Helle Thorning-Schmidt may have narrowly missed receiving a new ‘nose’, but her involvement in the ‘Christiania Case’ is the latest in a long line of scandals that have come to define her time in office.
While the PM may have gotten off from a nose job, fellow cabinet members Annette Vilhelmsen and Martin Lidegaard did not. Both ministers have also recently received official parliamentary reprimands and Mette Frederiksen narrowly missed joining the ‘næse’ club after misleading parliament about a labour report.
If the PM needs counsel on how to bounce back from a very public embarrassment, she need look no farther than the above-named ministers or their departed colleagues Morten Bødskov, who was felled by the same ‘Christiania Case’ that landed Thorning-Schmidt in hot water, Christian Friis Bach, who fell on his sword over the ‘Luxury Lars’ scandal that tarred opposition leader Lars Løkke Rasmussen, or Uffe Elbæk, who had to step down in December 2012 for excessive spending at an arts school where his husband was employed.
Wherever the prime minister looks among her current and former colleagues, she will have find no shortage of those who have been dogged by one scandal or another over the course of her rule. It’s hardly a surprise that the stench finally reached Thorning-Schmidt. Hers has been, after all, an administration dominated by sideshow scandals: the Christiania Case, Taxgate, Solcellesagen, the Zorning Case and the AFUK case, to name but a few.
In just over two years at the helm, Thorning-Schmidt has been forced to announce five cabinet reshuffles. According to DR’s ‘Detektor’ programme, at the time of her last reshuffle in December, Thorning-Schmidt had introduced a new cabinet member every 101.1 days, placing her government in second place behind the first term of Anker Jørgensen, who switched ministers on average every 74 days. To be fair though, Thorning-Schmidt’s rate of announcing new colleagues is only slightly ahead of that of her predecessor Rasmussen, who made a switch every 101.3 days.
But Thorning-Schmidt’s ‘næse’ and the seemingly endless stream of ministers who have misled parliament (Bødskov, Vilhelmsen, Frederiksen), stepped down for one reason or another (Bødskov, Elbæk, Bach, Villy Søvndal, Ole Sohn) or shifted ministerial posts (Karen Hækkerup, for example, has already served in three positions under Thorning-Schmidt) are all symptoms of a government in serious crisis.
When Thorning-Schmidt’s coalition government came to power after the September 2011 election, one hope shared by many was that the new administration would help turn around Denmark’s international image, which had been severely damaged by the foreigner-fearing, border control-loving former right-wing government. And on that front, at least, Thorning-Schmidt has succeeded.
But that success is only superficial. For, as we know all too well here at The Copenhagen Post, the world at large isn’t terribly interested in Denmark. For all but the political junkies, Thorning-Schmidt’s domestic problems go unnoticed. To the outside world, she is merely that “flirty Dane” or “Danish hellcat” (to use the Daily Mail and New York Post’s respective descriptions) who posed with Barack Obama for perhaps the most-discussed selfie in history. Seen from the outside, Denmark is in the hands of an attractive, capable woman who rules over ‘the happiest people in the world’.
But here at home, the good news for Thorning-Schmidt has been few and far between. Opinion polls have regularly shown her Socialdemokraterne taking a beating, and her government’s numerous unfilled election promises – cheaper transport, earmarked paternal leave, gender quotas, various tax reforms, and criminalising prostitution, to name but a few – have made the claims of løftebrud (broken promise) inescapable.
At the same time, many of the things her government has managed to push through, such as a controversial new freedom of information law and welfare reforms, are unpopular.
Thorning-Schmidt must call for an election by September 2015. To have any hope of winning, she needs to avoid having herself or her ministers dragged into any new distracting cases. Based on her track record, that seems unlikely.