Another Danish Political Thriller?

danish eu signGeorge Candon and Charlotte Norlund-Matthiessen reflect on the forthcoming Danish general election

Remember Borgen? Centrist Birgitte Nyholm emerges the unexpected winner to take the premiership. While many Brussels insider Borgen fans will know that Birgitte Nyholm was a close portrayal of current Competition Commissioner and former leader of the centrist De Radikale party Margrethe Vestager, the current Danish PM – Social Democrat Helle Thorning-Schmidt – may possibly be closer to the mark as a real-life embodiment of Nyholm.

After months of would-she-wouldn’t-she speculation, yesterday Thorning-Schmidt at last announced the election date and the beginning of a 23-day campaign. On 18 June 2015 the Danes will go the polls. Will she be able to pull off a Nyholm and re-secure the premiership?

Commentators are saying that if she does, it will be a major political comeback. While her party is given the largest share of vote in the polls (24.4%, compared to the main opposition Venstre’s 20.3%), her centre-left block junior partners are not performing well, putting the red block behind the centre-right blues. And while the polls have consistently put the centre-right opposition in the lead over the last four years, this month’s have been the best for Thorning-Schmidt, inching her red block to within two percentage points of the blues (49% v 51%) – well within the pollsters’ margin of error. It’s going to be a very tight race, so no wonder that she’s jumped at the opportunity to call elections now instead of waiting until after the summer.

Because of relative disappointment with Thorning-Schmidt’s policies over the past four years, analysts are saying she will have to pull a rabbit from the hat to win re-election. But then again, remember what the pollsters were saying in the recent UK elections? And in the credibility stakes she’s streets ahead of opposition leader Lars Løkke Rasmussen, who trails on 19%, against the 46% who think Thorning-Schmidt the most credible PM material. Løkke Rasmussen may ultimately be undone by the scandal that has plagued him over the course of the past year – in another uncanny example of life imitating art, of using party funds to pay for his clothes, just as Borgen’s fictional Lars Hesselboe made extravagant purchases for his wife in London on his official credit card. Løkke Rasmussen has proved a brilliant campaigner and tactician: it remains to be seen if he can use those skills to dodge the scandal bullet that will surely be fired his way during the campaign.

While the return of economic growth may have had more to do with global economic improvements than Thorning-Schmidt’s domestic policies, she will clearly trumpet 18 months of continued economic growth and the creation of some 30,000 jobs. She has announced a DK39bn (€5bn) investment in the welfare system to 2020 to be financed through ongoing growth, which may play well as a feel-good factor policy with the Danish public in a country that is deeply wedded to its social welfare system. On the other hand Løkke Rasmussen is campaigning on public expenditure freezes, which is causing some ructions even within his own blue alliance. Thorning-Schmidt was clearly playing on those divisions when she said that Denmark did not have room “for experiments as zero growth. We are a fantastic country. We must take care of the Denmark we know”.

Much like in the recent UK elections, the polls are clearly saying it’s too close to call but are still favouring the opposition. While Thorning-Schmidt hasn’t been the most popular of prime ministers, she could quite possibly pull off a Cameron and secure re-election on the back of incumbency and, particularly, a growing economy. She also has the credibility factor, which Løkke Rasmussen doesn’t – which many in the UK felt was Miliband’s downfall. Recent elections across Europe have shown how the traditional rulebook has been repeatedly thrown out – will Denmark follow suit?

Red bloc: 49%
Socialdemokraterne (Helle Thorning-Schmidt) 24.4%
Enhedslisten 9.8%
De Radikale 6.1%
Socialistisk Folkeparti 6%
Alternativet 2.7%

Blue bloc: 51%
Venstre (Lars Løkke Rasmussen) 20.3%
Dansk Folkeparti 18.6%
Liberal Alliance 6.3%
De Konservative 5%
Kristendemokraterne 0.8%


George Candon is a Senior Director and political commentator at FTI Consulting Brussels. He has made several appearances on Sky News commenting on EU political developments. Charlotte Norlund-Matthiessen is a Danish national and a Consultant at FTI Consulting Brussels.


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