Pseudo-left “Unity List” backs new right-wing Danish government

By Sybille Fuchs and Johannes Stern
11 October 2011

The new Danish centre-left government under Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt officially came into office on October 2. The government coalition—consisting of the Social Democrats (SD), the Socialist People’s Party (SF) and the Social Liberal Party (RV)—has already confirmed it will continue the course set by the predecessor government of Lars Lρkke Rasmussen (Venstre, Liberal Party) with respect to almost all major issues.

The new government is a minority government incapable of achieving a majority in parliament based on its own members. It depends on the support of the Social Democrats-Greens Unity List. This pseudo-left combination of petty-bourgeois groupings consists of the Left Socialists (VS), the Stalinist Danish Communist Party (DKP), the Maoist Communist Workers’ Party (KAP) and the Danish section of the Pabloite United Secretariat, the Socialist Workers’ Party (SAP).

The Unity List has agreed to support the government despite its planned austerity measures, and help enforce the policies of the ruling elite against the working class. Following announcement of the election results, the Unity List immediately published a statement, revealing how “happy” it was about the outcome of the election and “the new government led by Helle Thorning-Schmidt”. The elections were said to be “historic”, because a woman would become prime minister for the first time, and also the Greens’ close associates, members of the Socialist People’s Party, would be in a government for the first time.

During the election campaign, the Unity List had already been striving to represent the so-called “Red Alliance” (Social Democrats, Socialist People’s Party, Social Liberal Party and the Unity List) as a left alternative to the “Blue Alliance” (consisting of conservative, right-wing liberal and right-wing populist parties). However, their leftist-sounding phrases in the campaign were nothing more than window dressing. They were used to hoodwink voters and prepare the way for a government ready to enforce drastic cuts in social spending.

During the coalition negotiations barely two weeks after the election, the Social Democrats and the Socialist People’s Party reneged on their promise to impose a modest tax increase on Denmark’s millionaires. The demand proved to be merely a tactical campaign manoeuvre designed to rein in widespread social discontent, and to distance themselves, at least verbally, from Rasmussen, who had campaigned for a tough austerity programme.

Rasmussen’s government, a coalition of the right-wing Liberal Party (Venstre) and the Conservative People’s Party (K), was supported by the right-wing populist Danish People’s Party (DF). During its 10 years in office, it had slashed public spending and social benefits, while simultaneously promoting extreme nationalism and xenophobic policies.

In early July, the Danish government decided to reintroduce border controls, ostensibly to halt the influx of migrants. The move was not coordinated with other European Union (EU) countries and thus aroused criticism.

There were other reasons for the criticism the Danish and European elites levelled against the Rasmussen government. Shortly before the announcement of new elections in late August, Finance Minister Claus Hjort Frederiksen had presented a budget for 2012, which contained a deficit of 4.6 percent of GDP, widely exceeding the EU’s stability criteria.

Denmark’s state deficit, primarily the result of bank rescue packages, amounts to more than 100 billion kroner (€13.5 billion), and thus reaches a level comparable to that in the country’s crisis years of the 1980s. The former government had estimated the deficit at “only” 85 billion kroner, but financial experts believe economic data points to a significant deterioration, and a further increase in the deficit can be expected.

Rasmussen was criticised for failing to enforce “fundamental structural reforms” and taking “the course of least resistance”.

At the same time, the social situation of workers and young people has greatly deteriorated as a result of the welfare cuts in recent years. The unemployment rate of 7 percent is now about twice as high as at the beginning of the economic crisis. Youth unemployment has risen to 10 percent, and the economy is experiencing a steady decline.

The role of the new social democratic government and its petty-bourgeois supporters must be seen against this background. Due to its ties to the trade unions, a supposedly “left-wing” government would be more useful in enforcing the reforms the bourgeoisie requires in the face of popular opposition.

It is already clear that the new government will intensify Rasmussen’s austerity programme. During the election campaign, Thorning-Schmidt advocated balancing the budget by 2020, and the Social Liberal Party also campaigned for a neoliberal economic programme, including demands for economic reforms and tax cuts. The centre-left government has now largely adopted this same programme.

Even before coming into office, the new head of government had already broken the Social Democrats’ first election promise of taxing millionaires. The tax would have affected about 20,000 Danes, and brought in some 1.2 billion kroner. When the dropping of the tax was announced in the coalition negotiations in late September, Danes earning more than a million kroner a year gave a sigh of relief, according to the English edition of the Copenhagen Post.

A tax on the banks is also off the table. The plan had been to top up budgets for social benefits and job creation schemes with the revenue from this taxation.

These were not the only concessions Thorning-Schmidt and the Socialist People’s Party offered their right wing coalition partners. They also declared themselves willing to continue the hated former government’s reform of the pension system, which—among other things—drastically reduced the possibility of early retirement. During the campaign, the Social Democrats and Socialist People’s Party had promised to reverse this reform.

Owing to the lack of taxation revenue, the project of making two teachers available for each school class will also have to be shelved. This is a concession to the Social Liberal Party, whose chairperson (“super minister” Margaret Vestager) takes over both the economics and interior ministries.

During the election campaign, the Social Liberals had demanded a more compassionate immigration policy. The Social Democrats only partially agreed to this. Consequently, the new government will ensure continuance of the reactionary 24-year regulation, which stipulates that a spouse from abroad must be at least 24 years old, if a couple wants to be granted permission to reunite in Denmark.

There will be a relaxation of the points system, gradually introduced by the previous government under pressure from the right-wing populist Danish People’s Party. When it comes to family reunification or naturalisation, however, priority will be given to people who are well trained or wealthy.

The new government has abolished the integration ministry, notorious for its xenophobic attitudes. But this move was primarily a symbolic gesture. Its function will continue to be fulfilled by the interior ministry. Other planned ameliorations of social policies are of little consequence. Concerning the granting of citizenship through naturalisation, a good qualification at the end of the ninth school year will suffice, instead of the infamous “test in the Danish language”.

Also to be terminated are the regular border and customs controls, introduced by the old government under pressure from the right-wing populists. These controls had provoked heavy criticism in the EU, because they constituted a violation of the Schengen Agreement and hindered intra-European trade.

Given the poor economic data, rising unemployment and the high public deficit, the new government will in the future intensify the dismantling of the welfare state to the benefit of business corporations. In addition to tax benefits for investors and a “modernisation” of the hitherto relatively generous system of unemployment compensation, an “active labour market policy” modelled on Germany’s Hartz reforms is also planned.

The infrastructure projects promised during the election campaign and amounting to 10 billion kroner, are also expected to fall victim to cutbacks due to the budget deficit. A reduction of income tax for low wage earners will only gradually be introduced. The Rasmussen government had granted generous tax relief to high-income earners and large companies in particular.

Despite the right-wing alignment of the new government, the Social Democrats-Greens Unity List is quite prepared to support it. The day after the new government took office, Unity List spokesperson Johanne Schmidt-Nielsen published a statement, claiming the government programme was “a significant improvement for the lives of many people”.

The Unity List’s support for Thorning-Schmidt’s government is part of the increasing move to the right by such petty-bourgeois forces throughout the whole of Europe. In the deepest economic crisis since the 1930s, they stand ready to aid the ruling elite in shifting the costs of the crisis onto the shoulders of the population. Commenting on the climb of their votes from 2.2 to 6.7 percent, Unity List members said they recognised the “great responsibility” that “now (lies) on their shoulders”.