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Anders Fogh Rasmussen

Anders Fogh Rasmussen (, informally known as Anders Fogh (or simply Fogh, (born January 26, 1953) is the current Prime Minister of Denmark (in Danish Statsminister, meaning Minister of State).

He is the leader of the Liberal Party (Venstre), and heads a centre-right coalition of his Liberal Party and the Conservative People's Party which took office in 2001, and won its second and third terms in February 2005 and in November 2007. Like most Danish governments, this is a minority government which relies on the Danish People's Party for support. His government has introduced tougher limits on non-ECA immigration and froze tax rates before he took office (the "tax freeze", or "skattestoppet" in Danish). He has authored several books about taxation and government structure.

Under Fogh, certain taxes have been lowered, but the Conservatives repeatedly argue for more tax cuts and a flat tax rate at no higher than 50%. Fogh implemented an administrative reform reducing the number of municipalities (kommuner) and replacing the thirteen counties (amter) with five regions. Rasmussen has referred to this as "the biggest reform in thirty years". Furthermore, a reform of the police and judiciary systems is being implemented, changing the numbers of police districts and city courts from 54 to 12 and 82 to 22, respectively.

European political analysts have suggested that he could become the first president of European Union, "European George Washington".

Life

Rasmussen was born in 1953 in Ginnerup, Jutland. A graduate of the University of Aarhus, he has been active in politics most of his life. He has authored several books about taxation and government structure. He and his wife Anne-Mette have three children.

He has held numerous positions in government and opposition throughout his career, first winning a seat in the Folketing (Danish parliament) in 1978. From 1987-1990 he was Minister for Taxation and from 1990 Minister for Economy and Taxation in the Conservative-led Poul Schlüter government. In 1992 Rasmussen resigned from his ministerial posts after a court of inquiry had decided that he had deliberately provided the Folketing with inaccurate and incomplete information. Rasmussen disagreed with the findings of the commission, but faced with the threat of a non-confidence motion, he decided to leave his posts voluntarily.

Rasmussen held the rotating presidency of the European Union from July to December 2002 during which period he proved his dedication to a pro-EU agenda and the guiding principles of the Ellemann-Jensen doctrine. He even pursued it to its logical conclusion by publicly denouncing the Danish collaboration policy during its second World War occupation, being the first Danish prime minister ever to do this. While his predecessors may not have been in favour of it, they had all implicitly maintained that it was 'a good thing', because it had saved Danish lives.

During the EU presidency he was involved in a curious episode with then Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi. In a joint press conference on 4 October 2002 Silvio Berlusconi said: "Rasmussen is the most handsome prime minister in Europe. I think I will introduce him to my wife because he is even more handsome than Cacciari". Massimo Cacciari is an Italian philosopher and centrist politician opposing Berlusconi, and some gossip tabloids had alleged an affair between him and Berlusconi's second wife Veronica Lario. Rasmussen was puzzled by this remark and Berlusconi quickly told him he'd explain later.

Cycling

As an amateur cyclist, Rasmussen completed part of the notorious Alpe d'Huez stage of the 2008 Tour de France the day after the professional race took place. His attendance at Le Tour was at the invite of lauded Danish former-cyclist Bjarne Riis.

Political career

Early political career

Rasmussen became a member of the Danish parliament (Folketing) in 1978. From 1987 to 1990 he was Minister for Taxation and from 1990 Minister for Economy and Taxation in the Conservative-led Poul Schlüter government.

Resignation as minister of taxation

In 1992 Rasmussen resigned from his ministerial posts after a report from a commission of inquiry had decided that he had provided the Folketing with inaccurate and incomplete information regarding his decision to postpone payment of several bills from Regnecentralen and Kommunedata from one accounting year to the next. Rasmussen disagreed with the findings of the commission, but faced with the threat of a non-confidence motion, he decided to leave his posts voluntarily.

2001 Election

His Liberal (Venstre) Party won power in the November 2001 election, defeating the Social Democratic government of Poul Nyrup Rasmussen and enabling him to form the Cabinet of Anders Fogh Rasmussen I. That election marked a dramatic change in Danish politics. It was the first time since 1920 that the Social Democratic Party lost its position as the largest party in the Folketing (parliament), mainly due to a loss of working class votes to Dansk Folkeparti (The Danish People's Party). Since then, Venstre has governed in a parliamentary coalition with the Conservative People's Party to form a minority government with the parliamentary support of Dansk Folkeparti. Together these three parties survived both the 2005 election and the 2007 election.

Political ideology

In general, Rasmussen is in favour of deregulation, privatization, and limiting the size of government. His government has also enacted tough measures designed to limit the number of immigrants coming to Denmark, specifically as asylumseekers or through arranged marriages.

Rasmussen wrote the book Fra socialstat til minimalstat (literally: From social state to minimal state) in 1993, in which he advocated an extensive reform of the Danish welfare system along classic liberal lines. In particular, he favors lower taxes and less government interference in corporate and individual matters etc. In 1993 he was awarded the Adam Smith award by the libertarian society Libertas, partly due to his having written Fra socialstat til minimalstat. However, after becoming Prime Minister, Rasmussen has distanced himself from his earlier writings and has announced the death of liberalism during the national elections of 2005. Commonly regarded as being inspired by the previous success of Tony Blair, Rasmussen now seems more in favour of the theories of Anthony Giddens and his third way. There was talk in Libertas of revoking Fogh Rasmussen's award as a result of this, though this never happened.

