The only things we can be sure of in 2014 is that there will be a European Parliament election and a referendum on the European Patent Court. The result of the former is likely to mirror the trends in national opinion polls with the anti-EU People’s Movement as the joker in the game. Trying to predict the turn-out and result of the referendum is too difficult at the moment. The government also has to appoint a new European commissioner – most likely a Social Democrat.
Then obviously there will be some kind of agreement over the 2015 budget – most likely a messy affair leading to a patchwork of agreements. The big question is if and how the recommendations of the government’s Productivity Commission and the Carsten Koch Committee on labour market policies will be transformed into political decisions.
I think it is safe to guess that there will not be a general election during 2014 – the government’s standing in opinion polls is simply too weak and any attempt to call an early election will be an act of suicide from the Social Democrats and SF, not just in the short term but also in the medium to long term. In fact, we are in a situation where the dynamics of Danish party system has changed fundamentally: Between 1920 and 1980, the Social Democrats were the dominant party and bourgeois governments never survived an election. Between 1980 and 2000, national politics were a more even-handed affair with left and right competing for a majority – and the support of the Social Liberals. The 21st century has so far seen the continuing demise of the Social Democrats and the party is now so weak that the left wing – including the Social Liberals – is in the exact same position the bourgeois parties used to be in: Internally fractured and strategically disadvantaged.
To some extent, the Thorning Schmidt government increasingly looks like contemporary the left wing version of the luckless Baunsgaard government which was in office between 1968 and 1971: Just as the Baunsgaard government promised a break with the expanding welfare state of the 1960s and failed to deliver, so the Thorning government promised a break with the increasing inequalities of the 2000s and failed to deliver.
Contemporary and later-day observers noted the continuites between the Krag and the Baunsgaard governments and viewed from 2014 the same in my opinion goes for the Fogh/Løkke and Thorning Schmidt governments. Here, we should note that it wasn’t because the Baunsgaard government failed to achieve anything (lots of administrative and policy reforms were passed and implemented) but the government was so constrained by electoral, administrative and economic structures with a healthy dose of Zeitgeist thrown in for good measure that it would have taken an extraordinarily strong political leadership to break with the trend. The same goes for the Thorning Schmidt government with the Social Liberal insistence on the implementation of cuts to the early retirement benefit and unemployment benefits as the (symbolic) original sins. If anything, the major break in economic policy came in 2010, not in 2011, and basically the years since 2008 have been lost years with economic growth flatlining. (The 1968-71 parallel would be the continued increase in public expenditures and taxation)
German has the wonderful term “Zweckoptimismus” – forced optimism may be the best English translation – and the government definitively needs a healthy dose of this to make it through 2014 as a reasonably functioning unit. The problem is that the more Zweckoptimistisch the government, the more detached from political and electoral realities it will appear.