Game of clones: the battle for middle ground

Rival forces are marshalling their troops for the epic struggle ahead

June 5 sees a long-awaited general election taking place in Denmark.

Lagging in the polls, PM Lars Løkke Rasmussen has gambled on waiting until almost the last minute before calling the election. It remains to be seen whether his gamble will pay off.

The old guard
On the one hand we have the red bloc, comprising Socialdemokratiet, Socialistiske Folkeparti, Enhedslisten, Alternativet and Radikale.

Their opponents are the blue bloc: Venstre, Dansk Folkeparti, Konservative, Liberal Alliance and Kristendemokraterne.

Raw recruits
Should they manage to gain any seats, Nye Borgerlige and Stram Kurs share a lot of policies with the blue bloc.

The independent candidate Klaus Riskær Pedersen is more of an unknown quantity though.

CPH POST has put together a guide to three of the major battlefields in the election: health, taxes and welfare. Our next issue will follow up with immigration, climate and education.

The welfare state remains a cornerstone of Danish life.

It is characterised by universality – all citizens in Denmark have the right to free medical help, free hospital treatment, free education and a pension independent of savings and employment.

However, do non-western immigrants deserve its benefits on a par with Danes? Can and should Denmark retain a classic welfare society that ensures support for everyone ,or should Danes become accustomed to fewer free services?

Here is a rough guide to the main strands of the debate.

Red Bloc
Socialdemokratiet wants a socially just distribution of benefits in society – and thus equal opportunities for everyone. It also argues that any abuses of the system should be punished, and that the number of non-western immigrants in residential areas, schools or educational institutions must not exceed 30 percent.

Alternativet is putting sustainability at the very heart of its policies, including those in the economic and social areas. An equal society is at the heart of everything. It has pledged to work to ensure all public institutions have a formulated strategy that deals with inequality–creating structures.

Going to work more radically, Enhedslisten also puts equality, solidarity and freedom first – but wants to abolishing private property rights. Investing more in the welfare state creates more jobs and a stronger economy.

Socialistisk Folkeparti promises to fight for a strong public sector, but also thinks more should be done to prevent social problems and enhance social mobility. SF also wants to crack down on tax havens, under-the-table work and social dumping. The party also intends to equalise the admission requirements for high schools and vocational education.

Radikale would like to see more investment in welfare, particularly for vulnerable children, as well as better daycare and help for mentally disadvantaged citizens. It also believes the education system should be more inclusive when it comes to giving a leg-up to children from poorer backgrounds.

Blue Bloc
Dansk Folkparti has a strong focus on welfare for Danish citizens. Care for the elderly, sick and disabled is a public task. Hospital waiting lists must be eliminated and more money must be invested to fight cancer.

At its core Venstre’s welfare policies are: fewer Danes on public support, increased economic growth and a better and more efficient health service.

Liberal Alliance wants to cut the public sector in order to increase efficiency and reduce bureaucracy.

The Konservative view favours more community involvement to foster a sense of responsibility amongst friends, family and the community. Targeted help based on the individual is the solution – whether that is help with foster families, hospitals or homes for the homeless.

According to Tax Ministry estimates for 2018, Danes paid around 998 billion kroner in taxes and tariffs. That equated to 44.9 percent of the country’s GDP and is one of the highest rates worldwide.

However, Denmark has a cradle-to-grave comprehensive welfare state system, so it could be argued you get a lot for your money.

A number of parties in both blocs hold strong views about taxes – and whether to raise or lower them.

Red Bloc
Overall, the red bloc supports taxes as the bedrock of the social system and as part of the labour market security model.

Socialdemokratiet moved towards the centre under its former leader Helle Thorning-Schmidt, who implemented a tax reform to raise the tax threshold for poorer people, as well as lowering taxes for the wealthy. The objective of the party is still to support an equal and just society, so taxes won’t be coming down much anytime soon. Mette Frederiksen, the party’s new leader, promises to “tidy up taxes and fees and pursue tax evasion aggressively”.

SF wants to strengthen the welfare state and finance it though a wealth tax and higher taxes on share profits for high earners. It would also like to beef up the tax control system.

Alternativet wants to end the current tax moratorium as part of a reform of the way property is taxed. There should also be tax incentives available for companies who move towards more sustainability. There should also be a tax on financial transactions.

Radikale, which moves between red and blue blocs, has pledged to overhaul the tax system in order to make it more attractive for people to work more.

