SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

EU summit’s right-wing host

THE ONE-YEAR old Liberal-Conservative coalition government in Denmark has launched a series of far-reaching attacks on the public sector, workers’ rights and on refugees. On 13-14 December it will be met by the biggest protests so far, as it hosts the EU summit in Copenhagen.

In the election campaign in November 2001, most established parties competed in racist propaganda against asylum seekers. Not least among them was the then social democratic party government, which proudly pointed to its record of worsening conditions for refugees. This did not, as some claimed it would, block the openly racist Dansk Folkeparti (DFP). The DFP got 12% of the votes and became part of the ruling majority, although without ministerial seats.

The government was formed by the Liberals, led by the new prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, and the Conservatives. Both these parties copied the DFP slogan, ‘money to health care instead of asylum seekers’, but neither had any intention of giving more money to the health service, as has been proved during the last year.

The new government started off by giving the argument that ‘people should be free to make their own choice’ as the reason for closing 103 state authorities and agencies. Among them was the Danish Centre for Human Rights. Five thousand environmental protection jobs were also cut off from state financing, as the government came out against the Kyoto agreement. The Danish Red Cross, which takes care of refugees, lost 77% of its state subsidies, and foreign aid was cut by a fifth. Publicly-financed building works were cut, raising unemployment among building workers from 3% to 8%.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen clearly aims to fulfil the title of the programmatic book he wrote some years ago, ‘From social state to a minimum state’. At least 11,000 state employees will be sacked in the coming three years. Councils and regional authorities have been ordered to balance their budget and banned from raising taxes, which will mean the axe for another 5,000 jobs in 2003. Centres supporting victims of domestic violence, homeless people and drug addicts, for example, have been closed or are in danger in many councils.

Privatisation is also high on the government’s agenda. The government wants to sell-off one million publicly-owned houses and one of the state television channels, TV2. Those who are protesting against this say this it is comparable to the policy of the Farum council, which first became known for its ‘unconventional’ privatisations which made the council rich (the media at the time praised this council for sending some pensioners on charter trips to Spain). Then the bubble burst and Farum went bankrupt, having to be more or less nationalised and with huge cuts as a result.

In three areas there have been big protests this autumn. Firstly, 80,000 school students demonstrated throughout the country on 3 October against school cuts of more than 200 million Danish kroner (DKr, €25 million). The proposal to introduce fees in adult education (used mostly by unemployed workers catching up on basic education) was met by protests from 60,000 students and a week-long boycott of 15 education centres. Also in the child care sector, workers have been on strike in many councils, with the support of parents.

Secondly, health workers have organised strikes and protests. In Ålborg region, the second biggest in the country, DKr170 million has been cut from health care. In one hospital alone they cut staff from 500 to 40. Thousands of health workers protested on 1 October. Cuts in education for nurses and teachers – proving the hypocrisy of the government’s talk of improving health care and education – has also met with opposition.

The third area which could potentially cause the biggest struggle of all is a proposed ‘labour reform’, an issue which triggered the general strikes in Italy and Spain in April and June this year. These proposals will lower unemployment benefits for 25,000 families by DKr900 a month, for example, and benefits will be lower for young workers, with several new restrictions being introduced. The new system will replace an unemployment benefit system organised by the unions, thereby threatening to undermine union recruitment. Typically, the social democratic party is backing this proposal, with the government, the DFP and some other ‘opposition’ parties.

The government has also continued to play the racist card during its first year. In his first speech, Fogh Rasmussen rhetorically asked ‘what has happened with Denmark?’, singling out immigrants as criminals with a ‘frightening’ birth rate (based, in fact, on totally false statistics). On 1 July new laws for refugees were implemented, which included a ban on any Dane under 25 from marrying a foreigner while those older than 25 have to earn DKr250,000 a year. It now takes a nine years stay in the country, and a test in ‘the Danish language and society’, to become a citizen. Before the election last year, the prognosis of the authorities was that 44% of asylum seekers would get a ‘no’ in 2002, now they point towards 70%. These measures obviously have had the effect of increasing racism against all immigrants in the country.

But while Austria was treated to a (lame) boycott by the European Union when the racist Freedom Party (FPÖ) came into government, nothing similar has happened to Denmark. One reason is the obvious fiasco over the attempt to punish Austria, but another is that similar refugee policies are being used all over Europe. This Danish government, while dependent on the DFP, actually wants to integrate Denmark further into the EU, including a possible – third – referendum on the euro. The latter prospect is one of many reasons for the praise Fogh Rasmussen gets from the capitalists.

The social democratic party has offered very limited and extremely weak opposition in the last year. Apart from supporting the labour ‘reform’ proposals, the social democrats are also a party to the new school policy of the government and the DFP. No wonder the social democratic party is down in opinion polls at 27.4% support (from 29.1% in the 2001 election that they lost). The DFP on the other hand is slightly up, from 12% to 12.8%. The DFP has a lot of influence, without having to take full responsibility for the government’s policies.

On 19 November, former prime minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen declared his resignation after ten years as the social democratic party leader. He is remembered for siding with Blair and Spanish premier Aznar on the right within the EU, and met growing criticism within his party after the election loss last year. The LO (TUC) leadership has proposed to cut its financial contribution to the party. The ‘discontented’, however, are hardly to the left of Nyrup Rasmussen.

The trade union leadership has done its outmost to block and divert struggle. In January, the LO (TUC) leadership even met the DFP leadership for a ‘new dialogue’. On the national day of protest against cuts and racism, on 20 March, the LO leadership attempted to prevent any strike action taking place (although in the event there were several strikes). Alongside this, several corruption scandals have taken place in different union leaderships.

More significantly, there is also a growing opposition among workers. In September, 800 rank-and-file unionists organised in ‘Trade union responsibility’ met to discuss how to defend unions rights, unemployment benefits etc. Many unions are involved in planning the protests on 13-14 December, and some local leaders have demanded a general strike for Friday 13.

The Copenhagen summit will underline the imperialist role of the European Union. Formally the meeting is focused on EU enlargement, in many ways a takeover of Eastern Europe by Western European transnational corporations and states. Additionally, the EU will show its support for Bush’s war adventure. Racism and the wall against refugees is another key issue exposing the nature of the EU.

The Danish government is mobilising policemen by the thousands and is closing off big parts of Copenhagen in its preparations for mass protests in December. For workers and youth the challenge is to organise consistent struggle to bring down the government and fight for a new workers’ party on a socialist programme.

Per-Åke Westerlund


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