructed Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt on Thursday to support her British counterpart’s proposals for European Union reform at a summit in Brussels while Germany expressed caution.
Lars Løkke Rasmussen, the Danish liberal party leader who is expected to replace Thorning-Schmidt after she lost her majority in an election last week, said it would be a “disaster” for Europe if David Cameron was unable to keep Britain in the union.
Some of the points the British are prioritizing match my own thinking, namely that we need to strike a new balance between the free movement of labor and what welfare services those rights entitle a person to.
Cameron plans to call a referendum on the United Kingdom’s future in the European Union by 2017 — after negotiating changes in the island nation’s membership.
Although Cameron hasn’t made clear exactly what changes he seeks, analysts believe he wants to protect London’s financial industry from European regulations, enhance the single market, especially in services, and stop immigrants from other European member states claiming benefits in Britain on their arrival.
The last demand is sensitive for member states that send many workers to other European countries. But Denmark could probably support Cameron on it.
Before the election, Thorning-Schmidt’s Social Democrats proposed to cut benefits for immigrants who fail to find work in the country within a month of their arrival. The Danish People’s Party, which is now the second largest in parliament but unlikely to enter the next government, wants to restrict immigrants’ access to benefits even more.
The nationalist party’s leader, Kristian Thulesen Dahl, told reporters on Thursday, “I believe it’s in Denmark’s interest to keep Britain inside the EU, so that we accommodate Britain on its objections.”
Europe’s most powerful country, Germany, urged caution that same day.
A spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel said Britain’s proposal to restrict benefits to migrant workers who have been in the country at least four years could not breach the European Union’s principles of “free movement and non-discrimination.”
Late last year, Germany warned Britain that such restrictions would be a bridge too far. The weekly Der Spiegel reported at the time that a demand to inhibit the free movement of people in Europe could convince the Germans to withdraw their support from Cameron’s reform efforts.
The British leader was expected to make his first reform proposals at a meeting of the European Council on Thursday evening that is likely to be overshadowed by the Greek debt crisis.
Other allies could include Finland and the Netherlands, two Northern European countries that share Cameron’s desire for closer economic integration but — like Denmark — are wary of letting in many foreign workers.
The results from last week’s Danish elections were in some ways emblematic of a European trend: Parties that clearly appealed to the “winners” and “losers” of globalization won while almost all the others lost.
Denmark bucked the trend in one way: the ruling Social Democrats did not lose seats. Indeed, they gained two. But it was not enough to keep Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt and her left-wing coalition in power.
For months, polls had shown the Social Democrats bleeding support to the far left as well as the nationalist Danish People’s Party. A well-run campaign staved off defeat but only because Thorning-Schmidt effectively cannibalized her coalition partners. Both the Radikale Venstre and the far-left Socialists — who left the government a year early — lost more than half their seats each. Read more “Denmark’s Election Result Reflects European Trend”