Meet Denmark’s next Prime Minister, the face of the new Social Democratic model

The likely future prime minister of Denmark, Mette Frederiksen, embodies the new Danish Social Democratic model, with a new-found focus on restrictive immigration while championing the welfare state.

Meet Denmark's next Prime Minister, the face of the new Social Democratic model
Mette Frederiksen. Photo: Philip Davali/ Scanpix Ritzau
Frederiksen “has workers' blood in her veins, is a fourth generation Social Democrat… and spent years preparing to take over the leadership (in 2015) of the party she knows so well,” daily Politiken wrote just days before Wednesday's general election in which she ultimately emerged victorious.
Having made her debut in parliament at the age of 24, she served asemployment minister and justice minister before taking the reins of Denmark's largest political party.
She succeeded Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the country's first female prime minister who was defeated by current Liberal Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen in 2011.
The campaign ahead of Wednesday's election focused on the climate and the defence of the welfare state in a country that boasts almost full employment.
Frederiksen “has refused to make concrete promises, except when it comes to immigration,” Politiken said. For that, her pledge is to keep the curbs in place.
Tougher on immigration
That is a significant change from the early 2000s, when Frederiksend denounced Denmark's immigration policy as one of the “toughest in Europe”.
Last year the Social Democrats, under her leadership, proposed sending asylum seekers to special reception centres outside Europe — such as North Africa — while their requests are being processed.
They also proposed a cap on the number of “non-Western” immigrants allowed into the country, borrowing rhetoric from the country's far-right that has also been adopted by Denmark's wider political establishment.
“Mette Frederiksen knows that if she wants to be successful in Denmark, she has to be strict on asylum and immigration policies,” Ulf Hedetoft, a politics professor at the University of Copenhagen, told AFP.
“I simply note that today, 75 percent of parliamentarians support a tough immigration policy,” Frederiksen said in a book of interviews, “A Political Portrait”, published this spring.
Frederiksen intends to form a minority government — common in Denmark's proportional representation system — relying on the support of the left or the right on a case-by-case basis.
For Flemming Juul Christiansen, a political scientist at the University of Roskilde, this arrangement makes her “more credible when she affirms that she will not compromise on immigration”.
But she faces tough negotiations in the weeks to come to secure support for her future government.
Politics from an early age
If she is confirmed in the top job in government, she would be Denmark's youngest ever prime minister at 41. But  Frederiksen is far from a political novice.
“She has been preoccupied with political matters since she was six-seven years old,” her father Flemming Frederiksen, a former typographer and Social Democratic activist, told local news agency Ritzau.
In her early teens she paid a membership fee to support the anti-apartheid ANC in South Africa and she became a member of the Social Democrats' youth league at 15.
“I have never doubted that Mette, if she wanted to, could go all the way,” her father added.
A divorced mother of two teenagers from Aalborg, she has a methodological nature.
“I always make lists of things I need to get done. I like the sense of having completed one thing so I can move on to the next,” she said in “A Political Portrait”.
Since taking over as the head of the Social Democrats, she has managed to unite the different factions of the party.
“For the first time since Anker (Anker Jorgensen, the leader of the Social Democrats from 1972 to 1987) we have a leader that everyone in the organisation supports,” party veteran Bjarne Laustsen told newspaper Altinget.
While her predecessor advocated austerity measures in response to the 2008 economic crisis, Frederiksen promoted policies “much further to the left with greater spending on social systems,” said Juul Christiansen.
She wants to allow early retirement for those in taxing careers and halt budget cuts in health and education, for example.
However, as a proponent of public school, she was criticised in 2010 for sending her own children to private school.

By Camille Bas-Wohlert/AFP

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Power shifts in Denmark with the giving of gifts

Transfer of power between governments can be associated with antagonism, ill feeling and tension. In Denmark, it is accompanied by the exchange of gifts.

Power shifts in Denmark with the giving of gifts
Mette Frederiksen hands Lars Løkke Rasmussen his new cycling jersey. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen / Ritzau Scanpix

The quirky tradition was continued on Thursday as Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen took over from predecessor Lars Løkke Rasmussen as head of government.

Tradition in Danish politics dictates that all outgoing ministers, including the prime minister, exchange gifts with their successors on the day portfolios officially change hands.

The gifts, often referred to in Danish as drillegaver (‘teasing gifts’), are normally chosen with an element of humour in mind, while not forgetting to reference political opposition.

As the keys to the PM’s office were exchanged at Christiansborg Palace, the seat of parliament on Thursday, Rasmussen handed Frederiksen a pair of gloves and blue trousers from a set of overalls.

“I’m now handing over a Denmark in top form. And that must be looked after. I know will you do that, Mette,” Rasmussen said.

“One of the keys to achieving that is for us Danes to pull on our working gear,” he added.

In response, Frederiksen gifted Rasmussen, known for his enthusiasm for bicycle racing, a polka-dotted cycling jersey, making reference to his tendency to “break away from the pack” during the election campaign.

“I hope you will be spending a lot more time cycling in future,” Frederiksen joked as she gave her predecessor the jersey.

Also noting that she had probably not seen the last of the Liberal (Venstre) party leader in politics, the new PM had warm words of tribute for Rasmussen, who has served two separate terms as the head of Denmark’s government, from 2009-11 and 2015-19.

She thanked him for a being a decent opponent and for “everything you have done for Denmark”.

Rasmussen, who was not short of joking remarks himself, said he “had a habit of handing over the keys to a Social Democrat”.

After losing the 2011 election, he gave then-Social Democrat leader Helle Thorning-Schmidt his government’s budget repurposed as a handbag, while Thorning-Schmidt gave Rasmussen a bus ticket.

Roles were reversed in 2015, when Rasmussen, having regained power, gave Thorning-Schmidt a selfie stick and received festival tickets in return.

The Danish tradition of giving gifts while handing over power is a modern one, having gradually emerged in the 1980s and 1990s.

“Transition of power used to be very formal,” DR’s political commentator Bent Stuckert told Politiken in 2011. That is evidenced by the below video, which shows Anker Jørgensen making way for Poul Hartling in 1973.

The 2019 version, coming at the end of a long negotiation period to form government, continued Denmark’s overtly friendly approach to handing over the keys to power.

READ ALSO: Here is Denmark's new Social Democrat government