Prime Minister of Denmark
Born on January 26, 1953, in Ginnerup, Nørre Djurs, Denmark; son of Knud (a farmer) and Martha Rasmussen; married to Anne-Mette; children: three. Education: Earned degree in economics from the University of Århus, 1978.
Addresses: Office —Statsministeriet (Prime Minister's Office), Christiansborg, DK-1218 Copenhagen K, Denmark.
Founder and chairman of the Young Liberals organization at Viborg Cathedral School, 1970-72; first elected to Folketing (legislative assembly of Denmark), 1978; served as minister for taxation, September, 1987-November, 1992; served as minister for economic affairs, December, 1990-November, 1992; leader of Denmark's Liberal Party, 2001—; became prime minister, November, 2001, elections, and formed coalition government; reelected February, 2005.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, head of Denmark's Liberal Party, has served as prime minister since 2001. That year's election results marked the first time since the 1920s that Denmark's politically dominant leftist party, the Social Democrats, had been spurned by voters. As party leader, Rasmussen
Rasmussen was born on January 26, 1953, in Ginnerup, a town in the Nørre Djurs coastal region of Denmark's Jutland peninsula. He grew up on one of the many small family farms that dotted the Århus county area, and emerged as a political leader while still in his teens. At the Viborg Cathedral School, he became one of the founders of the Young Liberals group, a youth group affiliated with Denmark's center-right Liberal Party. It was an era of widespread protest among his generation, but the Young Liberals were formed in reaction to the sweeping student movement in Western Europe that had taken a decidedly leftist tone. Denmark's Liberal Party—called Venstre ("left")—was actually less of a left-of-center group than the term "liberal" commonly denotes in North American political terminology. Generally known as a pro-business party, the Liberals called for less government regulation and lower taxes.
Rasmussen studied economics at the University of Århus, and became the national chairperson for the Young Liberals group in 1974. In 1978, the same year he earned his degree, he was elected to the Folketing, Denmark's national legislative body, on the Liberal Party ticket. Since the 1920s, the seats in the Folketing had been dominated by the Social Democrats, Denmark's traditional center-left party. Other competing factions included the Danish People's Party, the far-right group; the Conservative Party, the Socialist People's Party, and the Christian People's Party.
Rasmussen served several years in the Folketing, and became known for his economic expertise. He authored a number of books on the subject, including 1979's Opgør med skattesystemet ("Showdown with the Tax System") and Fra Socialstat til Minimal-sta ("From Social State to Minimal State"), which was published in 1993. Denmark has one of the highest tax-per-person ratios in the world, but the taxes pay for a generous social-service net and its citizens enjoy one of the world's highest standards of living. In his writings and in his political speeches, Rasmussen argued that such a system fosters a dependency on the government, and quells initiative and free enterprise.
In 1987, Rasmussen was appointed to the important cabinet post of minister for taxation. Three years later, he was made minister for economic affairs for a two-year stint; after 1992, he held his seat in the Folketing while retaining various roles in the Liberal Party leadership, including party spokesperson. In 2001, the Prime Minister, Poul Nyrup Rasmussen—no relation—thought November would be a good time for his Social Democrat Party to capitalize on a wave of solidarity stemming from the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11 of that year, and called for national elections that month. The poll results, however, brought a surprise, with the Social Democrats winning just 29 percent of the Folketing seats, and Rasmussen and the Liberal Party taking 31 percent. It marked the first time that the Social Democrats had been bested by another party since the 1920s. Another surprise was the votes cast for the far right Danish People's Party, which amounted to 12 percent of the tally. Its leader had made anti-Muslim statements that seemed to resonate with nervous Danes in the fearful post-9/11 climate, despite the country's reputation for tolerance. About six percent of Denmark are immigrants, and three percent of the total population list their faith as Muslim in what has historically been a country with a strong Lutheran tra- dition.
Since Rasmussen and his party did not win an outright majority in the Folketing, he formed a coalition government with the Conservatives, which had won nine percent of the vote. The new center-right government, led by Rasmussen, succeeded on most of the reforms it pledged to push forward during the campaign. There were new restrictions on immigration, for example, and in July of 2002 the government issued a decree that Denmark would only to accept refugees who could prove that they were victims of religious, political, or ethnic persecution. That resulted in a dramatic drop in number of those applying for asylum in Denmark, from 12,000 in 2001 down to just 3,000 in 2004.
Rasmussen supported U.S. president George W. Bush and his plans for the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, unlike many Western European leaders. Denmark even sent a contingent of troops, but public support lessened considerably for Denmark's participation over the next two years. In February of 2005, Danes went to the polls again, and though Rasmussen's Liberal Party lost four seats, it maintained its lead in the Folketing and kept control of the government. The prime minister received a high number of personal votes, more than 61,000, which was said to be the most ever won by a Danish politician. His main rival was Mogens Lykketoft, head of Social Democrat Party. Rasmussen is known for his telegenic looks and ease before both the Folketing and television cameras, by contrast to the stodgier, bearded Lykketoft, who resigned from his party leadership after the 2005 election.
Rasmussen surprised many in the spring of 2005 on the 60-year anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe, when he issued a formal apology for Denmark's wartime collaboration with Nazi Germany. The country had been invaded by Nazi Germany, and initially refused to comply with orders to identify and round up its Jewish citizens. Some 7,000 Jews were rescued by a collaborative effort between Danish authorities, the resistance movement, and ordinary citizens, but about 450 were transported to Nazi extermination camps in Eastern Europe. Rasmussen specifically apologized for the government's cooperation in the extradition of those Jews, calling it "shameful" and "a stain on Denmark's otherwise good reputation" according to a BBC News report.
Rasmussen is married and has three children. Known for his healthy lifestyle, he runs every morning, which he claims clears his head for the day's work ahead.
Worldmark Encyclopedia of the Nations: World Leaders, Gale, 2003.
Europe, December 2001, p. 25; June 2002, p. 26.
Independent (London, England), February 8, 2005, p. 20.
New York Times, November 22, 2001, p. A16.
Times (London, England), November 22, 2001, p. 19.
"Anders Fogh Rasmussen," Folketingnet, http:// www.folketinget.dk/BAGGRUND/Biografier_ english/Anders_Fogh_Rasmussen.htm (August 23, 2005).
"Danish PM's collaboration apology," BBC News, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4515089. stm (August 23, 2005).
"Profile: Denmark's new prime minister," BBC News, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/ europe/1669243.stm (August 23, 2005).
— Carol Brennan