Jacob Christensen

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Archive for June, 2010

Germany vs. England

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Peter Singer says it:

[German goalkeeper Manuel] Neuer missed a rare opportunity to do something noble in front of millions of people. He could have set a positive ethical example to people watching all over the world, including the many millions who are young and impressionable. Who knows what difference that example might have made to the lives of many of those watching. Neuer could have been a hero, standing up for what is right. Instead he is just another very skillful, cheating footballer.

I don’t have a problem as such with Germany winning, as I think it was the better team, but the way Germany won the match definitively put a sour taste to it. Just like “the hand of God” made Argentina questionable world champions in 1986.

Update: The goalkeeper’s name corrected.

Written by Jacob Christensen

June 29th, 2010 at 3:49 pm

Posted in Spare time

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Press “C” for Self-Destruction

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The latest news about the Danish conservatives – awful opinion polls, Per Stig Møller sniping at Lene Espersen, Lars Barfoed not coming to the rescue, party grandes criticising Espersen’s decision to move from Economics and Business Development to Foreign Affairs – raise the question of the future of the party. Entering an election campaign while you are fighting a civil war is generally not a good idea – cf. the performance of the Conservatives in 1998. and even if Mads Brügger is also a journalistic satirist, his question “Isn’t it a problem that Bendt Bendtsen now looks like a great leader in comparison?” can be put in earnest.

Historians and journalists have occasionally wondered why the Conservatives appear to be beset by regular feuds threatening to tear the party apart – the party was born with a dual identity and during the 1920s, the late 1940s, the early 1970s and finally the late 1990s it has lived through massive internal conflicts. Historian Søren Mørch has speculated that there must be some kind of link between the party’s problems in attracting and promoting competent policitians and the perpetual feuding.

One the one hand, the party has survived all of these earlier wars, on the other hand it is really, really hard to imagine potential successors to the present leadership this time.

The Conservative Party is not the only party to experience severe internal conflicts. In fact, conflicts between factions seem to be a regular feature in Danish politics with the Social Democrats as the major exception. Between the secession of the Communists in 1917 and the appearance of the anti-EEC faction in the early 1970s, the party was remarkably free of open internal conflicts.1 Needless to say, the 1990s and to some degree the 2000s were decades of party disunity with two party chairmen being unseated (Svend Auken in 1992 and Poul Nyrup Rasmussen in 2002).

The Liberal Party similarly has seen internal conflicts, most notably in the 1930s when agrarian groups threatened to pull the party apart. 1935 was a low point in the party’s history but the improvement of agricultural trade helped the party leadership recover. Still, between 1933 and 1950 the Liberal leadership was in a more or less permanent state of flux with Knud Kristensen only providing a temporary solution before going down in flames over the South Schleswig issue. It was not until Erik Eriksen took office in 1950 that the party finally stabilised. What happens if (or rather: when) the party suffers a major loss in the coming election and the entire leadership will have to be replaced is another matter. But the lesson from the Social Democrats and the Liberals could be that a party can survive prolonged periods of internal conflicts and unstable leadership, given that the party has a working organisation.

If we look at the smaller2 parties, the Social Liberals nearly imploded in 1920 and spent much of the decade being uncertain about their strategy. One faction wanted to move closer to the Liberals, another saw the party’s future as the partner of the Social Democrats. The latter strategy won following the 1929 election and the rest, as they say, is history.

Still, the question about the party’s place in the centre of Danish politics created new problems from the 1960s onward. The emphatic win in 1968 also laid the foundations for a vicious factional struggle continuing until the 1977 election when the party was close to extinction. Even if the party supported the Schlüter governments during most of the 1980s, it was only able to do so by performing a rather remarkable stunt where the left wing was being accommodated by the Social Liberals’ voting against the governments on issues such as environment, European policy and foreign and security policy. And there are signs that electoral wins are deadly for the Social Liberals as the intense feuding following the 2005 election indicates. During the last three years, the party has been losing MPs regularly, but the party leadership can hope that a rejuvenated parliamentary group placed firmly on the left side of the political divide will deliver peace and influence, if maybe not electoral prosperity.

Finally, there is the Socialist People’s Party which suffered its first major split in 1967 and descended into full-scale civil war in the early 1970s. It was only when Gert Petersen was made chairman that the party entered a stable phase and despite varying successes at the polls (1977-1987 was a period of gains, 1990-2005 a period of losses), SF has managed to steer clear of another deadly battle between factions for the past 40 years. A remarkable feat. One reason may be the ready availability of alternative left-wing parties.

