Millennium Post
Opinion

Turning Left

Denmark is the third Nordic country to form a left government this year

The European left forces have at last asserted their strength defying the disaster in this year's European Parliament elections, by emerging victorious in the recent general elections in Denmark. Denmark will now be the third Nordic country after Finland and Sweden to form left governments by winning majority in the elections held earlier in 2019.

The latest trend in the Nordic region of Europe has come as a boost to the left amidst the gloom set earlier as a result of defeat in the elections to European Parliament. The leftist opposition block received a convincing majority in the 179 seat parliament in Denmark. However, support for the Social Democratic Party declined, marginally compared with the 2015 voting figures. It remained the country's largest party and is now set to lead the one-party minority government.

Social Democratic Party leader Mette Frederiksen will be the new Prime Minister and she will rely on the Socialist People's Party, the Red-Green Alliance and the Social Liberal party. The four parties have agreed to soften the austerity measures including rules for immigration. Immigration is a big issue in European countries and in all elections, the right and the far right focused on the danger posed by the immigrants to the security and the economy of the respective nations.

That way, the far right even improved their position in the elections in Germany weakening the hold of Chancellor Angela Merkel on her party. The left parties in Denmark, that way kept a sober profile and focused more on the need to taking pro people initiatives rather than blaming the immigrants for the woes of the poor. There are shades of differences in approach among the four leftist partners but they have worked out a compromise, though the issue remains a vexed one having potential to create a schism in future.

What is remarkable about the programme of this left coalition is that the parties agreed for a plan to allow more foreign labour, on further measures to eliminate rising inequality and on a plan to create a binding law on the reduction of emissions. Further, this coalition including the leading partner Social Democrats, have agreed for an increase in spending for welfare measures and making businesses and wealthy pay more towards welfare programme through paying taxes. This approach is on lines with what the British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn is campaigning in Britain and getting very good response.

Five years ago, the Left, under the clumsy label of GUE/NGL (Confederal Group of the European Left/Nordic Green Left), was led by none other than Alexis Tsipras. Later, as Greek prime minister, he agreed to austerity programme imposed by EU. With time and after collecting various splinter groups, the GUE/NGL cobbled together a total of fifty-two seats, a little less than 7 per cent of the European Parliament's 751 MEPs. Now, in 2019, it ended up with thirty-eight, a loss of more than a quarter.

The jolt of the European left — or more precisely, its representation in the European Parliament — came at a time when the old parties of the center-left and center-right suffered dramatic setbacks. Together, these latter won only 329 seats: 44 percent of the total. Their combined loss of seventy-five seats put an end to their Grand Coalition parliamentary majority and also coincided with a steep vote rise for various parties of a new, if not always entirely new, nationalist right (114 seats, an increase of thirty-six). There were similarly impressive gains for the Greens, who rose from fifty-two to seventy seats, making them almost twice as strong as the Left.

According to the political analysts of Left, the first and most basic reason for loss in EP elections is the seemingly total absence of a realistic anti-capitalist, or at least anti-neoliberal, left-wing political strategy related to the European Union. There is not even a debate on the crucial issue of whether the European Union can at all be a vehicle for anti-capitalist politics. Instead, there is a naïve or opportunistic acceptance — and it's hard to say which is worse — of the feel-good "Europeanism" so popular among young people and so useful for both Green electioneering and European technocrats seeking legitimacy for their neoliberal regime. In particular, on the Left, there's no mention of the way in which the European Union's de facto constitution limits the political space for any anti-capitalist or even pro-labor programme, with its safely enshrined free markets (the "four freedoms"), the de facto dictatorship of the European Court, and the balanced budget provisions under European Monetary Union, imposing austerity on countries and citizens.

Any critical discussion of the European Union's central social policy — the free movement of labor between the now economically extremely different member countries — is strictly avoided, combined with hints of sympathy for open borders generally, including those with the outside world. This does nothing but validate the image spread by the Greens and the center-left middle-class parties of Europe being mainly about young people traveling without border controls and not needing to change money. Moreover, this goes in tandem with entirely illusory policy projects, for example, a European minimum wage. Only after insistent questioning is it admitted that a European minimum wage would, in fact, have to be differentiated by country. Predictably, this proposal has found no support whatsoever either in the poor countries of the union, where people find it too good to be true, or in the rich countries, where workers in particular fear that somehow they are the ones who will have to foot the bill for the Left's "European solidarity."

As noted analyst Wolfgang Streeck mentions, in most if not all countries, the Left found it irresistible to join the old and new center parties — Christian Democrats, Social Democrats, the Greens — in declaring the new nationalist right an imminent threat to democracy, which made voting "for Europe," or even for "more Europe" the necessary defensive position. In fact, often enough, the Left raised the stakes by suggesting that the new right was, in fact, a very old right, and not voting for it was a contemporary version of the antifascist struggle of the interwar years.

This dangerously blurred the difference between legal opposition parties in a democracy, reprehensible as their speech and thought may be, and private armies aiming to replace a democratic state with a dictatorial one. Such historical confusion especially played into the hands of the Greens, in several ways. Further, the radical left had no idea how to handle the issue of climate change, whose prominence in recent months again played into the hands of the Greens. In this, the Left did not differ at all from the established center parties. It is easy to understand why it stumbled on this question.

As many Left analysts feel, the Left has badly underestimated what early socialists called the "national question" and its importance for its core constituency. For working people, "Europe" is a far-away technocracy, a world outside of their life experience. This is not much different from the middle class. The latter, however, has learned, and prefers, to pretend that it knows who is doing what in Brussels, which in fact nobody outside of a small circle of specialists really does know. For European Left, it will require exceptional leadership capability to navigate the Left block through this complex and sometimes conflicting narratives.

(The author is Editor-in-Chief, IPA. The views expressed are strictly personal)

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