Projekt Løkke

Projekt Løkke, the title of Tanja Frederiksen and Sigge Winther Nielsen’s book about Danish prime minister, has a double (or perhaps triple) meaning: The “project” refers to Lars Løkke Rasmussen’s road to the most important political position in Denmark – implying that he always had his eyes set on the position as prime minister – while Løkke refers to both the protagonist’s common name and the pronounciation of “lykke” or “happiness”. In this way, we get “project happiness” as the overriding theme of Løkke’s political career with his experiments with care for the elderly in Græsted-Gilleleje back in the mid-1990s and private provision of surgery from the late 1990s onward.

Some would point out that “løkke” also means “noose” or “snare” and, as the book demonstrates, more than one person has been caught in the traps set up by Løkke Rasmussen over the years. The road to the Prime Minister’s Office may not lead over dead bodies but there have been any number of nervous breakdowns, broken friendships and agreements and disillusionments over the years.

The problem facing anyone wanting to write a book about Løkke Rasmussen is that Niels Krause-Kjær already covered the subject comprehensively in his 2009 biography.1 Frederiksen and Winther Nielsen solves this by concentrating on Løkke as a politician and adding major sections on his work as prime minister, including the botched COP15 summit in December 2009.

Frederiksen and Winther Nielsen took some care to publish parts of the book before its release which meant that when it finally appeared, there were no major unexploded bombs left – or rather: All attention has been directed at Løkke’s time in office as Health Minister and his drive to promote private clinics even if it came at the expense of public budgets. As the authors have to rely on anonymous sources, it is hard for outsiders to the claims, but if anything, the furious attacks on media and the National Audit Office by Liberal politicians last year and in recent weeks serve to strengthen my suspicion that something dodgy was – and is – going on in first the Health Ministry and later the Prime Minister’s Office.

At the same time I have noted that a part which caught my interest, has gone completely unnoticed by Danish media and politicians. There is indeed a bomb which hasn’t detonated in the media yet.

The description of the bungled preparation and execution of the COP15 summit is pretty scary reading and points to some fundamental problems in the relationship between the Prime Minister’s Office and individual ministries. I suspect that Løkke to a certain extent inherited the conflict between the PMO and the Climate and Energy Ministry from Anders Fogh Rasmussen who basically decided to set up a complete competing organisation leading to Denmark following two contradictory strategies for COP15 building on two different constituencies. It worked in the run-up to the European summit agreeing on the Eastern enlargement, but add a new, internationally inexperienced, Prime Minister as well as a number of Asian and Latin American countries determined to assert themselves on the international stage and you have a recipe for the perfect disaster.

From a global perspective the derailment of the COP process was bad enough (even if the climate change denialists of the Danish People’s Party would save the government from further national problems) but even worse was the damage done to Denmark’s standing in international and European politics: The book describes how the German Chancellor Angela Merkel retaliated by completely ignoring Løkke Rasmussen in the months following the summit. Considering the state of affairs in European (and Danish) economy in 2009 and 2010, being in bad standing with Ms Merkel and the German government was a potentially extremely dangerous situation for Denmark and one which dwarfs the economic consequences of the clinic payments affair. To the degree Danish media have covered this affair, it has been in the perspective of the travel receipts of the Climate and Energy Ministry or the turf wars between the Ministry and the PMO.

But to summarise: If you only want to read one book about Lars Løkke Rasmussen, my first recommendation would still be Niels Krause-Kjær’s biography but Tanja Frederiksen and Sigge Winther Nielsen’s book is a very competent and welcome supplement.

  1. Note incidentally that Saxo.dk’s calls the book “The Candidate” in the URL! []