  1. The group called Socialdemokratisk Samfund which was active in the 1960s may be seen as precursor of the later factionalism []
  2. it may be slightly misleading to call SF a small party, but historically it has been the largest of the smaller parties in the Danish parliament. []

Written by Jacob Christensen

June 28th, 2010 at 7:21 pm

Posted in Politics

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Bring Me the Bed of Stephen Kinnock

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Perhaps I should make one thing clear: Sex scandals do not bring down Danish politicians. As long as it’s legal, you are free to go. Sleeping with a 15-year-old member of the youth organisation may bring you in a slightly awkward situation but will not damage your career.

Alcohol is a different matter: I’ve lost count of the number of local and national politicians who have taken “time out” or resigned after being caught drink-driving during recent years. Given the Danes’ somewhat problematic drinking habits, this may or may not be surprising.

Sending your child to a private school is tricky, especially for Social Democrats who are supposed to support the public school system as a tool for social integration. Actually, given the level of housing segregation in Denmark, it is slightly surprising that the choice of school gets more attention than the choice of housing. But then again, Mette Frederiksen has never been known as being particularly quiet or subtle so she should have expected that she would have it coming at some point.

But the issue of schools and housing points to the fact that most Danish politicians whatever their party belong to the professional (slightly higher) middle classes. Their behaviour fits with the lifestyle of some 10-20 percent of the population but is more or less at odds with that of the majority of voters.

The Stephen Kinnock case can be seen as an extreme case of this professional middle class versus Ms. and Mr. Denmark cleavage. Mr. Kinnock – just in case you didn’t know – is more relevant to us as Mr. Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the husband of the leader of the Danish Social Democrats, and the two met when both attended the College of Europe in Bruges, one of the breeding grounds of the Euro-elite. Ms. Thorning-Schmidt made her career in the Euro-political sphere before entering Danish national politics, Mr. Kinnock his in the British Council and now in that most Social Democratic of places, the World Economic Forum.

Yep, the one in Davos, Switzerland. With the banks. And the bank accounts. And the place for the tax-dodgers of the world. (Actually, the Bahamas or the Cayman Islands are the places to watch but never mind: Switzerland has a brand issue here).

So an advisor worth his or her money would have pointed out that Mr. and Ms. Thorning-Schmidt might want to consider in advance that the information that Mr. Thorning-Schmidt pays his taxes in Switzerland while the family home is registered in the name of Ms. Thorning-Schmidt (thereby giving a full mortgage deduction) would make the news at some point.

Are they doing anything illegal? In all likelihood not. (Though mind you, I’m not a tax expert and I know from personal experience that having income from more than one country or working in one country and living in another can, no: will, make your economic life … complicated.)

Does the arrangement look like the Thorning-Schmidts are taking advantage of tax rules … well … of course, you would never consider making similar arrangements, would you?

Will Thorning-Schmidt and the Social Democrats be hit by the story? The actual damage may be much smaller than some hope. After all, the Conservatives look set for a summer of hate and the Liberals will be busy stopping the hemorrage of voters.

Written by Jacob Christensen

June 26th, 2010 at 5:32 pm

Posted in Politics

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Wanted: The Danish Defence

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In case any of you should meet the Danish defence, please inform it that its presence is urgently needed.

It should report at the Royal Bafoking Stadium, Rustenburg, RSA on 24 June, no later than 20:30.

In case a map is needed: Google Maps.

Written by Jacob Christensen

June 20th, 2010 at 1:29 am

Somewhere in the Middle

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I’m a sucker for these things. According to my Swedish colleagues, the “electoral compasses” offered by newspapers and TV-stations make young voters choose the Swedish Centre Party.

It didn’t quite work in my case:

Written by Jacob Christensen

June 19th, 2010 at 2:20 pm

Posted in Politics

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Daniel Davies Solves the Eurozone Crisis.

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Click.

(Don’t worry: It’s perfectly safe for work. Unless you are a German economist)

Written by Jacob Christensen

June 17th, 2010 at 11:54 pm

Posted in Politics

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“This Is Pathetic Beyond Belief”

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Ernst-Hugo Järegård comments the France-Mexico match. Or something.

Oh, and while we’re at the Carl-Henric Svanberg story, note that Ernst-Hugo mentions “de små människorna”.

