Renewed calls for appointed vice-ministers

Current system that allows civil servants to stand in for ministers puts too much power in hands of unelected officials, some claim

The current system of politically neutral civil servants serving as the closest advisors and stand-ins for cabinet members should be replaced with a system of politically appointed vice-ministers, according to an increasing number of voices from both sides of the political aisle.

In the past, concern has been raised about whether civil servants who advise one government can remain impartial to a new one

This week, the discussion was re-opened when political opponents Karsten Lauritzen (Venstre) and Jacob Bjerregaard (Socialdemokraterne) wrote in a recent op-ed in Jyllands-Posten newspaper about their concern over the practice of ministers sending civil servants to cover for them at meetings.

"Ministers have too many things on their table and the current system puts too much power in the hands of civil servants,” Lauritzen and Bjerregaard wrote. “The solution is to allow ministers to appoint their own deputies.”

Sweden and Norway already have a system that includes vice ministers who help ministers develop policy, deal with the media and maintain contact between ministries during negotiations.

Danish cabinet members are already permitted to have a number of special advisors – so-called spin doctors – who help them with strategy or manage the press. They do not, however, have the authority to stand in for ministers.

Other ministers have previously voiced support for adopting a policy of appointed deputies, but Magnus Heunicke, an MP for Socialdemokraterne, said the concept of politically appointed vice ministers was inconsistent with current government policy.

Per Hansen, a spokesperson for the union Djøf, which represents many senior civil servants, agreed the current system works just fine.

“Ministers are satisfied with the advice they are getting and we don’t need more political appointees,” Hansen told Jyllands-Posten.

MP Bertel Haarder (Venstre), himself a former minister, also had little sympathy for the argument that ministers were too busy.

“If civil servants are deciding too much, perhaps it is because the ministers are not deciding enough. It is up to them to do something about it,” Haarder told TV 2 News.

Some political analysts expressed concern over unelected civil servants being put in decision-making positions, but TV2 political commentator Henrik Qvortrup said more political appointees would only add extra layers to an already bloated system.

“A group of deputy ministers just bureaucratises the entire system even more,” he said. “It is bad enough as it is.”

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