What next for Denmark’s Liberals after Rasmussen farewell?

The Liberal (Venstre) party, which has governed Denmark for 14 of the last 18 years, is to move forward with a new leader after two-time prime minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen resigned on Saturday.

What next for Denmark’s Liberals after Rasmussen farewell?
Jakob Ellemann-Jensen. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen / Ritzau Scanpix

After weeks of in-fighting and manoeuvring within the party, Rasmussen announced he would not, as he had hoped, run for re-election at the upcoming Liberal Party conference.

In an announcement on Twitter issued on Saturday morning, the former PM said that he was now facing too much opposition from the party's grass roots. 

In the run-up to Saturday's announcement, several of the party's regional groups publicly expressed their lack of confidence in Rasmussen, and the party's group in Central Jutland openly called for both him and deputy leader Kristian Jensen to resign, with several MPs joining the call.

Jensen, who has been deputy leader for ten years and long-expected to eventually take over from Rasmussen, is to follow his boss out of the door, seemingly bringing to an end his career-long ambition to lead the party.

“I have, in recent weeks, listened with increased concern to the demand from regional Liberal groups for a new start and new leadership. I repeated yesterday my offer meet that demand if Lars also did,” Jensen tweeted.

Former finance minister Jensen’s downfall appears partly to stem from increasing distance between him and Rasmussen since June’s election defeat.

Prior to the election, Rasmussen said it was not “the law of nature” that the deputy leader of a party eventually takes over as leader.

Jensen, who is the party's deputy leader, said in an August interview that he was against running another election campaign on a partnership with the Social Democrats, as Rasmussen dramatically advocated on the eve of the June 5th vote, but later apologized at the Liberals' summer meeting for breaking with the leadership line.

Jakob Ellemann-Jensen, the environment and food minister in Rasmussen's last government, is now in pole position to take over as Liberal leader.

Ellemann-Jensen, whose father, Uffe Ellemann-Jensen led the party in the 1980s and 1990s, has so far remained quiet about his prospects of taking over from Rasmussen and last week responded “not right now” when asked by broadcaster DR whether he wanted to be leader.

But Ellemann-Jensen has big shoes to fill, with Rasmussen, described as a “masterful tactician and a political technocrat” by Politiken editor Christian Jensen. The former PM has been a dominant and experienced Liberal politician since the 2000s.

He is, however expected to confirm his candidacy this week, and is seen as the figure who can unite the up to 850 delegates at the party’s national congress on September 21st.

Meanwhile, former immigration minister Inger Støjberg, a high profile on the party's right wing, has been named by several sources within the party as a strong contender for the deputy leader post, Politiken reports.

That comes after a number of other potential new deputy leaders, including Sophie Løhde and Stephanie Lose, confirmed they were not interested in taking the role.

But Ellemann-Jensen and Støjberg will need to agree on a future working relationship before the party moves forward.

Although the former is expected to extend an invitation to Støjberg opening the way for the pair to work together, their political instincts have some degree of difference, Politiken writes – not least on immigration.

READ ALSO: Former Danish PM steps down as Liberal Party leader

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Former Danish immigration minister Støjberg to run for Liberal deputy leader role

Inger Støjberg, the hardline former Minister for Immigration and Integration, is to run for election as deputy leader of the Liberal (Venstre) party.

Former Danish immigration minister Støjberg to run for Liberal deputy leader role
Inger Støjberg. File photo: Philip Davali/Ritzau Scanpix

Støjberg’s announcement follows hot on the heels of Jakob Ellemann-Jensen’s confirmation that he, as widely expected, will seek to succeed Lars Løkke Rasmussen as leader of the Liberals, the largest party on Denmark’s right.

“I have considered it for the last couple of days and I think that Jakob (Ellemann-Jensen) and I would make a very good duo, because we are two different people but have always had a good working relationship,” Støjberg told Ritzau.

Rasmussen and outgoing deputy leader Kristian Jensen both announced their resignations on Saturday after a spell of infighting and recriminations within the party following its defeat in the June 5th general election.

That was closely connected to an apparent difference between the two over Rasmussen’s willingness to govern in partnership with the Social Democrats, a traditional rival of the Liberals.

Støjberg said she would “back (Ellemann-Jensen) 110 percent” should they be elected to the respective roles at the Liberal extraordinary national congress on September 21st.

The former minister for immigration cultivated an image as a hardliner on the issue during her time in the government through a number of controversial or outspoken actions.

Those included publishing a picture of herself with a cake to celebrate the passing of a 50th law curbing immigration; calling for the public to report pizzerias where staff did not speak Danish; and telling a false story about a daycare banning pork from children's lunches.

Conversely, she was the architect of an apprenticeship system which was praised by companies for helping them bring refugees onto Denmark’s labour market.

Her biggest controversy arguably revolves around a directive issued in 2016 to forcibly separate, without individual case assessment, married couples given asylum in Denmark, provided one of the couple was under 18 years old. The directive was later found to be illegal and Støjberg faced a series of testing parliamentary hearings over it.

That issue could threaten to resurface and harm her deputy leadership, given a new, left-wing parliamentary majority is potentially capable of commissioning an inquiry.

READ ALSO: Ellemann-Jensen is likely new leader for Denmark's Liberals after confirming candidacy