Two-time Danish PM Rasmussen seals government comeback as foreign minister

Denmark's former prime minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen completed a remarkable political journey when he was named foreign minister on Thursday in Social Democrat Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen's new left-right government.

Two-time Danish PM Rasmussen seals government comeback as foreign minister
Lars Løkke Rasmussen (centre) with the four other new ministers from the Moderate party. Photo: Liselotte Sabroe/Ritzau Scanpix

Rasmussen, who served as prime minister from 2009-2011 and again in 2015-2019, quit the right-wing Liberal party amid an internal conflict after the 2019 election defeat and started his own centre-right party, the Moderates.

His Moderates are in Frederiksen’s new government along with the Liberals, following last month’s general election.

The alliance between the left-wing Social Democrats and right-wing Liberals is unusual in Denmark, with the last attempt in 1978-1979 lasting just 14 months.

But Rasmussen first touted a centrist collaboration between the two parties as far back as the eve of the 2019 election, when he made the surprise move of calling for the coalition at a time when it was beyond the realms of political likelihood.

Considered one of the master strategists in Danish politics, the two-time prime minister has, in the three-and-a-half years since that election, been ousted from his legacy party, founded a new one, led it to a vote share of 9.3 percent in its first election and returned to government as foreign minister under Frederiksen, his erstwhile rival, and alongside his successor as Liberal leader, Jakob Ellemann-Jensen.

Ellemann-Jensen, who had campaigned against Frederiksen in the hope of building a right-wing majority, ultimately agreed to form a government with her “in Denmark’s best interest”.

He becomes deputy prime minister and defence minister.

Frederiksen’s second term as prime minister looks set to be very different from her first, which ran from 2019-2022, when she led a minority Social Democratic government that relied on support from her traditional left-wing allies.

That left-wing bloc won an absolute majority in the November election, but Frederiksen chose nonetheless to form a left-right government.

She said the current global political context, with the war in Ukraine and economic crisis, justified the move — but convincing the Liberals to ally themselves with her is also sure to create a split on the right wing.

Frederiksen failed however to convince the centre-left Social Liberal party to join the government, though it had been open to the possibility.

The new cabinet, made up of 15 men and eight women, includes 11 Social Democrats, eight Liberals and five Moderates.

The finance ministry will remain in the hands of Nicolai Wammen, a Social Democrat.

READ ALSO: Party leaders take foreign and defence minister posts in new Danish government

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Lawyers criticise Danish parliament for ‘special treatment’ of party leader

Two lawyers have accused parliament of double standards for deciding not to legally pursue Alex Vanopslagh, the leader of the Liberal Alliance party, after he was found to have breached rules relating to apartments provided to MPs.

Lawyers criticise Danish parliament for ‘special treatment’ of party leader

Parliament’s decision not to take Vanopslagh’s case to the courts suggests that the public and politicians are not equal before the law, according to two lawyers who spoke to broadcaster DR.

As an elected member of parliament, Liberal Alliance leader Vanopslagh was provided with a free apartment in Copenhagen and given parliamentary subsidies for “double household” (dobbelt husførelse) because he was registered as living at an address in Struer, West Jutland.

It later emerged he did not genuinely use the Struer address as his home and had thereby broken the rules. He later paid back the subsidies in full and returned the Copenhagen apartment.

“I’m not for one second in doubt that if this had been a municipal case, the municipality would have asked for the money back and reported him to the police,” lawyer Mads Pramming, a benefit fraud specialist, told broadcaster DR.

In 2019, parliament – including Liberal Alliance – voted for stricter rules on benefit fraud, including obliging municipalities to report certain types of cases to the police.

“It looks a bit funny that parliament is enacting strict control to prevent the public being paid money they are not entitled to, and giving municipalities an obligation to report it. And when it then comes to parliament itself, things are a lot less strict,” Pramming told DR.

Struer Municipality has ruled that Vanopslagh broke CPR (central person registration) rules by not living in Struer enough between 2020 and 2022 for it to be deemed his actual residence, as he claimed at the time.

Two left-wing parties, Red Green Alliance and Alternative, have called for the Præsidium – speaker’s council – in parliament to consider whether Vanopslagh should be prosecuted over the issue.

The speaker of parliament, Søren Gade, has told DR that the case will not be taken further. A previous case from 2015 has been cited as precedent for the decision.

A second lawyer, Michael Bjørn Hansen, called that stance “absurd” in comments to the broadcaster. Hansen also has expertise in benefit fraud cases.

“Based on some kind of objective consideration, this is certainly benefit fraud. Because he has cheated on some rules and received public benefits which he is not entitled to,” he said.

Equal status before the law “is not present here” unless parliament files a report with police, he argued.

“This is different to the demands parliament is making on municipalities,” he said.

The Præsidium is responsible for managing Denmark’s 179 lawmakers. Five members of parliament sit on the council, with the speaker being the senior member.

Vanopslagh has admitted to wrongdoing in the “double home” scandal and said his knowledge of the rules had been lacking.

“It’s my fault, I made a mistake. But other people make the judgement and say what I have to pay back,” he said earlier this week.

A number of legal experts previously told newspaper Dagbladet Information that the matter should be investigated by the police.

Vanopslagh received a total of around 75,000 kroner to which he was not entitled, according to DR.