On the road with Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Spanish emigration and the Turkish elections
Even before she was elected prime minister of Denmark in September 2011, Helle Thorning-Schmidt’s transport choices were controversial. The first scandal concerned her choice of leasing contract for her personal car: a blue VW Polo Fox 1.4 five-door. By choosing to do business with a German leasing company, the then Social Democrat party leader either saved herself six per cent vat or cheated the tax revenue of around dkk130 (€17) a month, depending which side of the political fence you’re on.
The bigger shock was that Thorning-Schmidt rarely rode a bicycle. In green Denmark this was a major faux pas: party leaders here go to great lengths to be photographed astride two wheels sporting semi-pro Lycra gear. Thorning-Schmidt neither rode a bike nor deigned to take public transport.
When she won the election, Thorning-Schmidt was presented with a red Velorbis lady’s bicycle by the Danish Cycling Federation as a gift/hint but since then she has cited security concerns to avoid cycling. The Polo has been parked and now she is chauffeured in an Audi A8 ssf armoured limo.
Yet the scandals continue. The Danish Air Force operates four Challenger cl-604 business jets for government and vip use and most Scandinavian leaders tend to fly with sas for longer journeys. But Thorning-Schmidt has shown a preference for private jets for trips within Denmark and Europe. According to some estimates, this amounts to 30 to 40 flights a year, costing around dkk7.5m (€1m), more than twice the cost of previous PMs’ charters.
With an election due sometime before September this year, and generally unfavourable polls for her Social Democratic coalition, most predict that Thorning-Schmidt will be back in her Polo sooner rather than later.
Jon Thor Olafsson is one of three Pirate party members elected to Iceland’s parliament in 2013. Earlier this year, polls suggested it was the most popular party in the country.
Where did the Pirate party’s recent surge come from? The winds in politics have not been blowing in from the left or the right. The issues have been about the abuse of power and corruption, and that has increased support for more direct democracy.
Why is a party like yours more viable in Iceland than it is elsewhere? Size is definitely a factor. Organising is easy in a country with a population of 320,000. But it’s not an insurmountable hurdle in larger countries, as Greece and Spain have proven.
Do you feel kinship with Syriza and Podemos? I think we feel goodwill towards those who defend civil rights and make the system more democratic.
How would being part of government after the 2017 elections change the party? We need to follow that line of thought at some point but it’s not a priority yet.
Bombardier Challenger CL-604
The Danish Air Force has four of these Canadian-built business jets for members of the government and royal family yet Thorning-Schmidt has shunned it in preference of business class on scheduled routes.
This hand-built German armoured limo has bullet-proof glass and a bomb-proof undercarriage. It was passed on to her by previous PM Lars Løkke Rasmussen, who will likely be occupying the back seat once more before the year is out.
Thorning-Schmidt’s private car is usefully compact for city-centre driving in capital Copenhagen but it has seen little use since she became prime minister.
Velorbis lady's tourer
A gift from the Danish Cycling Federation, its only sighting with the PM so far was in a promotional video for the Eurovision Song Contest; she was pushing it.