Foreign Correspondent: Denmark


TAASTRUP, DENMARK. Denmark has for a long time been the country where nobody questions the necessity of paying taxes ("how else should the roads, the hospitals, the schools and the kindergartens be paid for??") and where it is, in fact, generally considered a moral obligation to pay taxes ("how else would it be possible for the old to live, for children to go to school and the sick to get medical care??"). It is therefore rather surprising that a new political party—the Progress Party—that came into existence less than a year ago and that has as its primary aim to abolish (or at least drastically reduce) the income tax has gained an immense popularity. According to opinion polls more than 17% of the Danish voters would vote for this party if we had an election today, which would make it the second largest political party in Denmark (the largest being the Social Democrats, with about 25% of the votes, which at present forms a minority government supported in parliament by the left-wing Socialist Popular Party and having a precarious majority of one vote in parliament).

But maybe this development is not as astonishing as it might seem at first glance. Just consider that income taxes have reached the point where the ordinary worker pays about 50% of his final earnings in income tax plus a 15% sales tax on everything he buys, and add hereto an inflation that keeps getting worse (it is by now 12-14% per year) and that makes it virtually impossible to save money in a normal way, combined with politicians who promise all the time to change this situation, only to make it worse—and one has a very simple explanation of the popularity of the Progress Party.

But there are other things that are unusual about the appearance of the Progress Party in the Danish political arena: it was established by Mogens Glistrup, a lawyer who became a much talked about person a few years ago when he appeared on TV and caused an uproar by bluntly telling the Danish public that he did not pay any income taxes and that he regarded it as immoral that one should have to. He has a large law firm in Copenhagen specializing in tax legislation and has found some loopholes which enable him and his clients to enjoy freedom from income tax to a greater or lesser extent. The specialists in the tax department were immediately put to investigate his case closely and to find out whether there was anything illegal in his transactions—but to this day they have not been able to, although rumours appear regularly in the press that very soon an action will be brought against him.

This story is probably also part of the explanation of the success of the Progress Party. Someone who is able to find his way through the jungle of tax legislation and to outwit the administration with such conspicuous success must be the man who is able to reduce the tax burden for everybody. In fact, I suspect that Mr. Glistrup is regarded by many people as some sort of modern Robin Hood—although most of his clients have been rather well-to-do people who can afford to invest some money in order to reduce taxes.

It remains to be seen whether Mr. Glistrup can fulfill at least some of those expectations. At present he is viewed as the embodiment of the Progress Party, being almost the only person who publicly explains the policy of the party, since although local groups have been formed all over the country, no formal political organization has been established.

A small pamphlet has been published which states that the goals of the Progress Party are the following:

1. Abolition (or reduction, it is not quite clear which) of the income tax.
2. Reduction of the paperwork in the administration, thereby reducing the administrative staff.
3. Simplification and reduction of the amount of laws and other legal instruments.

The only obligation on political candidates for the Progress Party is to adhere to these three principles, and apart from that they are free to hold any point of view as long as they respect the parliamentary forms of government.

Further, the pamphlet enumerates 38 items to which most of the supporters seem to subscribe and to which more items are to be added as they are agreed upon. These items are of a very varied nature and content, some dealing with fundamental political-philosophical principles and others with practical issues—for instance, number 4 states that religion and morality should exclusively be matters for the individual to decide upon, while number 5 says that the bridge connecting Zealand with Funen should be built as soon as possible—and do not at all present any consistent political programme.

The Progress Party therefore completely lacks a basis of political-philosophical principles as well as an integrated programme for carrying out its purposes. From the utterances of Mr. Glistrup it is generally believed that the party is nonsocialistic, that it will work toward lesser state influence in economic affairs and that it will reduce the various welfare schemes. But while some of the 38 items in the pamphlet confirm this, others don't and some directly contradict Mr. Glistrup's previous statements on specific issues. So there is no good reason to believe that we shall witness a major revolution in Danish politics after the next election (mid-1975).

Nevertheless a good deal of stirring up of muddy waters has already been accomplished. In view of the present situation in this country where an orgy of lawmaking is taking place with a consequent explosive growth of the administrative sector and a constant rise in public expenditures, it is evident that something along the lines of the purposes of the Progress Party is needed.

Even the political establishment seems to understand this and has shown conspicuous signs of nervousness about the popularity of the Progress Party. Some politicians have started to talk about how to meet the challenge while others have denounced Mr. Glistrup in very emotional and degrading terms, particularly stressing that he cannot possibly fulfill his promises (as if that were something extraordinary in modern politics). Further, Mr. Glistrup has expressed some opinions that might resemble a sympathetic attitude towards capitalism (such as: the condition of the poor is primarily dependent upon the amount of production and not government handouts), and the press has initiated a virtual smear campaign accusing him of being antisocial and fascist and comparing him (because of his one-man show) to Hitler. (Although one cannot be sure of how Mr. Glistrup's opinions should be classified in political terms, it is at least certain that he does not have a militaristic attitude. He has even proposed that the whole of the Danish army should be abolished "as it cannot defend the country anyway" and replaced by an automatic device which would in the case of invasion give the statement "we surrender" in Russian).

Public opinion does not seem to pay much attention to the bad publicity, as the opinion polls are not affected by it. It looks as if the politicians in power will have to do something more constructive than talk and slander if they want the present political constellation to remain relatively unchanged after the next election.