Written by Jacob Christensen

June 17th, 2010 at 9:23 pm

Posted in Spare time

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Stealth Marketing. Or: Why Advertisers Should Pay the Audience

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To me, the evolving Bavaria Babes story raises some interesting questions about the role of the spectators at major sports events. Just to recap: During the break of the Netherlands-Denmark game, attendants seized a number of Dutch (and, if my Dutch is worth anything) South African women dressed in tight orange dresses and handed them over to the police. It seems that some of the women are now even facing some kind of criminal process in South Africa.

Their crime? Being part of a stealth marketing stunt arranged by the Dutch brewery Bavaria – while the dresses didn’t carry a visible Bavaria brand, they had been sold or distributed by the brewery and used in different publicity events. The problem was that the beer advertising slot at the 2010 Fifa World Cup™ had already been sold to Anheuser-Busch, the US company which produces the (US) Budweiser brand. And as we all know, a world cup is not big enough for two beers.

So, presumably, wearing a Budweiser-branded (orange) dress would have been acceptable to the arrangers – in fact, they would have enhanced the value of the Budweiser sponsorship as TV viewers would have seen attractive Budweiser-dressed women having a good time.

And this brings us to my central point: Leave aside all talk of a party of nations, people coming together and what not – to FIFA and the partners/sponsors/advertisers, the spectators are just props designed to enhance the experience for TV viewers (like me) around the globe.1 In fact, the people who go to major sports events are what dear old Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov called useful idiots because they pay for the trip and entry to the stadiums themselves in order to act as cheerleaders for the sponsors.2

It would be much more honest if the sponsors – whose arrangement this really is – hired the spectators and provided them with relevant outfits. In that way, the full costs of advertising would be carried by the sponsors. And there would be less risk of third parties getting a piece of the cake as the seats had already been distributed among paying sponsors.

  1. You are free to insert a comment on the relationship between programming and advertising []
  2. Actually, the term seems to be post WW2 but never mind: The myth is too good. []

Written by Jacob Christensen

June 16th, 2010 at 2:45 pm

Posted in Spare time

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Hey Look: We Got Ourselves a Försäkringskassa!

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Okay, this one managed to get overlooked in reports until today but this weekend’s agreement between the Danish government and the Association of Local Governments (Rebranded as Local Government Denmark) includes an interesting administrative reform which will see the administrative responsibility for a number of social transfers transferred from the local governments to a state agency from 2012.

While the reform may have been born out of a predicament – the government had to offer local councils something in return for demands for budget savings – it puts Denmark into the European mainstream where state agencies handle national social security programmes while local councils are left with social services and basic welfare benefits. Denmark has always deviated from the European standard as old-age pensions since the introduction of the first old-age relief legislation were administered by local councils. Over the years a number of transfers have been added to the portfolio of local government tasks such as sickness benefits, child benefits, housing benefits, maternity benefits and lastly disability pensions. As it was, only unemployment benefits were kept out of local government control and administered by the unemployment funds.

Generally, the benefits listed above are statutory: While local councils considers and formally decide applications, the criteria for receiving the benefits and the size of the benefits have been put down in the legislation so councils and case-workers do not have any discretion.

The agreement, on the other hand, means that the present ATP, which handles a superannuation programme, will be transformed into a national agency handling a number of transfer programmes. In short: Denmark is getting an agency which in many ways equals the Swedish Försäkringskassan. One big difference – and one which will make life much easier for the ATP+ Agency than for Försäkringskassan – is that ATP+ will only handle what in bureaucratspeak is called “objective case considerations” – importantly, sickness benefits will not be transferred from local councils to the new agency, at least not to begin with.

While the agency covers the entire country, its five branches will be concentrated in the major cities so here we see a repeat of the administrative reforms of the Tax Administration (which was transferred from the local councils to the state some years ago), the police and the courts which have all seen their work concentrated in fewer, bigger branches. The expectation is that citizens (or customers or whatever we are in the world of new public management) will service themselves through websites. This, incidentally, has a parallel in recent reforms of Försäkringskassan.

Besides sickness benefits and some parts of the disability pension, local councils will be left with a number of social services and in many ways this fits with the distribution of portfolios at the ministerial level where the Employment Ministry now effectively is an Employment and Social Insurance Ministry while the Social Affairs Ministry effectively is the Social Services Ministry. The interesting question is if and when the state will move the some or all of remaining transfers from the local to the state level.

