On the eve of the 2014 European Elections, we take a look at how things stand in Denmark and examine the Left’s support of the “People’s Movement against the EU”.
The EP elections in Denmark will take place on Sunday 25 May. In contrast to the situation in other EU countries, these elections feature no EU critical left opposition. At its Annual Congress in 2013 the left-wing Enhedslisten/ Red-Green Alliance (RGA) decided to continue to give its support to the country’s EU-critical movements – however, this time only to the Folkebevægelsen mod EU (“Danish People’s Movement against the EU” –FB). The FB is a centre-left movement based on democratic and social opposition to the EU, and its present MEP is associated to the GUE/NGL in the European Parliament.
A number of RGA members are standing in the elections as candidates of the People’s Movement. The top candidate, Rina Ronja Kari, is a member of the RGA. The Red-Green Alliance contributes to the campaign of the People’s Movement mainly financially and with the support of activists.
Lessons learnt from the 2009 campaign
It should be remembered that two Danish EU-critical movements ran in the 2009 EP elections as part of a joint technical cooperation: the People’s Movement and the June Movement. The People’s Movement achieved 7.2% of the votes in the elections – not sufficient for one seat – but together with the 2.4% of votes won by the June Movement, they managed to gain one seat. Søren Søndergaard was the successful candidate who (standing in the elections on behalf of the People’s Movement) won with a huge number of votes. Søren is also a previous MP of the Red-Green Alliance.
Søren Søndergaard stepped down as an MEP a few months ago in order to allow for the new FB top candidate, Rina Ronja Kari, to get some experience as an MEP before the elections. As the June Movement only achieved 2.4% of the votes in 2009, they chose to close down the organisation after the elections.
These EP elections were a setback for the country’s EU-critical movements as they had previously had two seats in the EP (2004) and, prior to that, 3–4 seats. However, one should note here that the number of Danish seats in the EP had also been reduced to 13, which especially affected smaller parties/organisations.
However, the result could also be explained by the rise of the EU-critical extreme right-wing Danish People’s Party (DF) which made significant gains in the elections, winning 15.3% of the votes. Whilst the DF attracted a substantial number of EU critical Social Democrats, another section of EU critical Social Democrats voted in favour of the People’s Movement. The Social Democrats’ share of the vote fell to 21.4% in the 2009 EP elections, down from 32.6% (in the 2004 EP elections).
An analysis of the results of the People’s Movement (FB) in the 2009 EP elections showed that the movement seemed to attract an equal number of Social Democratic, Socialist People’s Party (SF) and Red-Green Alliance voters. Around 20% from each party made up the FB voters – the rest were centre-bourgeois voters 64% of RGA voters voted in favour of the FB whilst it seems many RGA voters did not even vote at all.
The election turnout was significantly higher in Denmark than in other EU countries: 59.5% in 2009 as opposed to 47.9% in the 2004 EP elections. However, this was mainly due to the fact that a referendum on an amendment to the Danish Act of Succession was held at the same time. In general, the Danish public has very little interest in the EU.
At the EP elections this year a simultaneous referendum will also take place, this time on the issue of Danish accession to the EU patent court: a complicated issue which seems to leave voters confused.
2014 EP elections – social dumping comes to the fore
So far the campaign and the debate have been rather subdued and restricted to few issues. It is thus hard to predict the impact and the outcome of the elections. At present the opinion polls suggest that it is not only the People’s Movement that stands a slim chance in the EP elections, but also a number of Danish political parties as well. However, the winners seem to be the DF and the big mainstream parties: the Liberal Party Venstre and the Social Democrats. However, it is important to note that the Social Democrats were big losers in the 2009 EP elections, which will make victory this time around all the more special.
A new tendency in the campaign is that even the pro-EU parties seem to have assumed a more EU-critical position. So far the campaign seems to have focused more on social dumping and very little on EU austerity, a much thornier issue for the mainstream parties as they are strong supporters of the EU and EU’s austerity policies.
Furthermore, the focus on social dumping has allowed for the Danish People’s Party (DF) to play a very prominent role in the campaign from the start, promoting the issue of the threat from Eastern European immigrant workers. Against this backdrop, the People’s Movement has focused on the importance of immigrant workers and their being paid in accordance with the rules and conditions laid out for Danish workers. However, the party also underlined the problems associated with the rules of the EU single market’s free movement of labour as they promote social dumping. It should be noted that the DF is in favour of the single market.
An uncertain outcome
It is expected that the downturn in the fortunes of the government coalition parties will also be reflected in these elections. Since the Socialist People Party (SF) chose to leave the government in January this year, the coalition government has been made up of just two parties: the Social Democrats and the Social Liberals (Radikale Venstre) – both strongly pro-EU. SF is also a pro-EU party and since 2004 SF MEPs have been part of the Green group in the EP.
Whilst the failures of the present centre-left government will no doubt affect the elections, it still remains to be seen how much impact this will have. A reason for this is also the fact that Danish voters in general do not yet see the direct link between (the very unpopular) Danish economic and social policies and those of the EU.
The People’s Movement has, until now, been estimated to gain between 3.7% and 9.1% in the polls, which means that in the worst case it may be tricky to even win one seat. However, a very recent poll has placed the party at 12.7%, which is in fact the best poll rating the FB has until now received. SF and the Social Liberals are in a bad position in the polls, at present standing to lose all their seats in the EP elections.
But the polls also show that nearly half of the electorate has not yet made up their minds on how they are going to vote in the elections, which allows for widespread uncertainty with regard to the outcome of the elections.
It had been hoped that at least the downturn of SF would be reflected in a clear and immediate increase in votes for the People’s Movement, but so far this does not seem to be the case. The FB needs a breakthrough – which is not so easy for the only Movement standing and one which has a new, young and more inexperienced leading candidate.
Most agree that the DF is currently very strong in the polls in general – around 20%, approximately equal to or greater than the Social Democrats – which is attracting new voters. The party also stands to benefit from having a convincing top candidate and the appearance of being a more moderate party – not in opposition to the EU but EU critical – and, in particular, from its focus on the narrative of the EU as a body which is allowing Eastern Europeans to undermine the Danish welfare system.
Find an overview of the European Parliament election results in 2004 and 2009 on the right at Documentation (pdf, 7 KB).