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A comeback for the Danish Social Democrats?.jpg

A comeback for the Danish Social Democrats?

Jan-Erik Støstad
Secretary-General, SAMAK (Cooperation Committee of the Nordic Social Democratic parties and trade union), State Secretary in the Stoltenberg govt (2005-2012)

Will Mette Frederiksen pull off an election victory for the Danish Social democrats on June 5 and become Prime Minister? It looks good with strong polls and a professional campaign. And it confirms a trend in the Nordic countries: soon, all Scandinavian EU countries could be run be Social Democrats.

Polls look almost too good for Mette Frederiksen, the young, strong-willed leader of the Danish Social Democrats. The centre left parties, in Danish politics called the “red block”, will, according to pollofpolls of May 29, carry 51-55 per cent of the vote. This will provide a clear majority of mandates in the parliament. The Social Democrats themselves may get 27 per cent, gaining 1 percentage point from the 2015-elections.

With such a result, Frederiksen seems set to be Denmark’s next Prime Minister.

Danish voters appear tired of Lars Løkke Rasmussen’s right-wing narrow minority government, which has been struggling hard to make its mark. Not least, voters are wary of the Liberal Alliance and the supporting Danish People’s Party (Danish: Dansk Folkeparti).

The Liberal Alliance is a liberal and libertarian political party who joined the government in 2016 on an unsuccessful tax-agenda. The Danish People’s Party headed by Kristian Thulesen Dahl has been challenged by two new parties on the extreme right, standing to diverge votes from Thulesen Dahl and perhaps be represented in the parliament. This, combined with a EU-funding scandal, has led to a drop in the polls.

However, opponents’ problems never guarantee your own success. Politically Mette Frederiksen, if compared to Helle Thorning-Schmidt who left the Prime Minister post after the 2015-elections, has successfully pulled the Social democrats towards the left, while standing firm on immigration.

Combined with harsh critique of Løkke Rasmussen and what can be called a sort of “dialogue” with the Danish People’s Party, this has proved a solid strategic platform, rewarded by robust polls.

Campaigns are short and hectic in Denmark, as the Prime Minister can call an election with as little as three weeks’ notice. Mette Frederiksen has pushed for better pension schemes for vulnerable workers and tough measures against social dumping. Also, she has raised the tax issue, not least confronting the digital multinationals. These initiatives have gone down well with the respected and broadly scoped Danish trade unions.

The Social Democrat parties are largest in all the Nordic countries except Iceland, and clearly so in Denmark, Norway and Sweden with a lead of as much as 5-10 percentage points.

A struggling Løkke Rasmussen has countered by envisioning a “grand coalition” with Frederiksen – predictably met with a cold shoulder. Climate change is rising substantially in voter attention, but with no obvious consequence for voting patterns. Denmark has no designated green party.

Social democracy is, in fact, going quite strong all over the Nordics. The Social Democrat parties are largest in all the Nordic countries except Iceland, and clearly so in Denmark, Norway and Sweden with a lead of as much as 5-10 percentage points. In addition, Social Democrat values are embedded especially in parties to their left, presumably explaining part of the drop from 35-40 to 25-30 percent in the Social Democrat parties’ voter support over the last decades.

No doubt, these progressive sentiments in the Nordics are caused by the Nordic Model delivering its citizens the promised combination of fairness, jobs, efficiency and gender equality.

With Stefan Löfven already in office in Sweden and Antti Rinne finalising his new government in Finland, Mette Frederiksen may be one of at least three Social Democrat Nordic prime Minister in the next 3-4 years period. This should also constitute a more coherent and forceful progressive social and labour market policy stand from these countries in the EU. The last time we witnessed three Social Democrat Prime Ministers in the Nordic countries was 18 years back, in 2001, with Göran Persson, Paavo Lipponen and Poul Nyrup Rasmussen.

Should Mette Frederiksen win the election, what kind of government will emerge? Most probably, as she has herself announced, she will form a minority government going it alone, making the deals necessary with the other parties in the parliament – the Folketinget – looking to the left or to the right dependent on topic and political strength. No doubt this will prove hard work.

Perhaps polls are no results. But there is always the danger of taking victory for granted. When Lars Løkke Rasmussen got an unexpected win at the European elections on May 26, Mette Frederiksen replied that the national elections will now get more exciting. And for sure, exciting it will be. A win is probable, but by no means certain.

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