The government performed its largest shake-up since last year's election and replaced two of its ministers this morning.
The reshuffle was widely expected after Villy Søvndal stepped down as leader of Socialistisk Folkeparti (SF) in September and a five-week election campaign was carried out to find a new leader.
Søvndal’s departure as leader was seen as a reflection of dissatisfaction in SF’s heartland following a precipitous drop in confidence by voters following the election – SF polled at about 20 percent amongst voters three years ago, against about six percent today.
51-year-old Annette Vilhelmsen, a relative political novice that was elected to parliament last year after her third attempt, won a landslide victory over Astrid Krag to become the new SF leader on Saturday. But with almost 20 years experience in education, her defeat of 29-year-old Krag – a career politician with little professional experience outside politics – demonstrated a will by SF members to return to more traditional roots.
Among Vilhelmsen’s first decisions were appointing herself as the new business and growth minister in place of the recently-stepped down Ole Sohn and firing Thor Möger Pedersen as the tax minister. Pedersen has been replaced by Holger K Nielsen, an MP for SF between 1981-2005 (bar three years) and the party’s leader from 1991-2005.
The 26-year-old Pedersen was given a ministerial post despite failing to get elected in the last election. He was, however, a key strategist that over the past five years helped turn SF from a ‘protest party’ into a party with ambitions for power. His efforts helped SF assume a position in government for the first time ever last year after it entered into an election coalition with the Socialdemokraterne (S).
It may seem then ungrateful to dismiss Pedersen from his post as tax minister after only a year holding the position. But clearly Vilhelmsen was looking for different qualities from one of SF’s key ministers in a cabinet of three political parties spanning the centre to left of the political spectrum.
And if anyone can argue SF’s case, it is Nielsen. Throughout his long career he served as the party's spokesperson on defence, foreign affairs and media and occupied powerful positions, including a stint on parliament’s executive committee.
Reports now suggest that Nielsen will be expected to extend his influence as member of the government’s powerful co-ordination committee, under PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt’s (S) leadership, that has the final say on the political line taken by the government.
Whether the new SF ministers will end up moving the government further to the left remains to be seen. Two days of talks between Vilhelmsen and Thorning-Schmidt seemed to establish that SF would not challenge the pre-election policy agreement with S. And of course, anything that SF wants to accomplish would also need the co-operation of centrist coalition party Radikale.
This may disappoint the SF heartland, which wants the government to provide better support for the almost 20,000 people that stand to lose their unemployment benefits, dagpenge, at the start of the new year.
Outside Amalienborg this morning following the formal presentation of the two new ministers to the queen, PM Thorning-Schmidt said that the government would be making no immediate changes.
"We are still the same government, but we are three different parties," Thorning-Schmidt said, before turning to her two new colleagues. "They are two politicians that are deeply concerned with improving our welfare state. They are both politicians that are optimistic about the government's future co-operation."
Factfile | Government reshuffle
Tax minister – Thor Möger Pedersen (SF)
26-year-old organisational and strategical prodigy that masterminded SF’s emergence as a political power.
Business and growth minister – Ole Sohn (SF)
Following Søvndal's departure, Sohn saw the writing on the wall and voluntarily withdrew as minister. He also announced he would not stand for re-election to parliament.
Tax minister – Holger K. Nielsen (SF)
A political veteran who lead SF for 15 years and now makes a comeback to add depth and experience to SF’s ministerial team.
Business and growth minister – Annette Vilhelmsen (SF)
After a long career in education, Vilhelmsen was elected into parliament on her third try last October and now also assumes SF’s leadership after less than a year