Tough task for Denmark’s first woman PM


Denmark’s first woman prime minister began talks to form a new government Friday a day after her centre-left bloc won elections that returned it to power for the first time in a decade.
Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the 44-year-old elegant, blond daughter-in-law of former British Labour party leader Neil Kinnock, wrote herself into Danish history Thursday when her opposition bloc claimed victory. After a three-week campaign that focused almost entirely on how to pull Denmark out of its economic woes, observers said Thorning-Schmidt had her work cut out for her to assemble a unified coalition.
“She has a tough task ahead,” the Berlingske daily noted. Thorning-Schmidt said Friday she was in talks with two other parties to form her cabinet, including her Social Democrats’ traditional partner the Socialist People’s Party. “It is the Social Democrats, the Socialist People’s Party and the Social Liberals who are trying to create a government,” she said. That formation would rely heavily on the support of the far-left Red Greens to pass legislation.
Talks to form the government could take several weeks, experts said, where finding a strategy to solve Denmark’s economic woes amid the global financial crisis will be a top priority.
Denmark narrowly missed recession this year as growth hovers around one percent, and Lars Loekke Rasmussen’s outgoing government recently forecast the deficit would balloon next year to nearly 85 billion kroner (11.4 billion euros, $16.5 billion), or 4.6 percent of gross domestic product.
The centre-left has insisted the country should spend its way out of the crisis, in contrast to growing calls across Europe for austerity measures to weather the current economic storm.
It has called for spending of about 18 billion kroner (2.41 billion euros, $3.39 billion) to get the economy moving, which it says could be financed by adding an extra hour to the working week. While it has vowed it will not borrow to fund Danes’ cherished welfare state, questions remained over whether the centre-left would be able to come through on its generous spending promises given the current economic crisis. “The economic challenges remain,” Joergen Albaek Jensen, a constitutional law professor at the Aarhus University, told AFP, noting the new government needed to balance the budget. “The changes (in economic policy) will not be that big, since the centre-left bloc is made up of four very different parties pulling in different directions,” he said.
The centre-left is for instance not expected to tear up a controversial pension reform pushed through by Rasmussen, which raises the official retirement age from 65 to 67 and gradually does away with early retirement, today possible starting at age 60.