Monday has hardly begun and I am being dragged into a discussion about the status and name of the (new) Danish government. So, a) do we have a new government and b) what should we name it?
The answer to a) is: It depends. From a legal point of view, the prime minister has not resigned and there is no appointment or reappointment of a prime minister. So we a dealing with the same government being reshuffled. The all of the resigning ministers happen to be from the same party and that said party does not present any new ones makes no difference.
From a political science (and a practical) point of view, the composition of the government has changed with the departure of SF. In the research litterature, the reshuffle of February 2014 will count as a new Danish government where a three-party minority coalition is replaced by a two-party minority coalition. That the parliamentary basis of the government hasn’t changed – Helle Thorning-Schmidt still relies on the support of the Social Democrats, the Social Liberals, SF and the Red-Greens to survive a vote of confidence – isn’t relevant here.
We may note that Denmark has rather lax rules when it comes to votes of confidence. In Germany, the term of office of the Federal Chancellor ends with the election term so every new Bundestag has to pass a vote of confidence in the chancellor. So, Helmut Kohl was elected in 1982 and reelected in 1983, 1987, 1990 and 1994 even if the composition of his government didn’t change.1 Sweden, which applies negative parliamentarism, has a vote every time a new prime minister is appointed and will be introducing a vote after each general election. But technically, there will be no provision for a vote if a party leaves a sitting government during a term.
The opposition is of course free to call a debate and test the parliamentary basis of the Social Democratic-Social Liberal coalition in a vote in the Folketing but all the huffing and puffing would only tell us what we already know: SF and the Red-Greens will prefer the present situation to an election.
Finally, the naming. Denmark has an informal tradition of numbering governments but the exact rules for numbering are unclear. If anyone decides to continue the work of Svend Thorsen and Tage Kaarsted and write volumes V and VI of “De danske ministerier”, there is no doubt that 2011-2014 will be Helle Thorning-Schmidt I and 2014-20xx Helle Thorning-Schmidt II. The rest of us needn’t be bothered, though.
PS: Here is the Royal Resolution of February 3 which curiously states that Helle Thorning-Schmidt continues as prime minister
- We’ll leave aside the issue about the integration of East German ministers between the unification and the 1990 election [↩]