According to statistics published by the Swedish National Agency for Education earlier this week, the share of pupils who fail to qualify for upper secondary programmes is the highest in a decade. Mathematics stand out as the most troublesome subject…
…According to a press release from the National Agency for Education, the statistics about pupils’ qualifications published earlier this week are unreliable because of “technical faults” in the reporting system used by local authorities.
In the Danish political gossip, much of the attention has focussed on the future of Lars Løkke Rasmussen who has been deputy chairman of the Liberal Party since 1998 and Interior and Health Minister since 2001. In the latter role, he prepared and organised the wholesale reform of Danish local government which was implemented at the start of this year and if there is anything like a manhood test in Danish politics, preparing and implementing a reform like that is it.
But what to do next? Mr. Løkke Rasmussen has no obvious rivals in the Liberal Party and at the same time he has always been loyal to Anders Fogh Rasmussen as party leader and prime minister. This means that he – provided he doesn’t suffer a serious political or physical accident – is the heir presumptive, perhaps even the heir apparent, as leader of the Liberals and as prime minister. Again, if we look at the political chattering, expectations are that Mr. Fogh Rasmussen will resign and hand over his offices to Mr. Løkke Rasmussen in a couple of years’ time.
As it is, the gossip was right this time: Lars Løkke Rasmussen has taken over the Finance portfolio which was vacated when Thor Petersen, a veteran of the Schlüter and Fogh Rasmussen governments, was presented as the new speaker of the Danish parliament.
But where do prime ministers come from politically? The argument has been that the Finance portfolio is a heavyweight portfolio and that no portfolio of a similar weight would be available to Mr. Løkke Rasmussen. On the other hand, Finance is a demanding and notoriously tricky portfolio. A finance minister, per definition, is locked in conflict with the other government ministers.
If we look at the Danish prime ministers since the de facto adoption of parliamentary government in 1901, we find a variety of political careers but some finance ministers have made it to the top. If we list prime ministers after their last portfolio before becoming prime minister, the list is as follows:
- No prior government office: J.H. Deuntzer, L. Holstein-Ledreborg, C.Th. Zahle, Otto Liebe, M.P. Friis, Anker Jørgensen, Poul Schlüter, Poul Nyrup Rasmussen
- Foreign Affairs: Erik Scavenius, H.C. Hansen, Jens Otto Krag, Poul Hartling
- Finance: Niels Neergaard, Vilhelm Buhl, Viggo Kampmann
- Interior: Klaus Berntsen, Knud Kristensen
- Social Affairs and Employment: Th. Stauning, Hans Hedtoft
- Agriculture: Th. Madsen-Mygdal, Erik Eriksen
- Ecclesiastics: J.C. Christensen
- Trade: Hilmar Baunsgaard
- Taxes: Anders Fogh Rasmussen
As it is, H.C. Hansen actually served two terms as finance minister: In the 1945 liberation government and in Hans Hedtoft’s first government between 1947 and 1950. On the other hand, the finance ministers who made it to the top could best be described as political accidents. Neergaard had to take over after J.C. Christensen had been forced to resign following the Alberti scandal while Buhl stepped in after Th. Stauning’s death in 1942 as Stauning’s chosen successor Hans Hedtoft had been blocked from leading offices by the German occupation authorities.
Finally, Viggo Kampmann emerged as the only real candidate after H.C. Hansen’s death in 1960 but he lacked a proper base in the labour movement and for both political and personal reasons his time in office was an unhappy one.
If we look at the issue in the opposite perspective, then Finance has yielded a number of prominent casualties. Thorkil Kristensen (1945-1947 and 1950-1953) was a brilliant technocrat who believed he was a politician but lost the internal battle with Erik Eriksen during the 1950s.
In the 1960s, Finance earned a reputation of killing politicians one after the other: Social Democrats Hans R. Rasmussen and Poul Hansen were trusted hands who both died in or shortly after leaving office and the Conservatives’ Poul Møller succumbed to both political and physical pressures and had to resign in 1971 with a ruined health. Henry Grünbaum survived the challenge – if only because he was sidelined by Jens Otto Krag and Anker Jørgensen.
