Eurofile: To be red or not, that is the question

THE DANISH Prime Minister, Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, yesterday called a snap election in three weeks' time, signalling the end of the country's style of consensus government.

If Mr Rasmussen, who is trailing in the polls, wins on 21 September he can govern only with the help of the far-left Socialist People's Party. His rival - the former foreign minister, Uffe Ellemann-Jensen of the Liberal bloc - can win power only with the backing of the conservatives and the far-right Progress Party.

It is unusual for the Danish electorate to face so clear a choice between left and right: the government coalition groups Mr Rasmussen's Social Democrats, the Radical Liberals, Centre Democrats, and the Christian People's Party. Mr Ellemann-Jensen called yesterday for a clean fight between 'red and blue'.

Mr Rasmussen's tactic is to run as short a campaign as possible while the economy is booming. His government's mandate runs out in December. Speculation over the date of the election has been rife all summer. Gallup polls predict the Centre Democrat and Christian People's Party, which have underpinned the current coalition, will fail to surmount the 2 per cent threshold and will be unable to continue in government.

The campaign will centre on the economy, the survival of the welfare state (which, Mr Rasmussen maintains, the right-wing opposition intends to savage), and the fight against unemployment, running at 12 per cent. The government is trying to cut this by expanding a scheme whereby, through the extention of paid parental leave, job training or sabbaticals, employees can rotate their jobs with similarly qualified people on the dole. The scheme has proved hugely popular.

ITALY'S coalition goverment is trying to play down its latest embarrassment, and avert another round of damaging infighting, after the controversial speaker of the lower house, Irene Pivetti, called for the country's abortion law to be repealed.

Ms Pivetti, a member of the Northern League - which is Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's largest coalition partner - already has a reputation for ultra-Catholic fervour, and ill-judged comments about Jews and Muslims have landed her in hot water in the past.

Although the party moved to distance itself from her comments, the issue is a sensitive one, especially in the run-up to next week's UN population conference in Cairo. Ms Pivetti, speaking at a Catholic youth conference last week, urged Catholics to reassert themselves in politics; a call instantly rejected by her party leader, Umberto Bossi, who declared: 'God save us from fundamentalist parties.' But Ms Pivetti has found support among ministers from the neo-Fascist National Alliance - the third member of Mr Berlusconi's coalition.

The National Alliance, backed by the Catholic church, has been pressing for the law permitting abortion, introduced in 1978 and reinforced by a national referendum three years later, to be reviewed. So far, Mr Berlusconi has refused. The Italian press have branded Ms Pivetti's comments as anti-democratic and her attack has further undermined the credibility of Mr Berlusconi's claims that the coalition is united and ready to tackle Italy's serious economic problems.

THE DUTCH government, in an effort to halt 'drug tourism' that it complains is a drain on the resources of the police and the social services, has issued new guidelines restricting the sale of soft drugs in so-called coffee shops.

The tolerant attitude of the Netherlands to soft drug use has drawn 'drug tourists' in such numbers that the authorities can no longer cope. The coffee shops will now be more strictly policed and entry criteria - no minors, no hard drugs - rigidly enforced. Towns along the Dutch border had been keen to persuade the government to ban the sale of even soft drugs to non-Dutch nationals on the grounds that patterns of drug addiction in the Netherlands are very different and that, statistically, the Dutch are only recreational drug users, while out-of- towners tend to be addicts and largely responsible for the increased levels of street crime.

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