Left Electoral Reports from Europe - Denmark and Netherlands
* Denmark: Red-Green Alliance Congress Grapples With
* Dutch Socialists Lead in Polls Ahead of Rutte's Liberal
Denmark: Red-Green Alliance Congress Grapples With Increased
by Jody Betzien
August 9, 2012
Red carpet and champagne marked the start of the first Red-
Green Alliance (RGA) congress since the party tripled its
mandate at a poll in September 2011. The 385 delegates
representing the 8000 members packed a basketball stadium in
the migrant and working-class Copenhagen suburb of Norrebro
to grapple with the party's new increased influence on
Danish politics. Party membership has more than doubled in
the past two years, with the party welcoming into its ranks
many ex-members of the Social Democratic and Socialist
Danes voted in droves in last year's elections to punish the
right-wing parties. The poll resulted in the Social
Democrats heading a coalition government - and Denmark's
first woman prime minister. But this took place on the back
of the lowest vote for the Social Democrats since 1906.
There was also a collapse in support for the country's most
right-wing parties, including the overtly racist Danish
People's Party (DPP). The vote for left parties rose. The
Social Liberals are the most conservative of the four left-
of-centre parties supporting the government and the RGA the
most radical. The RGA jumped from four to 12 seats in
parliament, winning 6.7% of the vote. All RGA MPs get only a
skilled worker's wage, donating the rest to the party.
The new government follows 10 years of conservatives in
office. Among trade unionists and working-class communities
that organized to oust the conservatives in a similar style
to the Australian "Your Rights at Work" campaign, there are
huge expectations. With the Social Democrats and their
partners in the government rapidly reneging on election
promises and tracking to the right, the RGA has unique
opportunities and challenges ahead.
The minority Social Democrat government led by Helle
Thorning-Schmidt relies on a coalition of left and centre
parties to govern. The RGA supports the government against
motions of "no confidence," but the party is not formally
part of government and votes for legislation case by case.
The votes of RGA MPs are crucial, however, to enable the
government to pass key laws, including the budget.
The congress delegates reflected in some detail on the
difficult experience of negotiating with the government over
this year's budget. Party spokesperson Johanne Schmidt-
"No one should doubt that if the government chooses the
compassionate way, then we stand ready. We are ready to
negotiate, and we are not afraid of compromise. In return, I
want to say one thing very clear to the government: You'll
never be able to threaten the Alliance to vote for cuts in
welfare. Never! Even if the threat is that you'll call an
election. This kind of bullying does not work on us."
To try to bring community pressure on the negotiations, the
RGA conducted a series of consultations with students,
unions and community groups to gather proposals. The party
prioritized these proposals and made it clear to the
government that the votes of the RGA depended on these
Negotiations with the government were conducted by a team
nominated by the 25 elected members of the RGA's National
Board. The authority to authorize MPs to vote in favour of
the budget is held by the board.
The RGA's ultimate support for the budget hinged on the
inclusion of five weeks' holiday for recipients of social
assistance, as well as giving the unemployed more
opportunities for retraining and education rather than being
forced back into the labour market. The budget also included
some progressive taxation reforms, including a higher tax on
large companies and a tax on printed advertising materials.
The congress revisited a big debate from last year. This
came after a majority of the National Board endorsed the
vote of the party's MPs in favour of Danish support for the
UN-NATO intervention in Libya. This support was later
retracted by the board and MPs as the intervention in Libya
unfolded. At last year's congress, a vote to endorse the
actions of the board's majority was carried by a margin of
just 13 votes.
In the lead up to the congress, the party conducted seminars
throughout the country to debate in what circumstances the
party would support military action. The result of these
seminars was a resolution put to the congress designed to
guide the party. Delegates adopted the resolution, which
provides very limited circumstances in which, for
humanitarian reasons and having all other options exhausted,
the party would support UN-led military interventions. Some
delegates expressed concern about the practicality of the
resolution in the context of further military interventions.
Others regarded it as an important framework to guide the
Big challenges lie ahead, as the government is moving to cut
unemployment benefits from four to two years, and raise
working hours and the retirement age. The congress launched
a campaign to "Fight unemployment, not the unemployed" this
A decision was also made to run a campaign to force the
government to hold a referendum on Danish support for the
European Union Fiscal Pact. This pact will bind the EU
countries to implement cuts to public spending and debt.
Also high on the campaign agenda is scrapping the
discriminatory immigration rules that prevent Danish
citizens with less than 28 years of residency from bringing
their wife or husband to Denmark. These laws were passed by
the previous government at the initiative of the far-right
Danish People's Party.
With the RGA enjoying a growing and enthusiastic membership
and a huge mainstream national profile, its future looks
bright. It already has strong representation in local
councils and looks set to extend that base in next year's
Despite its bright electoral prospects, delegates and MPs
alike were at pains throughout the conference to point to
the limits of negotiating change in parliament. Much
discussion focused on building campaigns outside parliament.
National Board member Per Clausen said: "The main challenge
for us is to bring optimism and the belief that political
activity is useful. And when we go from here we spread that
belief into the workplace, in homes and taverns."
[Jody Betzien is a writer for Green Left Weekly where this
article first appeared.]
Dutch Socialists Lead in Polls Ahead of Rutte's Liberal
By Fred Pals
August 8, 2012
The Dutch Socialist Party, headed by former school teacher
Emile Roemer, is leading in a poll by seven seats ahead of
caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte's Liberal Party, before
early elections set for Sept. 12.
Roemer's Socialists would get 37 seats, up from 35 seats
last week and more than double the 15 seats it has now,
market research company TNS-NIPO said in a survey published
on its website today. Rutte's Liberal VVD would get 30
seats, down from 31, while its coalition partner, the
Christian Democratic Alliance, would get 16 seats, five less
than it has now. The poll surveyed 1,557 people Aug. 3-7 and
has a margin of error of 2.2 percentage points.
The Socialists want the Netherlands to meet its euro budget
deficit limit of 3 percent of gross domestic product by 2015
-- not 2013 as targeted by the present government -- and it
prefers a broader mandate for the European Central Bank.
More government spending is needed to help the economy while
drastic budget cuts will harm the economy, according to the
Elections were called after Rutte submitted his Cabinet's
resignation on April 23 as Geert Wilders's Freedom Party
withdrew support for spending cuts and tax increases. After
that, investors demanded as much as 79 basis points of extra
yield to lend to the Netherlands for 10 years rather than to
Germany, the highest premium in three years. The Dutch
economy may contract by 0.75 percent this year, according to
the government planning agency CPB. German Ruling
The Dutch elections take place the same day as the German
Federal Constitutional Court rules on the 500 billion-euro
($617 billion) European Stability Mechanism.
European Central Bank President Mario Draghi's proposal to
consider ECB purchases of government debt in tandem with
Europe's rescue fund in return for strict conditions has
failed to calm bond markets. Spain and Italy, the countries
at the heart of the debt crisis that emanated from Greece,
haven't asked for aid.
Wilders, campaigning on an anti-Europe platform, would get
18 seats from the 20 that remain after four of his members
quit the party while staying on in parliament since the 2010
vote. The Labor Party stands at 17 seats, down 13 seats from
2010, according to TNS-NIPO.
Roemer's party is two seats ahead of Rutte's VVD at 34
seats, according to another poll published Aug. 5 by Maurice
de Hond. A survey by polling company Ipsos Synovate gives
the VVD the top spot with 35 seats, six more than the
Socialists. That poll was published July 27.
It has taken an average of almost three months to set up a
coalition in the Netherlands since World War II while the
formation of the Rutte cabinet in 2010 took four months.
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