A daily bulletin of news & opinion

20 September 2011

Denmark has a new prime minister, the first woman ever to fill the post and the very model of a slick, modern, media-savvy European leader: she is the Social Democrat, Helle Thorning-Schmidt.

Though Thorning-Schmidt’s victory and subsequent coronation as PM of the so-called “red bloc” coalition was widely predicted, that doesn’t mean the election was without surprises – on the contrary. Major stories included the first decline (-1.6%) in 10 years in the vote for the right wing, anti-Islamic Dansk Folkeparti party; and the astonishing rise of the de facto communist Enhedslisten party, led by the young charismatic Johanne Schmidt-Nielsen, who saw their vote rise 4.5 per cent to a heady 6.7 per cent.

All is not plain sailing for Thorning-Schmidt, whose legitimacy as PM was being questioned before the last ballots had even been counted, once it became apparent that her party’s share of the vote (24.8 per cent) had in fact slightly dropped, while the opposing Venstre Party’s had actually increased (26.7 per cent). As always in Denmark, no party has an outright majority, so yet another unholy alliance of political voices must somehow be wrangled into a choir beneath the new prime minister.

“She is going to have a lot of trouble forming a government, especially with Enhedslisten but, you know, once people get into government, they tend to want to stay there,” says Philip Egea Flores, political commentator for the respected Danish national broadsheet, Information, of the supposedly untameable lefties. In other words, if they grow accustomed to being taken seriously for once, they might prove more malleable.

The Dansk Folkeparti has held the balance of power in the Danish parliament Folketinget for a decade, using all those votes from the nursing home residents and farm workers of Jutland to strong arm the last two PMs into a shameful rash of immigration legislation (you may recall former PM Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s curiously muted response to the Mohammed cartoon crisis: in part because he didn’t want to upset DF). Though no longer part of the ruling coalition, they are still a force to be reckoned with, according to Flores. “In fact, Thorning-Schmidt might end up relying on the Dansk Folkeparti for support in lots of areas,” he says. “They actually share a lot of voters and have a similar view on things like welfare and public spending. It’s only on immigration that they begin to differ.”

Meanwhile, Denmark takes on the EU presidency early next year. In theory, Thorning-Schmidt might well benefit from the international halo effect this will bring. She certainly has the presentational skills to make an impact in the European arena, and the Danes love nothing more than when they see one of their own burnished by the international spotlight. It may well prove to be her salvation.


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