Earlier today it was decided that Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Prime Minister of Denmark, will take over as Secretary General of NATO on 1 August. He returned to Denmark from the NATO summit in Baden-Baden earlier this evening and will submit his resignation as Prime Minister to Queen Margrethe tomorrow. He will be succeeded by Lars Løkke Rasmussen, who is currently Finance Minister and deputy leader of Fogh’s Liberal Party.
It was only on Thursday, after months of speculations which in the end almost paralysed political life in Denmark, that Fogh confirmed his candidature for the NATO post. On Friday it was expected that he would be appointed following a dinner for the NATO countries’ leaders in Baden-Baden, but opposition from Turkey, which has been critical of Fogh’s handling of relations with the Muslim world, meant that no decision was reached. Earlier today rumours said he had lost his chance, but in the end his appointment was announced in the afternoon.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen has been Prime Minister of Denmark since 2001, when he succeeded the Social Democrat Poul Nyrup Rasmussen. Under Fogh’s leadership the Liberal Party that year surpassed the Social Democrats as the largest party in Denmark for the first time since 1924. Thus Fogh was able to form a coalition government with the Conservative People’s Party, relying on the far-right wing Danish People’s Party for a majority in Parliament. He also succeeded in winning the general elections of 2004 and 2007, which makes him the only Prime Minister from his party ever to survive an election since parliamentarianism was introduced in Denmark in 1901.
Denmark has changed in many ways under his leadership and present and future historians will find much to deal with in Fogh’s tenure as Prime Minister. He quickly reshaped the role of Prime Minister, on which he left a more personal mark than any of his predecessors in the 20th century. His harsh immigration policy has been criticised abroad, but seems to enjoy support from a majority of the Danish policy and is also considered an important reason for his electoral successes.
In a 2002 interview, he announced his wish for a more active Danish foreign policy and his contempt for the past century’s “disgraceful policy of adaptation”. The following year he threw Denmark into George W. Bush’s illegal war against Iraq and remained Bush’s perhaps most loyal friend abroad until the end of the Bush administration two and a half months ago. His handling of the row over Jyllands-Posten’s caricatures of the prophet Mohamed in 2005 also earned him many enemies in Muslim circles, troubles which it seems will follow him into NATO.
“He succeeded in putting Denmark on the map”, the historian Steffen Heiberg writes in Politiken today. “But the price was a weakening of the country’s security. Unlike great power enemies 100 or 200 years ago, terrorism is not threatening Denmark’s existence, but it is a threat against the security of the country’s citizens, whom the state has the duty to protect. In addition comes increasing antagonism between different groups in society. Denmark is no longer safe. That is what we have gotten out of seven years with a prime minister who wished Denmark to be in front”.
One would think NATO should have been able to find a more suitable leader, someone less conflict-seeking than Anders Fogh Rasmussen.