Blue Bloc
The blue bloc parties tend to disagree a lot – especially when it comes to favouring the rich by jettisoning the top rate tax.

Liberal Alliance holds the view that money is best kept in people’s own pockets. If you work, you should be able to enjoy the fruits of your labour. One of the party’s hobby horses is lowering the top tax. It also proposes that nobody should have to pay tax on the first 84,000 kroner earned. That would equate to around 7,000 tax-free kroner per month.

The PM has been vocal in opposing lower taxes, but has stated that he does not think all tax cuts are wrong.

Konservative leader Søren Pape Poulsen would like to see corporation tax eliminated to increase Denmark’s international competitiveness.

Dansk Folkeparti leader Kristian Thulesen Dahl proposes tax easements of 5 billion kroner to motivate poorer people to take vacant lower-paid jobs. The idea is that it ought to be financially attractive to work rather than being on benefits. Dahl would also like to give tax breaks to those who earn less than 350,000 kroner. DF is also against reducing the top rate tax.

Whatever happens on June 5, in order to form a government these parties will have to collaborate to some extent, so it remains to be seen whether the tax cutters or those who want higher taxes on the rich will win the day.

Health Reform
Depending on the outcome of the election, the way healthcare in Denmark is provided could change dramatically.

One of the things on the table for the upcoming election is a potentially major restructuring of the Danish healthcare system: the elimination of the five regions.

In his New Year’s speech, Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen announced that he intends to replace them with 21 municipal-level organisations and increased local facilities. Health reform is a major plank in Venstre’s election campaign.

Socialdemokratiet, on the other hand, is advocating the retention on the regions, neighbourhood hospitals nearer to citizens, and employing 1,000 more nurses.

Personal experience
Copenhagener Tanja Juhler Maureschat, 23, is very familiar with the healthcare system from a patient’s point of view. Since she was born she has had to frequent various specialists in spina bifida, a chronic condition that can cause weakness in the legs, and other neural challenges.

At least every four months Maureschat goes to Rigshospitalet for a minor procedure. She has noticed a great difference before and after the 2007 reform.

“Before, I got a time I had to be there and I was seen instantly, but now I am having to wait for three, four, five hours before I’m through,” she said.

Others report witnessing hospital staff under increased stress.

Centralisation vs decentralisation
The current regions are composed of publicly-elected officials and were created in 2007 as part of the Danish Municipal Reform.

The 2007 legislation consolidated 80 hospitals into 62, with an ultimate goal of 53 hospitals by 2025.

“If you carry out this reform, you’ll have a lot more power centralised at a government level and some at the municipalities,” explained Kristian Taageby Nielsen, a consultant at Danish Regions.

“You need something in between to balance the two levels. In order to create a more coherent healthcare sector you need the regions to have a bigger overview than the municipalities, but a more local one than the national government.”

Rasmussen said the reform intends to “put the needs of the patient before the system”.

Nielsen doesn’t believe the upcoming reform will move Denmark towards a more integrated, seamless, healthcare system. Improving patient experience, he says, is dependent on a stronger communication infrastructure between the hospitals, regions and municipalities – and a larger healthcare workforce.

Geographic differences
A report by economist Terkel Christiansen at the University of Southern Denmark noted that the 2007 reform, while mostly positive in its impact, led to the closure of local hospitals primarily in rural areas.

Maureschat believes the influx of people from these outlying areas to Rigshospitalet is causing longer commutes and increased waiting times for her routine treatments.

The new reform, while technically decentralising, probably won’t help alleviate these issues, Nielsen contends.

“Of course there will be some problems with waiting times now and again, but it is hard to see how the reform to destructure is going to change this. All we can do is try to build the right hospitals and have the right technologies at the hospitals for patients to have the right treatment.”

The 2007 reform aimed to streamline and enhance patient treatment across the nation. The consolidated “super-hospitals” provide the benefit of putting highly specialised professionals in close proximity to one another, enhancing collaboration and communication.

These benefits are at the core of the argument for centralisation.

Modernising healthcare
Nielsen emphasises that consolidating the hospitals allows for the remaining facilities to obtain the newest and best technologies available. Not only is the system continuing to improve, but centralisation should make allowances for Denmark’s ageing demographic.

“A lot of patients both in the future and right now will have a chronic disease – maybe more than one. By centralising at the bigger hospitals you can offer different treatments at the same hospital,” he added.