Danish Election results in first female Prime Minister

On September 15, 2011, the Danish electorate re- elected eight parties to represent them in Parliament. Voter turnout was 87.7%. The eight parties can be divided into four blue parties on the right and four red parties on the left. With 175 seats in Parliament, 88 seats are required for a majority. The previous government of Liberals and Conservatives could command 89 seats when they received support from the far-right Danish People’s Party.

The new government, headed by the Social Democrats with two other coalition partners, will require the support of the far-left Unity Party to arrive at 89 seats. The Unity Party – made up of former Marxist parties – will not join the new coalition government.

Leader of the Social Democrats is Ms. Helle Thorning-Schmidt who now becomes not only one of the youngest Prime Ministers ever – at 44 – but also Denmark’s first female Prime Minister. Helle Thorning-Schmidt was a member of the European Parliament from 1999 to 2004. She is married to a British citizen, Stephen Kinnock, who she met in Belgium and who works in Switzerland. They have two daughters.

The two biggest political parties, the Liberals and the Social Democrats, more or less held their own in terms of the number of seats they obtained in the election. For all parties there were gains or losses. But the biggest shift was among the support parties.

The biggest loser was the Conservative Party, which went from 18 to 8 seats. The party which gained the most seats was the Unity Party, which improved its standing from 4 to 12 seats. The Unity Party gained 7 seats from the Socialist People’s Party due to the fact that the Socialist People’s Party had entered into an election pact with the Social Democrats. This was the price it had to pay to get into government, the first time this party will have a place at the cabinet table.

After ten years of government by the Liberal- Conservative coalition some Danes felt it was time for a change. In contrast to the previous election in 2007, the immigration question was not in the forefront of the election debate. And yet, the Social Democrats and the Socialist People’s Party had announced that if they formed the new government, they would scrap the border controls planned by the Liberal-Conservative government, which moreover would have hindered traffic and the free movement of goods, as well as be contrary to the Schengen Agreement which abolished border controls among twenty-five European countries.

With its slim majority, which includes the support of the Unity Party, it will be a tough balancing act for the new government. There will likely be times when the new government will have to make a deal with the Liberals in order to pass legislation – and not just in areas such as foreign policy and defence, areas where there already is much broad agreement.

Other issues on the political agenda include raising the retirement age and phasing out generous early retirement payments, even though Helle Thorning- Schmidt and her Social Democrats as well as the Socialist People’s Party are opposed. But the parties in favour of the reform have a total of 94 seats and have agreed to proceed with the introduction of this legislation despite opposition from the Social Democratic Prime Minister. Moreover, the new government wants to increase taxes, despite Denmark already being one of the highest taxed countries in the world. Naturally this too will be controversial.

Above all, a primary task of the new government will be to navigate through the current economic downturn, which affects not only Denmark and the European Union, but the world.

Rolf Buschardt Christensen

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