July and August are traditionally holiday months in Danish politics which means that not much of importance happens. Usually second-tier politicians are sent forward with test balloons while the media discuss whether a new ice age is about to set in.
2006 hasn’t deviated too much from that template even if global warming and the heatwave have taken the place of the ice age. Still, there have been one or the other interesting development which may or may not spill over into the coming political year.
The Minister for Transport Flemming Hansen will never forget this summer when most of the rail infrastructure went AWOL and left passengers stranded at railway stations and stuck in endlessly delayed trains. Politicians, DSB and BaneDanmark exchanged accusations but basically the problem is that politicians of all colours have cut and delayed maintenance for 30 years and eventually the tracks and the signaling system have started to give in, leaving trains built for 180 km/h no choice but to run at 40 km/h.
For the moment, the minister’s only solution to the problems has been to suggest that a commission should be set up to analyse the situation and make proposals for investments in transport infrastructure.
As we all know, a commission is generally a tool for delaying decisions so travelers should not expect any political help at the present time. In the short and medium term, commuters and long-distance travelers are left with no choice but to change from trains to cars.
On the other hand, there are good reasons why Flemming Hansen didn’t make specific proposals. First, he is a low-ranking minister in a government which is run in an extreme top-down way. His main task is to implement decisions taken by the Prime Minister and his closest advisors, not to make political initiatives.
Second, investments into infrastructure is classical regional policy territory. Or pork territory, if you like.
This spring, an attempt to expand the capacity of the massively congested Copenhagen – Ringsted line where it looked like a majority for a building new railway line over Køge to supplement the existing line over Roskilde had been established collapsed due to the manouverings of a faction in the Liberal Party and the Social Liberal Party. The plans have been postponed, leaving passengers on Sjælland with little hope of better regularity and higher capacity for the next 15-20 years.
Finally, Denmark is still in an economic boom where labour is scarce and the Finance Ministry will do everything to stop an overheating of the labour market. Postponing public investments is a useful instrument in those cases.
Yes: Investments in the rail infrastructure are postponed during periods of slow growth to save money and during periods of high growth to save labour. Do you get the picture?
Will the Real Social Liberal Please Stand Up?
When not trying to stop the building of new railways, the Social Liberal Party has been engaged in an opaque power struggle whose real object hasn’t been easy the figure out.
The conflict deserves its own post at some point so for now I will just note that Marianne Jelved on the one hand has been the leading figure of one group standing by a number of ultimatums to any possible political partners and calling for – well – Marianne Jelved to be the next prime minister. Naser Khader on the other hand has criticised this intransigent stance and promoted a less stubborn but also more right-wing position.
The question is: How many Social Liberals does Khader in practice represent?
Fogh Is a Social Democrat! No, Really
For the moment, Anders Fogh Rasmussen has shaken the dust from the Muhammad crisis of himself and he is still unchallenged as leader of the Liberal Party and the government.
On the other hand, Fogh has felt the need to re-establish his credentials with regard to public welfare services, and at the Liberal Party’s summer meeting he presented a programme for expanding services for the elderly.
What is even more notable was that Fogh wanted to give the state competences to oversee the performance at the local level. That would make the local authorities agents of the state rather than relatively independent actors. This kind of centralisation has traditionally been associated with Social Democratic policies while the Liberal Party has defended local government.
Danish and Danish
Finally, we shouldn’t forget the Danish People’s Party which started the summer by calling for the sacking of three ministers (the usual suspects: Minister of Transport Flemming Hansen, Minister of Consumer Affairs Lars Barfoed and Minister of Social Affairs Eva Kjer Hansen) but accepted that it had no parliamentary options except to support the government.
Be that as it may, developments during the last week have been chipping away at the party’s carefully constructed nationalist-but-not-racist-image.
First, a member of the party was linked with the small extremist grouping Dansk Front, then a number of party officials stated in interviews with Danish media that they would accept members of Dansk Front and even members of the Danish Nazi party as members of Danish People’s Party.
In a press statement released this Monday, the party announced that it had excluded nine named officials for making such statements.