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Government on track but off message
last week saw the government lay out its 2020 economic plan and the Socialdemokraterne (S) name Henrik Sass Larsen as head of the party’s parliamentary group. Many pundits are saying that those two actions are, in fact, closely related. Sass, who was once the main spokesperson for his party, is expected to help the coalition government push through its initiatives and do a better job at broadcasting the government’s (and his party’s) successes to the media.
Many feel that the Socialdemokraterne-Radikale-Socialistisk Folkeparti (S-R-SF) government, which has been slipping further and further down in the polls, has not done an effective job letting the public know when it gets something right. Internal struggles within SF, along with support party Enhedslisten’s (EL) seemingly daily threats to pull its support, have effectively stolen the spotlight from what adherents feel are the government’s legitimate wins.
A recent study by Berlingske Politico showed that the S-R-SF coalition had achieved nearly half the points that it had laid out in its original platform (regeringsgrundlag). The study showed that at six months into its term, the coalition had achieved 42 of the 95 points in its original ‘Denmark: Standing Together’ manifesto. S spokesperson Magnus Heunicke said the government should be better at letting the public know about its achievements.
“We should get better at telling people what we have accomplished,” Heunicke told the tabloid BT. “We work hard at getting our policies implemented, and this report shows we are succeeding.”
Tim Knudsen, a political science professor at the University of Copenhagen, pointed out that although the government has succeeded in getting things like a new energy bill and its much talked about economic ‘kickstart’ plan in place, larger initiatives, like the congestion charge (betalingsring) for cars travelling to and from Copenhagen, have been dropped.
“It is easier to put higher taxes on things like wine, beer and chocolate than it is to implement major tax or workplace reforms,” Knudsen told Berlingske newpaper.
Enter Henrik Sass Larsen. Larsen is being called the government’s ‘bulldog’ as they prepare to negotiate the 2020 plan’s many minefields of taxes, entitlements and public sector jobs, as well as take their seat at the table for the upcoming three-party talks with employers and unions.
Analysts said that the government needed to strengthen its position before tackling the unions.
Politiken wrote that Mogens Jensen, the S party boss before Larsen, and political spokesman Magnus Heunicke, were too soft for the battles ahead.
The unions themselves have also been lobbying to see Larsen back on the front line. According to Berlingske, leading officials from the 3F and Dansk Metal unions did not think that either PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt (S) or the finance minister, Bjarne Corydon (S), understood them well enough to engage effectively in the upcoming negotiations. They pushed to see Larsen back on the team.
The Berlingske Politico report on the government’s progress has left SF encouraged that the government is opening up some distance between itself and the former regime.
SF spokesperson Jesper Petersen said that the differences between the two are now crystal clear.
“We are being judged by the difference between us and the Venstre-Konservative period,” Petersen told Berlingske. “We have made big changes in terms of investing in education, health and higher taxes on multinational corporations.”
Petersen mentioned the abolishment of the points system for a permanent residence permit as a good example. He said S-R-SF was living up to its promises and outlining the differences between itself and the VKO government, which was buoyed by the stringently anti-immigration Dansk Folkeparti.
Despite the encouraging report on its initial goals, the government seems to have its work cut out for it before it reaches the objectives it has laid out in the 2020 plan. Its own support party, Enhedslisten (EL), is on record as saying it will not support the plan unless some major changes are made.
EL spokesperson Frank Aaen released a statement saying as much moments after the government’s press conference announcing the plan.
“Wage earners, the unemployed and people with disabilities are footing the bill, while wealthy Danes can count on tax cuts,” Aaen said.
Aaen was especially concerned that a planned 0.8 percent increase in public sector growth is essentially the same amount that Venstre had included in its budget proposal, making it appear that there is not a great deal of difference between the new and old governments.
“This was probably not what the voters expected when they elected a social democratic government,” Aaen concluded.