Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, whose name has been floated in Brussels, might choose to decline an EU post after making a surprisingly good showing at the European Parliament elections on Sunday.
Thorning-Schmidt’s Social Democrats had appeared set for an embarrassing third place, according to pre-election polls, way behind the Liberals and the right-wing populist Danish People’s Party (DPP), who were running neck-and-neck at 23%.
However, the Liberals unexpectedly received a heavy defeat at Sunday’s election, with only 16.7% of the votes.
Meanwhile, the Social Democrats came in second, at 19.1%, behind the DPP which scored 26.7%.
This suddenly places Thorning-Schmidt as a leading contender for her own succession at the next general election.
Liberals say their poor result stems from revelations about the party’s leader and former prime minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen’s private life. Rasmussen is Thorning-Schmidt’s only rival for the Danish prime minister post in next year’s general elections.
According to documents obtained by Danish media, the Liberals have spent €20,000 on campaign clothes for Rasmussen. This came in addition to other perks, including a vacation to the Spanish island of Majorca with his family, where the hotel charged extra for cleaning the room where Rasmussen was caught smoking.
However, since political parties in Denmark receive subsidies, experts say taxpayers’ money has covered two-thirds of the bills. This is the third time in six years that Rasmussen has been caught spending taxpayers’ money on extravagances, prompting commentators to suggest he has a “flawed” character.
On Sunday, while crying, Rasmussen took full responsibility for the Liberals’ catastrophic result in the Parliament elections.
The Liberals’ problems are also being reflected in national polls where the party is losing support. While some voters clearly support Thorning-Schmidt’s centre-left government, many are also moving towards the Danish People’s Party.
According to a poll published on Tuesday (27 May) by the newspaper Berlingske Tidende, 40% of the Liberals’ own voters said they want Rasmussen to step down as party leader. Many prominent liberal politicians have called for his resignation, and have threatened to leave the party themselves or have already left. Rasmussen has called a “crisis” meeting to discuss his future.
Political analysts say that the Liberals’ main problem is that they have no obvious, experienced candidate to take over from Rasmussen.
The crisis in the Liberal party has placed Thorning-Schmidt in an unexpectedly good position to call for an early election, maybe as soon as autumn, according to Anders Larsen, a political analyst at Berlingske Tidende.
A former MEP with a keen interest in European affairs, the Danish prime minister has suffered from poor opinion polls ever since she first assumed office, in September 2011, fueling speculation that she would be interested in returning to Brussels for an EU-related position.
Between 22 and 25 May, European citizens elected a new European Parliament, made up of 751 members. For the EU executive however the 27th May will be the decisive date, with EU heads of states meeting in Brussels to designate the new Commission President.
In Parliament, the designated Commission chief will need the backing of at least 376 MEPs in order to get "elected". Most likely, a grand coalition will support the winning candidate - Jean-Claude Juncker. A coalition of socialists, liberals, greens and the far-left could provide Schulz with a majority but polling shows that this is highly unlikely.
- 27 May: European Council summit in Brussels
- 2015: Expected Danish general elections