Tuesday, 4 August 2009

At road’s end: Svend Auken (1943-2009), former leader of Danish Labour

One of Denmark’s most significant politicians of our time, Svend Auken, Vice President of Parliament, former minister and leader of the Social Democrats, died from cancer at Bispebjerg Hospital around 5 a.m. this morning. He was 66 years old. “Svend Auken will be remembered as the prime minister Denmark never had. He was one of his generation’s greatest political talents”, writes Politiken today.
Born on 24 May 1943, Auken was a political scientist from the University of Århus and was elected to Parliament for the Social Democrats for the first time in 1971, which made him the longest-serving MP at the time of his death. Auken, Rit Bjerregaard, Mogens Lykketoft and Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, who belonged to the same generation, entered Parliament about the same time and all showed great talent, came to be known as “the Gang of Four” – eventually the rivalries between them would put a heavy mark on the party.
Auken served as Minister of Labour in Anker Jørgensen’s government 1977-1982, became deputy leader of the party in 1985 and its leader in 1987. In 1990 he led the Social Democrats to an election victory in which the party scored 37.4 %, its best result in many years and never surpassed since. Yet the socialist parties fell 4 seats short of a majority in Parliament and without the backing of the Danish Social Liberal Party, Auken was not able to form a government.
In 1992 he became the first leader in the party’s history to be challenged and lost the position to Poul Nyrup Rasmussen. Yet he did not retire from politics, but when the party returned to government in 1993, he joined his rival’s team as his Minister of Environment, a position from which he advocated renewable energy. Following the Social Democrats’ electoral defeat in 2001, Auken became First Vice President of Parliament.
A few days ago Niels Corfitzen’s portrait of Svend Auken won the people’s prize at the Nordic portrait competition Brewer J. C. Jacobsen’s Portrait Award.
Obituaries in Politiken and Berlingske Tidende:



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