COPENHAGEN, NOV. 22 -- Prime Minister Poul Schlueter today called early elections for Dec. 12 after his minority government failed to gain support in parliament for its economic program.

Talks broke down late Wednesday between Schlueter's center-right coalition and the main opposition Social Democrats on an economic package that includes tax reform.

Denmark's personal income taxes average around 52 percent and climb progressively to 68 percent, the second highest in Europe after Sweden.

Despite agreement on the need to cut taxes, the political factions differ about how to fill the gap in state revenues left by a proposed tax break while staying within the government's tight 1991 draft budget.

A total of 13 parties will be contesting seats in the 179-seat legislature, where Schlueter commands only 67 votes. The Social Democrats have 55 seats.

Since his Conservative-led government could not muster a majority in the Folketing, or parliament, for its draft budget, Schlueter announced the early election.

Some commentators questioned whether the ballot was really necessary, because a regular election was already scheduled for next year.

But Schleuter said elections were needed now to give the government the authority to carry out tax reforms without further delay.

"It is necessary to get it over with as quickly as possible," he said.

Uffe Ellemann-Jensen, the foreign minister and leader of the Liberal Party -- the senior coalition partner -- welcomed the poll, citing major differences between the government and the Social Democrats on taxes and economic policy.

Social Democratic leader Svend Auken criticized Schlueter for wanting to give tax relief to the affluent and said his party will run on a platform of fuller employment, environmental protection and tax breaks for middle-income groups. The jobless rate stands at 9.8 percent.