A fragile government reopens parliament

The government may hope that the policies it presents for this parliamentary year will win back voters, but experts argue that they will only be saved by a strengthening economy and a successful offensive against the opposition

As the government opens parliament today after two years in power they face troubling approval ratings and the prospect that the next two years in power may be their last.

Almost from the outset, the Socialdemokraterne-Socialistisk Folkeparti-Radikale (S-SF-R) government has had trouble sticking to their promises and failed to follow through with a congestion charge (betalingsring) for Copenhagen, earmarked parental leave, and lower ticket prices for public transport.

Their left-wing voters were further alienated as S-SF-R pushed through significant reforms of unemployment benefits and the student grant system that reduced the benefits' generosity in order to pay for business-friendly initiatives.

Voter exodus
According to Christoffer Green-Pedersen, a professor of political science at the University of Aarhus, these reforms led voters to accuse the government of pursuing the same conservative policies they thought they had voted out of office.

“The evidence suggests that voters perceive the government’s policies and legislation as pretty right-wing, and that’s not what they expected,” Green-Pedersen said. “Many have swapped party allegiance in protest and out of disappointment. They are not impossible to get back, there are just a lot that need convincing.”

All three coalition parties have suffered in the polls since the election, with far-left party Enhedslisten and opposition parties Venstre and Dansk Folkeparti (DF) mopping up some of the dissatisfied voters.

The threat from the right
DF, a pro-welfare party that tends to support the right-wing ‘blue’ block of parties in exchange of tough immigration legislation, has enjoyed the largest surge in voter support. 

Winning back these voters before the election is the government’s most pressing challenge, says Green-Pedersen.

“I think the only thing they can do is try to push policies that are more social-democratic because that is what the voters want. They also need to challenge Dansk Folkeparti and point out that when [DF] supported the former government, they voted for policies that reduced the welfare state,” Green-Pedersen said.

On the offensive
Associate professor Klaus Kjøller, a researcher in political communication at the University of Copenhagen, agrees that the government doesn’t have much choice but to attack DF and Venstre.

“[Prime minister Helle] Thorning-Schmidt already started to target those parties at the Socialdemokraterne’s party conference this weekend,” Kjøller said.

“But the only realistic way for the government to improve in the polls is for the economy to improve and for unemployment to drop. Their biggest problem so far has been that they communicated too many promises that they didn’t follow through with," Kjøller said. "They just have to hope for the economic figures to get better and for Dansk Folkeparti and Venstre to make some mistakes.”

READ MORE: 2014 budget to focus on public-sector investment 

While the worst of the reforms are behind the government, Thomas Bredgaard, an associate professor and labour market researcher at the University of Aalborg, says the government still has some tricky labour market reforms to negotiate.

“They firstly have to reform vocational education for young people because too many are dropping out before they finalise their education,” Bredgaard said. “The problem is acute because Denmark will need more people with vocational qualifications in the future.”

Bredgaard added that the government is also expecting recommendations in November on how to reform governmental job centres in order to better connect their employment policies to the labour market and the needs of employers.

Necessary reforms
Which reforms the governments will pursue during the next parliamentary year will be laid out by the PM at her opening speech in parliament today.

But while the government could choose to focus on policies that appeal to its core voters, Green-Pedersen argues that they would be best off sticking to their guns.

“The economy has started to pick up so their main focus will be to use this to their advantage and say, ‘The worst is behind us and now that the economy is improving, the policies were necessary’.”

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