Written by Jacob Christensen

June 16th, 2010 at 1:19 am

Posted in Politics

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Halonen, Urpilainen, Kiviniemi

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I must admit that, despite having lived in Umeå with Va(a)sa just across the Bay of Botnia, Finnish politics is not my specialist area. Still, in political terms Finland is not quite what Finland used to be, which this weekend’s selection of Mari Kiviniemi as chairman of the Finnish Centre Party is another indication of. Just to put the prejudices in place – Finnish political culture is generally seen as rural and – for want of a better English word – gubbig. Imagine old-boys’ network with quite an element of laddism thrown in for good measure and you’re there.

As it is, Kiviniemi is not the first female party leader in Finland, nor even the first female leader of the Centre Party and prime minister: That honour goes to Anneli Jäättenmäki who served as party leader between 2002-2003 and as prime minister for a few months in 2003 before being forced to retire in a scandal relating to Finland’s position in the process leading up to the second Iraq War. Jäättenmäki was later cleared of any legal wrongdoing so the question is if she had been exposing her inexperience at the international level or if (male?) forces within her own party were conspiring against her. In any event Matti Vanhanen took over as party leader and prime minister and continued in those functions until he was brought down over a scandal relating to covert campaign contributions.1

The 41-year old Kiviniemi faced Mauri Pekkarinen, a candidate which fitted better with the image of a typical Finnish politician from the Centre Party: Male, old, rural. Even Paavo Väyrynen, unsuccessfully, attempted a comeback. Kiviniemi is far from unexperienced, though: She has been an MP for 15 years, minister for trade and development and later minister for local government. The interesting point is that in 2007 Kiviniemi changed constituency so that she now represents Helsinki instead of Vaasa in the Finnish parliament. Considering that the Centre Party very much has been a party of the Finnish periphery, the selection of Kiviniemi may also point to a change in political strategies.

The local government portfolio may hold a nasty problem in store for Kiviniemi as she takes over as prime minister in a week’s time: If I understand Finnish (Swedish-language) media correctly, she is involved in a battle over Karleby/Kokkola’s administrative position – which again has something to do with the role of the Swedish-speaking minority in Finland. It’s not quite BHV but it is potentially politically troublesome.2 She will also be facing a conflict over the teaching of Swedish in Finnish schools.

Finland will be holding elections next year, so who will Kiviniemi’s opponents be? Well, the other main contenders for the prime minister’s office will be the National Coalition Party’s Jyrki Katainen (born in 1971) and Social Democrat leader Jutta Urpilainen (born in 1975). Just as in the Netherlands, government formation is a bit of a three-party affair with the Centre, the National Coalition and Social Democrats in varying constellations with one or more of the smaller parties joining, so there is a 2/3 probability of the next election yielding a female prime minister. The only thing which is 100% certain is that the Swedish People’s Party will be in the government after the 2011 elections.

If we look at the male/female set-up in the run-up to 2011, the Centre Party, the Social Democrats, the Green League and the Christian Democrats have women as leaders while the National Coalition, the Left Alliance, the Swedish People’s Party and the True Finns have male leaders. The face of Finnish politics is indeed slowly changing.

In the other Nordic countries, female party leaders are far from unknown these days. In Norway, all parties represented in Stortinget either have or have had a woman as leader3, in Sweden only the Moderates and Christian Democrats have not had a female leader (even if the Liberals’ Maria Leissner did not stay in office for very long for both political and personal reasons)4, and in Denmark five out of eight parties in parliament are at present led by women.5 Iceland has a female Prime Minister, Johanna Sigurdardottir, who is also the leader of the Social Democratic Alliance.

Oh and by the way: Kiviniemi has prepared for her new status – the fringe is gone and replaced by a more serious hairstyle.

Just in case you have missed it: (Tarja) Halonen is Finland’s (female) president since 2000.

  1. The first female party leader in Finland was Heidi Hautala of the Green League []
  2. “Kiviniemi giggles at the Constitutional Council’s recommendation”. Charming, no? []
  3. The Christian People’s Party still has not had a female parliamentary leader []
  4. I here count the Green Party’s dual male-female leadership as a case with female leaders. At present no-one would question Maria Wetterstrand’s role as the Greens’ most profiled politician []
  5. Here I count the Red-Green Alliance’s Johanne Schmidt-Nielsen as the party’s political leader even if the party formally has a collective leadership. []

Written by Jacob Christensen

June 13th, 2010 at 7:44 pm

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