A noted in an earlier post, Danish media have been buzzing with rumours about prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s future since last summer. In case you wonder, the media consensus is that Fogh wants to leave his post in favour of a position at the European Union, preferably as the first president of the European Council under the Lisbon Treaty.
I have nothing to add to all of this speculating but as a political scientist, I am of cause curious about how prime ministers get out of office and what they do afterwards.
If we look at Denmark post-1901 when parliamentary rule was introduced, the sad truth is that only two PMs have left office voluntarily: M.P. Friis in 1920 and Jens Otto Krag in 1972.1 All other PMs have either died in office, lost elections or votes of no confidence or resigned in the face of parliamentary defeat. As a rule, Danish PMs like annoying relatives tend to overstay their visits.
The Swedish record is more mixed: Tage Erlander and Ingvar Carlsson resigned voluntarily. Olof Palme, on the other hand, was murdered, while Thorbjörn Fälldin, Carl Bildt and Göran Persson were voted out of office. It is not uncommon for Norwegian prime ministers to resign voluntarily and hand over responsibilities to a chosen successor: Tryggve Bratteli, Odvar Nordli and Gro Harlem Brundtland (1996) did so.
But what to PMs do after resigning? To give a perspective on Fogh’s possible future I looked at the biographies of the prime ministers of the Nordic countries since 1980 – my research is not comprehensive: To do a proper study, you will need to check the Blue Books published in the respective countries.
Since 1980, Finland has had seven prime ministers. Mauno Koivisto went on to become president, while Kalevi Sorsa and Paavo Lipponen stayed in national politics for some time. Harri Holkeri went into UN service at a secondary level, while Esko Aho after a sabbatical took up a post at the SITRA foundation.
Norway has also had seven PMs. Odvar Nordli and Kåre Willoch after short interludes became county governors while Jan P. Syse stayed in parliament. Dethroned Labour PM Thorbjørn Jagland also stayed in parliament while taking up a post in the Socialist International while Kjell Magne Bondevik is the leader of the Oslo Centre for Peace of Human Rights. Finally, Gro Harlem Brundtland went on to be director of the WHO.
In Sweden, Thorbjörn Fälldin went back to his farm – supplemented with boardroom-work in state-owned companies – while Ingvar Carlsson more or less vanished into thin air. Carl Bildt made a dual career as EU and later UN representative in the Balkans as well as going into business and doing consultancy work. Finally, Göran Persson has become a professional lobbyist.
Anker Jørgensen soldiered on as chairman of the Social Democrats before finally resigning from that position in 1987, while Poul Schlüter and Poul Nyrup Rasmussen were elevated to the European Parliament. Nyrup Rasmussen actually was deselected as chairman of the Social Democrats, but came back to make a second career as chairman of the Party of European Socialists.
So, where can we find a parallel? The best match to a President Fogh would probably be Gro Harlem Brundtland and I’m sure some readers will find this truly and utterly hilarious.
- Friis is a special case as he was appointed as caretaker PM during the 1920 Easter crisis [↩]