29/08/2011 - Analysis
On 26th August Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen (Liberal Party, V) announced that the next general elections would take place on 15th September. The head of government had to convene the election before 13th November next.
The Prime Minister explained that the general elections should, in his opinion, take place before the next parliamentary session, planned in October so that the government could implement the necessary reforms for the recovery of the economy as quickly as possible. Recent general elections have always taken place early in Denmark. In 2001 they were organised 4 months before the end of parliament's mandate, in 2005 they came 9 months early and in 2007, 15 months earlier than they were due. "It is customary in Denmark for the Prime Minister to announce the organisation of the general election like this and he always tries to do it unexpectedly. It is a kind of power that the head of government enjoys,
" says Soren Risberg Thomsen, a professor of political science at the University of Aarhus.
The general election traditionally takes place on a Tuesday except for those in 1990 and 1994, which took place on a Wednesday. This year the election will take place on a Thursday.
A country affected by the economic crisis.
Economic issues (recovery of growth and public finances) will be one of the central stakes in these elections. Denmark, whose GDP contracted by 0.1% in the first quarter of 2011 and which experienced negative growth in the previous quarter, is in recession at present. "The national economy or how can Denmark recover growth? This will be the theme of the electoral campaign,
" says Peter Goll, an analyst for the consultancy Geelmuyden.Kiesse. "These general elections will be won according to the recovery of growth and improving employment. The next issue on the list will be how to guarantee the Welfare State,
" indicated Lars Andersen, director for the Economic Council for Labour.
Over the last few weeks the government and the opposition have each presented their plan to bring the country out of the economic crisis. On 23rd August Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen revealed his plan for "sustainable growth
" designed to stimulate recovery over the next two years. "When the world is as uncertain as it is now we need to plot the path to follow, this is the government's task. The solution lies in taking economic responsibility which makes Denmark one of the safest countries in the world and not one of uncontrolled debt and high taxes. We do not want to create growth by borrowing,
" declared the outgoing head of government, adding "at the height of the debt crisis the Danes have the choice between uncontrolled debt or a responsible fiscal policy and the duration of the Welfare State.
The sustainable growth plan, the total of which rises to 10.8 billion crowns (1.4 billion €), is designed to boost the building industry (further public spending – notably on the road and rail infrastructures , aid to the real estate market – suspension of some property taxes as well as registration fees on property – and support to investment and private consumption.)
According to the Finance Minister the country's deficit that rose to 2.8% of the GDP last year, is due to rise to 68 billion crowns (9.1 billion €), i.e. 3,8% of the GDP, this year and to nearly 85 billion crowns (11.4 billion €) in 2012 (4.6% of the GDP), i.e. + 5 billion in comparison with what it was in May last. Low consumption, declining international growth forecasts and the collapse of stock exchanges has increased pressure on public finances said Finance Minister Claus Hjort Frederiksen, in explanation to the rise in the budgetary deficit above the 3% set by the EU's growth and stability pact. The Finance Minister also reviewed Denmark's growth forecast downwards in 2011. This is due to lie at 1.3% of the GDP (and not 1.9% as announced in May last); it is due to rise to 1.8% in 2012. "The world is different today than it was before the summer,
" stressed Claus Hjort Frederiksen, explaining the declining economic forecasts. The recovery plan includes measures to improve economic activity and to create 8,000 new jobs. The unemployment rate was due to rise to 4% of the working population in June. "The sustainable growth programme is totally funded and does not endanger the goal of bringing balance to the budget in 2020,
" he added.
Prime Minister Rasmussen also presented the draft budget. It includes austerity measures but the government has however promised to increase the education and healthcare budgets. Before the economic crisis in 2007 Denmark's budget displayed a surplus of 80 billion crown. "This programme is the government's answer to the new international crisis and to the upcoming general election; it basically comprises traditional measures in budgetary spending,
" declared Steen Bocian, an economist at the Danske Bank.
On 21st August last the leftwing opposition presented its own economic recovery plan. It plans for spending to an almost equivalent sum in infrastructures, education, healthcare and renewable energies. The funding is due to come from new bank taxes, capital gains tax and from the wealthiest Danes. "In this period of international debt crisis that is affecting Denmark as well, our economy needs responsible economic policies not irresponsible wishes,
" declared Mr Rasmussen as he spoke of the left's proposals.
The Political Situation
Lars Lokke Rasmussen's government brings together the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party (KF), led by Lars Barfoed. The former Finance Minister and head of the present government replaced Anders Fogh Rasmussen in April 2009 after the latter's appointment as Secretary General of NATO. The government has been the minority in government since it came to power in 2001. It enjoys the support of the Danish People's Party (DF), a far right populist party led by Pia Kjaersgaard. This support was conditioned by a major tightening up in terms of Danish legislation with regard to immigration. Hence Denmark is one of the most closed EU Member States to foreigners.
An individual has to be aged at least 24 in order to be able to bring a foreign spouse into the country (who must also be at least 24). The latter also has to have strong links with Denmark (more than with any other third country), pay a deposit of 100,000 crowns (13,400 €) and finally live in an apartment that matches the required standards. In 2002, there were 8,151 cases of family spouse reunion whereas in 2005 they totalled 3,252.