Things got a little better in the 1970s, partly because the portfolio was divided into one dealing with budgeting (Finance) and another dealing with taxes, but Knud Heinesen and Svend Jakobsen were both worn out by the pressures of the position and left active politics. Henning Christophersen left Danish politics in 1984 to become a European commissioner after realising that he would never make it to the prime minister’s office while Henning Dyremose was sidelined by Hans Engell in a ferocious power struggle in the Conservative People’s Party.
Finally, Mogens Lykketoft tried and failed in the 2005 election after being the central actor in Poul Nyrup Rasmussen’s governments during the 1990s. Lykketoft’s position was alleged to be so strong that political commentators occasionally joked that Nyrup Rasmussen was just the prime minister in Mogens Lykketoft’s government. It still didn’t bring Mr. Lykketoft any luck.
To sum up: Lars Løkke Rasmussen’s transfer from Interior and Health to Finance was expected but given the challenges ahead, he may find that being a Finance Minister can be a mixed blessing politically even if he is the prime minister’s chosen successor and does not have any serious political rivals in the Liberal Party.
Out: Thor Petersen (Finance), Rikke HvilshÃ¸j (Integration)
In: Birthe RÃ¸nn Hornbech (Integration), Troels Lund Poulsen (Environment)
Change: Lars LÃ¸kke Rasmussen (Interior and Health -> Finance), Karen Jespersen (Social Affairs -> “Welfare” (SA + Interior)), Connie Hedegaard (Environment -> Energy and Climate), Carina Christensen (Families and Consumer Affairs -> Transport), Jacob Axel Nielsen (Transport -> Public Health)
Ecclesiastics change hands from Bertel Haarder (who receives Nordic Cooperation from Connie Hedegaard as his additional charge) to Birthe RÃ¸nn Hornbech.
Source: Prime Minister’s Office.
Media commentators have touted a generational change among the Liberals. I’m not sure that the appointment of Karen Jespersen in September and now Birthe RÃ¸nn Hornbech points in that direction. This is more like adding safe pairs of hands.
I’ll have to admit that I missed this point in the new government programme completely but the Danish National Church (which is a state church) is also the object of a number of political and administrative reforms.
Trying to describe the formal status of the church is a bit difficult, to say the least. The 1849 constitution included the promise of a separate framework for the church which, as you may have guessed, has never been fulfilled. This means that the church on the one hand is placed directly under the control of parliament and the Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs. (Completely OT, but during my first year at university I was in the same class as the present permanent secretary of the MEA) Unlike the Church of England or the Church of Sweden, the DNC does not have anything like a Synod or a National Church Assembly. Similarly, the DNC does not have an archbishop but a number of ordinary bishops.
Before you get the impression that Denmark is some kind of Lutheran equivalent of Iran or Saudi-Arabia, you need to know that most of the day-to-day administrative business is run by local parish councils while the clergy preaches the gospel, baptizes the new-born, marries people and so on. (Actually, immigrants are usually spooked by the fact that they have to register births with the local church office, believing that the child is automatically entered as a member of the church) The MEA does its best to stay out of the way unless something really nasty (ie. a conflict between a parish council and the local vicar) happens.
Ideologically, the DNC is also split into a number of more or less formalised factions and movements like the Grundtvigians, the Inner Mission, Tidehverv and so on, which means that the Danish National Church as such does not have an opinion on a lot of religious matters.
Anyway, the new government programme (see page 60) promises us “more church for the money” which means spending less money on churches and churchyards – yes, the text actually says so – and more on what is called “service for church members”. In more practical terms, this means changing government grants from being specifically tied to positions to being determined by factors such as the size of respective congregations, church attendance etc.
Another interesting change has to do with the bishops’ conditions of appointment. As it is, bishops are elected by parish councilors and then appointed by the minister when a vacancy occurs – usually when the incumbent bishop reaches the age of 70 and is forced to resign due to age. Now, the government wants to change this so that bishops instead of being civil servants appointed for life will be appointed on a contract basis for a fixed number of years.
I’m still left with the question: How do you adequately measure and evaluate the efficiency of a church? Wouldn’t you need some kind of link to the guy upstairs to get information about the number of souls saved?