The Nordic welfare model, long the envy of many across the world seeking an egalitarian utopia, is creaking. Aging populations have led to politicians across the region chipping away at the generous cradle-to-grave welfare state for years. In Denmark, next week’s election could prove a turning point as frustrated voters say: No more.
The erosion of the welfare state has now become a defining issue in the June 5 general election in a country where people hand over an average 36% of their personal income to the state each month. Opinion polls indicate Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen of the Liberal Party will lose power to Mette Frederiksen of the center-left Social Democratic Party.
Frederiksen’s Social Democrats have won popular support by pledging to increase public spending, making businesses and the wealthy pay more toward welfare services through higher taxes, and to partially roll back some recent pension reforms by allowing people who have worked 40 years to retire earlier.
However Rasmussen has accused his rival of being in “the business of selling dreams”. “Either you’ll leave voters massively disappointed, or leave an enormous hole in the treasury,” he told Frederiksen about her pension plans during a TV debate earlier this year.
Many Danes are distressed at the way things are going following two decades of economic reforms. The tough choices confronting Denmark are reflected across Nordic nations faced with a generation of baby-boomers creeping into retirement. Voters feeling a rising sense of insecurity are increasingly pressuring politicians to safeguard their cherished welfare model.
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