Its the age of bad news for the Danish Social Democrats, who have thoroughly alienated a large section of their most reliable supporters and have for many months remained well below 20 per cent in the opinion polls a serious setback compared to the election results in 2011. Back then, PM Helle Thorning-Schmidts party received more than 24 per cent of the votes, which was at that time considered a disaster.
This weekend, for the first time in months, the Social Democrats got just over 20 per cent in a poll, but that is still far away from their former glory. And all indications are that the Social Democrats will have a very hard time trying to regain power after the next elections.
Dispatch International has asked four analysts and commentators about what went wrong.
Is it quite simply impossible to follow a Social Democratic policy in the traditional sense with the result that a SD-led government is bound to promote the same policies as a conservative government would also have done? Is there a political vision at all that the Social Democrats could make their own, and if so, what should it entail?
Mikael Jalving, who is a commentator with the newspaper Jyllands-Posten and a regular contributor to Dispatch International, does not believe that the Social Democrats have any policy at all rising above the slogans. In this sense, the Danish party shares the fate of Social Democratic and Socialist parties elsewhere in Europe, he says.
The problems of the Social Democrats all over Europe consist primarily in that theyve degenerated into pure ideology. Previously, they were rooted in a more concrete reality and mostly concerned with issues of real substance that were experienced as real by their constituents: Having food on the table, decent working conditions, discipline in schools, duties and rights, training of the unskilled etc. Today, it is about more fuzzy concepts: Openness, tolerance, diversity, anti-racism, feminism, globalization, etc., says Mikael Jalving and continues mercilessly:
Nobody knows what this stream of words means in real life, not even the Socialists themselves. They speak a ritual language that fewer and fewer people understand, and which soon nobody can translate. Most human beings experience the world directly and concretely. An ass is an ass but today a Social Democrat can be recognized by the fact that he speaks besides the issue. It goes without saying that this project is hopeless and out of touch with reality.
Nor is there much comfort to be had from the economist Mogens Camre, a former spokesman for the Social Democrats in Parliament, later a member of the European Parliament for the Danish Peoples Party (DF).
The Social Democratic welfare state project was largely completed in the 1960s. What should they do then to maintain a faithful electorate? The two Prime Ministers Jens Otto Krag and then Anker Jørgensen saw the solution: It was necessary to extend the provider- and guardian state to the entire population the working classes would shrink and become totally inadequate to keep the Social Democrats in power. The result was a dramatic growth in the number of public employees. From under 200,000 in the 1960s, the figure reached 800,000 in the 1990s and has remained there till this day.
The oil crisis and the rising commodity prices in the early 1970s led to new ground rules, Mogens Camre emphasizes. The systems vulnerability now became clear.
Unemployment rose, and the Social Democrats saw no other way out than to build up a massive public debt in order to keep society running. Nor did the party succeed in implementing reforms related to technology or the structure of the labor market, which were necessary. The result was that unemployment remained high, but in addition to this an increasing proportion of the working age population became entitled to public assistance.
This led to a dramatic growth in the tax burden, but this wasnt the fault of the Social Democrats alone, Camre stresses. The first big increase actually came under a Social Liberal Party-Conservative government, which for three years (1968-1971) raised the level of taxation from 33 percent to 43 percent. This was because they had to pay for the reforms, which the Social Democrats had put in place in previous years. Since then the tax burden has risen to 50 per cent the highest in Europe.
Things went bad to worse in 1983 when Parliament with Social Democratic approval passed the Danish Aliens Act (Udlændingeloven). It was an absurd attempt to create global, social equalization, which should never have been Social Democratic policy. Denmark now opened its door to an uncontrolled, massive immigration, primarily from Muslim countries. The Danish welfare state paradise attracted people who in 98 percent of the cases lacked the necessary skills to contribute to the Danish society, economically, culturally and socially.
In a globalized world, one cannot maintain a tax-financed welfare state that is open to all, Mogens Camre concludes. Yet the Social Democrats have not grasped this.
The historian Morten Uhrskov, who blogs at Jyllands-Posten, is also pessimistic about the future prospects of the Social Democrats.
Social Democratic parties can no longer lead traditional Social Democratic policies, but must lead the necessary policy, he says.
The reason is first and foremost in globalization. It results in profound and increasing pressures on the Danish and European opportunities to pursue policies based on Europes own needs. Europes production of goods is in relative decline, and has been so for decades.
In addition, non-Western immigration to Denmark and Europe is drastically changing the labor market. The proportion of unskilled workers increases and is constantly supplemented by new immigrants with very few skills. This only makes it harder to solve the problem of the at least 22 percent of the working age population who are outside the Danish labor market and living on welfare.
Globalization and non-Western immigration mean that the Social Democrats cannot do much else than they are doing at present conduct what is called the necessary policy. They must constantly adapt the welfare state and the labor market in the face of pressures from globalization and immigration.
If the Social Democrats had wanted to, they could have stopped immigration, but they have chosen to go the opposite way. This is one of the reasons why so many from the partys core constituency have run away.
Torben Mark Pedersen, an economist, frequent commentator on the Internet and member of the centrist party Liberal Alliance, says that the Social Democrats have long benefitted from the fact that a majority of the voters are dependent on the welfare state. This goes for public employees and persons receiving benefits, who together account for nearly two-thirds of the voters. This has provided the party with a power base, due to the fact that it looks after the interests that these groups in particular have in maintaining and expanding the welfare state.
But this policy has its limitations in a time of crisis, when there is not enough money to continue growing the public sector. This policy undermines itself: The generous benefits, the large public spending, the high tax burden and the large number of welfare recipients undermine growth and wealth creation.
Torben Mark Pedersen refers to a new analysis from the Danish think tank CEPOS, documenting that there is a very strong correlation between the size of the welfare state on the one hand and public perceptions of the value of hard work on the other. The growth of the welfare state implies that the countrys structural problems will be exacerbated, and it will require reforms that pull it in the direction of more market economy.
The solution to the partys crisis might be to return to being a true labor party and look after the interests of the working parts of the population, rather than those who are passive recipients of aid.
One thing is for certain: You cannot continue as before, without all of us becoming poorer and less free, Torben Mark Pedersen concludes.