No, it’s not an April’s Fool joke: The Social Liberal Party presented its proposals for reforms of the Danish welfare state today. The presentation was made in the shape of an Op-Ed article in “Politiken” and a booklet distributed on the party’s homepage (pdf-document – opens in a new window).
The recurring mantra of the article and the accompanying booklet is “The Creative Denmark (in a global setting)”: In later years, the writings of Richard Florida about “the creative class” have had a profound impact on the Social Liberals and this also shows with a vengeance in the article.
If we look at the content of the proposals, the Social Liberals have chosen to hit the government – and to a certain degree also the Social Democrats – where it really hurts politically: The party’s first demand is that income taxes should be lowered considerably and the second that the present Early Retirement Benefit should be scrapped altogether.
The first demand collides head-on with the tax moratorium which was declared by the present government in 2001 and which in crude terms means that the government will not raise taxes on any source of income, not even as part of a possible restructuring of the tax system. (To the joy of house owners, the government has taken extra care in emphasizing that property taxes would not be touched.)
One important point to note is of cause that the Social Liberals can and does use this issue to expose the “contract approach” to government touted by the Prime Minister since 2001 as a basically defensive measure leading to political sclerosis in many areas of public policy.
The second demand is going to be met with even angrier reactions from every other corner of the political spectrum. One lesson learnt by all politicians following the 1998 budget agreement was that the Early Retirement Benefit was a sacred cow in Danish politics – at least in the short and medium term. The Social Democrats are still reeling from the crisis that followed the said agreement
The initiative includes proposals for a reform of the Unemployment Benefit system with shorter benefit periods and reforms that will give immigrants and foreigners better opportunites on the Danish labour market.
Finally the Social Liberals also propose the introduction of fees for visits to a GP or casualty department. That would end a long tradition for free provision of medical – but not dental – services in the Danish health insurance system.
The proposals met a cool reception. Spokesmen for the Socialist and Social Democratic Parties rejected them outright while a spokesman for the Conservative Party said that while the proposals were interesting, they would only be politically viable in the very long term.