The queen of Danish hearts

Once derided as a “clumsy teenager”, Denmark’s queen can celebrate her 44th jubilee with towering approval ratings

Her subjects wave at her when she steps out onto the balcony of Amalienborg Palace, and they listen to her when she gives her New Year’s address. Margrethe II is a popular queen. In fact the monarchy is the most popular in Europe, according to a not too distant poll.

This year marked Queen Margrethe’s 43rd year on the throne. Through those over four decades as the titular head of state, she has managed to not only refine the monarchy, but also to gain her subjects’ trust and support. She has become a rallying point that most people can identify with and she is the country’s representative to the world, according to experts.

Multifaceted monarch
One of the reasons why the monarchy has become so popular is because Margrethe has been able to make being a queen into a life-long project, according to Jon Bloch Skipper, a historian who specialises on the monarchy.

“It’s not just a 9-to-5 job. She has put this duty in front of everything else. And she has been very professional about it, which has given her credibility,” he said in 2012. In addition to being a dedicated monarch, Margrethe has also established an identity for herself as a mother, an academic and an artist.

“She’s a very versatile queen. It’s obviously important that she’s well versed in a lot of areas, and that she has so many interests in different aspects of society,” Lars Hovbakke Sørensen, a historian with the University of Copenhagen, said.

The queen’s high popularity ratings – over 70 percent support the monarchy, according to polls – is due to this versatility. Describing her, Skipper uses words like reliable and intelligent.

He also pointed to her sense of humour about the job as one of the reasons for her success.

“That’s an important thing to have as a queen, because people often feel awkward around her. A monarch who’s in command of the situation can help people to relax. It’s a disarming sense of humour,” he said.

Even though the queen possesses a great sense of humour, she still maintains a sort of conservative sublimeness, Skipper said. This is especially apparent in the distance she maintains from the media.


National symbol
As a constitutional monarch the queen doesn’t have political power. However, the constitution states that laws don’t take effect until she signs them, and she plays a ceremonial role in the formation of new governments.

In reality though, she has no choice but to follow the instructions of elected leaders, and laws do not become valid until signed by a member of the cabinet.

But according to Sørensen, these formal roles are not her most important ones.

“She has two very important tasks. The first is to be someone who can gather Danes. She is a person people can relate to, no matter what cultural or religious background they may have. Secondly, she’s Denmark’s official representative to the world,” he said, emphasising that her popularity has a lot to do with the fact that she has understood this role.

Skipper agreed that at the end of the day the most important thing for the queen was to have the support of the people. “This is why people wave with flags when she passes in her coach,” he said.

Being a national symbol means that people identify and reflect themselves in her. A part of this identification is based on her gender.

“You shouldn’t underestimate the fact that she’s a woman, and also the first woman in that role,” Skipper said. “She has been able to balance family and career. This has inspired other women.”

The future queen
Since ascending to the throne as the young mother the then-PM Jens Otto Krag referred to as “a clumsy teenager”, Margrethe, now 75, continues to refine her role, according to Sørensen, who points to her New Year’s address as an example.

“She has developed the address into something personal – a way for her to give good advice to the population. Like her last one, when she said that people need to remember that during a financial crisis people have to do something themselves,” he said.

With the New Year address becoming the queen’s personal trademark, Skipper doubts that Prince Frederik, the heir apparent, will be able to carry on the tradition in the same form.

“He’ll have to figure out his own way of doing things. But he is lucky that he will avoid a direct comparison, because he’s succeeding a woman,” he said.

Even though 40 percent of her subjects are in favour of the queen’s abdication in the next five to ten years, according to a Megafon/Politiken/TV2 poll back in 2012, Margrethe has made it clear that just like her job isn’t a 9-to-5 one, nor is it something you can retire from.

“I’ve always had the perception that it is an assignment you get,” she told Politiken newspaper. “And you keep it as long as you live.”