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Tuesday, June 25, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Denmark’s invincible prime minister is falling deep

Once walking a path to become one of the greatest prime ministers in Danish history, Mette Frederiksen is living proof that the people rule democracy — and a booming economy can’t save you from fallout over rash decisions.

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (CN) — To say that Denmark’s biggest political party and current government member had a rough week would be a big understatement.

Winning just 15.6% of the votes at the European Union parliament election on Sunday has thrown the Social Democrats into despair. Despite keeping 3 out of 15 Danish European Parliament seats, the center-left party hasn't seen worse election results in 120 years.

And just to rub salt into the Social Democratic wound, the left-wing party Green Left scored an extraordinary result, winning 17.4% of the voters. Overall considered a little sister party to the Social Democrats, Green Left has in unprecedented fashion overtaken the spot as the most influential political organization in the left wing, throwing her big sister and coalition government into trouble.

An indication of this outcome was already present last Friday when the national newspaper Politiken and broadcaster TV2 published an opinion poll worked by survey company Megafon. Out of 1008 respondents, only 30.3% would vote on one of the current three parties forming the government — a 20.6% fall since the national election in 2022.

“It is almost a collapse for the SVM government. They stand to lose 36 seats. It must be said that this is one of the biggest downturns in recent Danish political history,” Hans Engell, a political commentator for TV2, said about the numbers.

The Danish government coalition includes the newly established center party the Moderates (M), which just turned two years old, and the long-term rivals of the center-right, The Liberal Party (V) and the Social Democrats (S). The trio won a majority of 89 out of 179 parliamentary seats in the 2022 national election, but would collect only 53 seats today based on the latest opinion poll.

Back in 2022, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen from the Social Democrats campaigned to take charge of an uncommon coalition government involving its archrival, the Liberal Party, something that the center-right party continuously refused to engage in. It would challenge the Liberal Party’s self-understanding as the most popular opposition in the right block.

With that, the surprisingly established SVM government was born out of controversy. For the Social Democrats, because the party had an alternative opportunity to make a traditional coalition with left-wing parties, and for the Liberal Party because its leadership flipped from publicly rejecting joining a broad center-government.

“I have believed for a long time that this is what our country needs. Both because of the crises we are facing — inflation, war in Europe — but also because we need to make decisions that require us to look at things differently,” Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said in 2022 upon announcing her new government to the press.

And while the Liberal Party and the Moderates have had their problems to tackle while under power, Frederik stands at the center of the storm, pressuring the survival of Denmark’s SVM government — something that would have been deemed unimaginable just a few years ago.

Rewind to 2020: It has been less than a year under Frederiksen’s political reign, and the Covid-19 virus is spiking around the globe. In March, Denmark becomes one of the first nations to close borders in an attempt to stop the virus from spreading rapidly and relieve the health sector.

And it worked. Frederiksen’s popularity peaked just a month later — an opinion poll of 1014 interviewees by survey company Epinion showed 79% stated that the leader was doing a good job as prime minister. Political commentators and analysts propped up the leader as close to invincible and able to “walk on water.”

Some might even have said she had the potential to become one of the greatest prime ministers Denmark has ever had: a strong, assertive leader who can act under severe circumstances.

And despite receiving massive pressure and criticism from political colleagues and the Danish media after instructing to shutter the mink-skinning industry due to potential mutations of the problematic coronavirus without ensuring the proper legal framework behind her, she was the candidate who received the most personal votes in Denmark’s 2022 November parliament election.

While the “mink scandal,” as the media and opposition called it, haunted Frederiksen’s strong popularity, her creation of the SVM government ignited the steep fall she would eventually experience.

Russian soldiers had already marched further into Ukrainian territory early that year, reshaping the security situation in Europe. Economic recovery and inflation caused by a pandemic and war made Frederiksen believe that Denmark needed centered politics to stabilize the future.

In 2023, the government with a parliamentary majority made a crucial decision. Great Prayer Day, a Friday holy day that had existed for 337 years, was abolished, taking effect in 2024. Adding an extra workday to the calendar could boost the Danish economy, which finally pointed in the direction of meeting NATO’s 2% requirement minimum spend of GDP.

A good situation for Denmark, but somewhat a bitter development for the government, was that the country’s economy would eventually prove stronger than expected.

Despite inflation and high interest on mortgages in the banking system, the Danish economy continued to grow. The unemployment rate was at its lowest, breaking several records in multiple municipalities. What was the point of working a day extra, Danes started to question.

And in May 2024, the Ministry of Finance found 11 billion Danish Kroner (around $1.6 billion) extra in the state budget after updated calculations. Ironically, an SVM government founded to counter estimated future financial decline had now become one of the most unpopular governments under times of economic blooming.

With commentators calling the latest EU election results the final nail in the coffin for the unpopular government, Danes cannot expect the prime minister to change the status quo, even after falling deep from flying high.

“I'm not going to call for an election," she said on stage at the People’s Meeting in Bornholm on Friday. "Nor am I going to stop as prime minister, until one day at a general election you have said that 'now it's not you anymore, Mette.'”

Follow @LasseSrensen13
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