General election: how realistic is Lars Løkke Rasmussen’s welfare promise?

Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen is leading his Liberal (Venstre) party’s election campaign, and one of the party’s core promises will increase public spending by 0.65 percent annually.

General election: how realistic is Lars Løkke Rasmussen’s welfare promise?
PM Lars Løkke Rasmussen going for a run in Copenhagen on Wednesday. Photo: Olafur Steinar Gestsson / Ritzau Scanpix

But that policy is not shared by current coalition government partners, the Liberal Alliance (LA) and Conservative parties.

LA wants to cut public spending, while the Conservatives are looking for zero net growth.

That makes Rasmussen’s promise to increase spending on welfare by 69 billion kroner look a difficult one to fulfil.

“I am here as the leader of the Liberals and am telling you the politics my party is campaigning on,” the PM after speaking at the Danish Chamber of Commerce in Copenhagen on the Wednesday.

“We are campaigning with an election promise to prioritise 69 billion kroner for welfare until 2025,” he said.

The coalition government’s joint policy is currently to limit the growth of public spending to 0.3 percent, which means that the Liberal election promise is not in line with that of the government.

The welfare spending policy is also strikingly similar to that of the opposition Social Democrats, who want to increase public spending by 0.7 percent annually. The Danish People’s Party, a right-wing ally of the government, also want to increase the state outlay, by 0.8 percent.

Additionally, both LA and the Conservatives want to cut tax, thereby making government funds tighter than they are today.

Rasmussen said he did not consider the obstacles insurmountable.

“I’m sure it will be fine. I have just been through a government term in which at one point I was told that, unless there were cuts to the top tax rate across the board, I’d be forced from office,” the PM said in reference to a demand which Liberal Alliance was unable to impose on the government in 2017.

The general election was called by Rasmussen on Tuesday, with voting scheduled for June 5th.

The PM’s promise of 69 billion kroner on welfare represents the first major throw of the dice on policy by the Liberals.

It will be spent on increasing social and healthcare staff to take care of children and the elderly, according to the party.

Social Democrat political spokesperson Nicolai Wammen expressed his scepticism.

“It sounds very hollow when (Rasmussen) decides to completely change his policies just a few weeks before the election,” Wammen said.

READ ALSO: More coverage of the 2019 Danish general election

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Power shifts in Denmark with the giving of gifts

Transfer of power between governments can be associated with antagonism, ill feeling and tension. In Denmark, it is accompanied by the exchange of gifts.

Power shifts in Denmark with the giving of gifts
Mette Frederiksen hands Lars Løkke Rasmussen his new cycling jersey. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen / Ritzau Scanpix

The quirky tradition was continued on Thursday as Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen took over from predecessor Lars Løkke Rasmussen as head of government.

Tradition in Danish politics dictates that all outgoing ministers, including the prime minister, exchange gifts with their successors on the day portfolios officially change hands.

The gifts, often referred to in Danish as drillegaver (‘teasing gifts’), are normally chosen with an element of humour in mind, while not forgetting to reference political opposition.

As the keys to the PM’s office were exchanged at Christiansborg Palace, the seat of parliament on Thursday, Rasmussen handed Frederiksen a pair of gloves and blue trousers from a set of overalls.

“I’m now handing over a Denmark in top form. And that must be looked after. I know will you do that, Mette,” Rasmussen said.

“One of the keys to achieving that is for us Danes to pull on our working gear,” he added.

In response, Frederiksen gifted Rasmussen, known for his enthusiasm for bicycle racing, a polka-dotted cycling jersey, making reference to his tendency to “break away from the pack” during the election campaign.

“I hope you will be spending a lot more time cycling in future,” Frederiksen joked as she gave her predecessor the jersey.

Also noting that she had probably not seen the last of the Liberal (Venstre) party leader in politics, the new PM had warm words of tribute for Rasmussen, who has served two separate terms as the head of Denmark’s government, from 2009-11 and 2015-19.

She thanked him for a being a decent opponent and for “everything you have done for Denmark”.

Rasmussen, who was not short of joking remarks himself, said he “had a habit of handing over the keys to a Social Democrat”.

After losing the 2011 election, he gave then-Social Democrat leader Helle Thorning-Schmidt his government’s budget repurposed as a handbag, while Thorning-Schmidt gave Rasmussen a bus ticket.

Roles were reversed in 2015, when Rasmussen, having regained power, gave Thorning-Schmidt a selfie stick and received festival tickets in return.

The Danish tradition of giving gifts while handing over power is a modern one, having gradually emerged in the 1980s and 1990s.

“Transition of power used to be very formal,” DR’s political commentator Bent Stuckert told Politiken in 2011. That is evidenced by the below video, which shows Anker Jørgensen making way for Poul Hartling in 1973.

The 2019 version, coming at the end of a long negotiation period to form government, continued Denmark’s overtly friendly approach to handing over the keys to power.

READ ALSO: Here is Denmark's new Social Democrat government