Almost three weeks since election, Denmark’s wait for new government continues

Monday marks the 19th day since the general election, with a new government appearing to still be some way off.

Almost three weeks since election, Denmark’s wait for new government continues
Photo: Philip Davali / Ritzau Scanpix

The 19th day sees 2019 overtake the protracted negotiations in 2011, which took 18 days before then-leader of the Social Democrats Helle Thorning-Schmidt was able to form government.

Thorning-Schmidt’s successor, Mette Frederiksen, is currently locked in talks with the three other ‘red bloc’ parties on the left of Danish politics: the Social Liberals, Red Green Alliance and Socialist People’s Party (SF).

“If we look at government formation over the last 30 years, this will be seen as one of the most difficult,” political commentator Hans Engell told Ritzau.

“One of the things that is part of the difficulty is that the Social Democrats have made it clear from the start that they want to form government alone,” Engell said.

“SF and the Red Green Alliance are not against this, but the Social Liberals are of the persuasion that governments of this type [centre-left, ed.] cannot be formed without them,” he continued.

Due to the large number of parties in the Danish parliament, coalitions and minority governments given formal backing by one or more supporting parties are generally the norm.

The Social Democrats and Social Liberals have often governed together in the past, but the former party announced last year its intention to break with that constellation.

That has resulted in a more demanding approach to the negotiations by the Social Liberals, according to Engell.

After negotiations between all four parties on Sunday, Frederiksen was positive about progress.

“I was a good, but long, meeting. I don’t think any parties are being immovable about their objectives. But the parties are naturally fighting for their standpoints,” she told Ritzau.

The record time between an election and formation of government in Denmark was in 1975, when Social Democrat leader Anker Jørgensen became head of government after 35 days.

READ ALSO: Denmark must change way of life to achieve climate targets: Frederiksen

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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