In the spring of 2011, parliament approved a new law restricting immigrant access to resident permits. A point permit system combining the knowledge of Danish and a person's professional situation was established.
Under pressure on the part of the Danish People's Party on July 1st last year Denmark also re-introduced a measure that was highly criticised by its partners in the EU, in the shape of permanent customs checks on borders.
The outgoing Prime Minister declared on 26th August last that his government coalition would campaign towards the centre and not the far right. "The Liberal Party and the Conservative Party are standing to win a new term in office and make safe public finance in a world that has been marked by market turbulence and the debt crisis,
" indicated Mr Rasmussen.
The parties in the government are approaching these elections in a weak position. With the leftwing opposition ahead in the polls, they also failed to win the support of the Danish People's Party with regard to their economic recovery plan.
After having spent 10 years in the opposition the Social Democratic Party (SD) led by Helle Thorning-Schmidt hopes to form a majority government with its allies in the People's Socialist Party (SF) led by Villy Sovndal, after the election. "After ten years of government by the right the country is struggling,
" declared the opposition leader. "The crisis has been hard on Denmark. We have 175,000 unemployed and our companies need new orders,
" she added.
The opposition has promised to relax the immigration policy and to review the government's decision to re-introduce customs controls on its land borders if it wins the next general elections.
The Social Liberal Party (RV), that lies in the centre of the political scale but which since the 1990's has mainly worked together with the Social Democrats, has often found itself in the position of kingmaker in the past. Its leader, Marghrethe Vestager, repeated on TV2 that she supported Helle Thorning-Schmidt in her bid for the post of Prime Minister.
The Danish Political System
The Folketing, the single Chamber of Parliament, comprises 179 members who are elected for 4 years by proportional representation according to the Sainte-Lagüe method. To be able to put forward lists in the general elections all parties have to be represented in Parliament when the election is held. If this is not the case a number of signatures has to be collated corresponding to 1/175th of the votes declared valid during the last general elections. The provinces of Greenland and the Faeroe Isles each have two representatives. The other 175 seats are distributed across three regions: Copenhagen, Jutland and the islands. These three regions are then divided into three urban and seven rural constituencies. The number of seats allocated to each of the constituencies is proportional to the number of inhabitants and is reviewed every five years. The calculation undertaken (addition of the population, the number of voters at the last election and the surface area of the constituency in square km multiplied by 20, the result of this is then divided by 175) favours the regions where the population is low.
The distribution of seats is undertaken in two stages, firstly by party and then by candidate. One hundred and thirty five of the 175 are constituency seats, forty of them are compensatory seats. This makes it possible to guarantee a national representation for the "small parties
". However in order to accede to the distribution of compensatory seats a party must have won a minimum of seats in a constituency or a number of votes that is either higher or equal to the number of votes necessary to win a seat in at least two of the three regions in the kingdom, or at least 2% of the votes cast nationally.
Although the principles governing the organisation of the general elections are included in the Danish Constitution of 1953, the kingdom does not have any rules with regard to how the campaign is conducted and no limit is set on how the election in funded.
In view of the general elections the political parties started campaigning at the start of 2011.
8 political parties are represented in the present Folketing:
- The Liberal Party (V), the party of outgoing Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen. Founded in 1870 it has 46 seats;
- The Social Democratic Party (SD), the main opposition party led by Helle Thorning-Schmidt since 2005 has 45 seats;
- The Danish People's Party (DF), a populist far right party founded in 1995 and led by Pia Kjaersgaard; it supports the government coalition in Parliament and has 25 seats;
- the People's Socialist Party (SF), an opposition party created in 1959 by a former chair of the Danish Communist Party who was excluded for having criticized the USSR's invasion of Hungary in 1956. It brings together socialists and ecologists and is led by Villy Sovndal, and it has 23 seats;
- The Conservative Party (KF), founded in 1915, is a member of the government coalition and led by Lars Barfoed with 18 seats;
- The Social Liberal Party (RV), an opposition party founded in 1905 and led by Marghrethe Vestager with 9 MPs;
- New Alliance (Y) (that became the Liberal Alliance) was founded in 2007 by dissidents of the Social Liberal and Conservative Parties. Led by Anders Samuelsen with 5 seats;
- The Unity List (E), results from the alliance of the Communist Party (DKP), the Socialist Workers' Party (SA) and the Socialist Left (VS). The party does not have a leader but is managed by an executive committee of 25 people. It has 4 MPs.
The latest poll by Megafon and published on 26th August last by the daily Politiken credits the left opposition with 52.2% of the vote and 90 seats in the Folketing i.e. a majority. The government coalition and its parliamentary ally, the Danish People's Party, is due to win 47.8% of the vote together and 85 seats.
The poll by Voxmeter for Ritzau credits the left opposition with 96 MPs and the right coalition with the populists led by Pia Kjaersgaard with 79 seats. "The polls give a clear lead to the opposition. It will take a major event for Lars Lokke Rasmussen to win,
" analyses Peter Goll of the consultancy Geelmudyden.Kiese.
If the left wins, Helle Thorning-Schmidt may very well become the first woman ever to lead the Danish government.
Source: Interior Ministry of Denmark