War in Iraq

As Prime Minister, Rasmussen strongly supported the 2003 Iraq War. As in most European countries he faced considerable opposition, both in the parliament and in the general population. Subsequent opinion polls suggested the Danish population's opinion was split on the issue. One vocal protester managed to get into the Danish parliament during the period before the war, where he poured red paint on the prime minister while yelling "Du har blod på dine hænder" (literally: "You have blood on your hands"). In the months after the initial phase of the war, Danish troops participated in the multi-national force stationed in Iraq. Approximately 550 Danish troops were stationed in Iraq from 2004 and into 2007, first at "Camp Dannevang" and later at "Camp Einherjer", both near Basra. When the contingent of troops left around August 2007, it was not replaced and Denmark has shifted its focus to non-military support around Baghdad. The official reason being provided is that the Iraqi government should now be able to handle the security in the Basra area. Critics of Fogh Rasmussen argue that the withdrawal was motivated by a decreasing domestic support for the war.

In 2004 Rasmussen's government came under attack based on questions of how much intelligence it had with regard to Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. The government held hearings, and was forced to publish classified reports it had consulted about the likelihood of banned weapons existing in Iraq. While the Blair and Bush administrations have been the subject of criticism for extended periods because of their reliance on questionable intelligence, Rasmussen has managed to stay clear of this potential government crisis. This is probably largely because the motion passed by parliament (Folketinget) authorising the deployment of Danish troops states as the reason for the deployment Iraq's continued refusal to cooperate with UN inspectors in violation of the UN Security Council's resolution. The Danish deployment of troops was thus not formally based on a claim that Iraq had WMD's.

In a comment to the media Anders Fogh Rasmussen stated as one of the reasons to support a military intervention, “Irak har masseødelæggelsesvåben. Det er ikke noget vi tror. Vi ved det. Irak har selv indrømmet, at det har haft sennepsgas, nervegas, miltbrand, men Saddam vil ikke afregne. Han vil ikke fortælle os, hvor og hvordan de våben er blevet destrueret. Det ved vi fra FN's inspektører, så der er ingen tvivl i mit sind.” “Iraq has WMDs. It is not something we think, it is something we know. Iraq has itself admitted that it has had mustard gas, nerve gas, anthrax, but Saddam won't disclose. He won't tell us where and how these weapons have been destroyed. We know this from the UN inspectors, so there is no doubt in my mind.”

The Danish Defence Intelligence Service (FE) had produced a classified report stating that it had no absolute proof of WMDs in Iraq. Rasmussen had access to this report and used it in other parts of his decision making. Since the presence of WMDs in Iraq has now been refuted, Rasmussen has focused almost exclusively on the tyrannical nature of Saddam Hussein's regime.

A former FE analyst, Major Frank Grevil, was sentenced to four months in prison for leaking the information to the press. Grevil argues that Rasmussen has either lied about or misunderstood the content of the secret reports in his presentations to the parliament.

During Rasmussen's administrations, Denmark has also deployed troops to Afghanistan, Bosnia and Kosovo. All three missions have only met minor political opposition.

Gay marriage

Civil unions between gay couples have been legal in Denmark since 1989. Rasmussen believes that they should be able to be married in religious ceremonies, which is not currently allowed in The Evangelical Lutheran State Church of Denmark, but he has said it should be up to religious communities to decide whether to perform ceremonies for gay couples.

Tax reform

Since the elections in 2001, Venstre, Rasmussen's party, has enacted a total "tax stop". Venstre made a successful campaign convincing the public that the taxes have been growing constantly during the previous eight years under the Social Democrats. While the overall tax burden was more or less unchanged from 1993 until 2001, however, there was a shift in the taxation of income, both corporate and personal over to a higher level on personal consumption (especially through the "ecological taxes" (da. grønne afgifter)), which gave the average citizen the impression of rising taxes.

This tax stop has been under heavy fire from the parties on the left wing of Danish politics, allegedly for being "antisocial" and "only for the rich". Since the tax stop also freezes the tax of real property (da. ejendomsværdiskat, 1%), it is beneficial to the homeowners in the densely populated regions that have experienced an extraordinary increase in the prices of real estate. The tax of real estate is actually limited at a nominal level — not at a relative level. While the rate was one percent when the tax stop was enacted, the actual tax is much less today when the last few years' large increase in property value (+20%/p.a. in large cities) is taken into account. The Danish Economic Council has criticized this as unfairly benefiting current homeowners.

Even though the total tax burden is marginally higher in 2005 than it was in 2001, the tax stop is very popular among the voters. Thus, in January 2005, the Social Democrats announced that it accepts the principle of a tax stop until at least one right-wing party is willing to participate in a tax reform.

The tax stop has, however, been ineffective, judging by Venstre's own intentions. The goal of the tax stop was to halt the growth of public expenditures (and halt the growth of taxes), but even with their cuts in public spending (which has been considered aggressive by the political left wing), public spending has continued to rise by approximately one percentage point above inflation each year.

From 2004 and onwards, minor tax cuts came into effect, on two accounts:

  1. People with jobs get a 3% tax reduction on the 5.5% "bottom tax" (da. bundskat). This initiative is supposed to encourage people to get off welfare and take jobs instead.
  2. The bottom limit of the "middle tax" (da. mellemskat) of 6%, is raised by 12.000 DKK every year, over the next four years. This will limit the income stresses of middle incomes and families with children.

Venstre has so far refrained from making statements on the future of the "top tax" (da: topskat) of 15%, and the VAT (da: moms) of 25%.

Municipal reform

One of the main initiatives of Rasmussen's government was the introduction of a municipal reform, which resulted in a series of small municipalities being placed under state administration for overspending and a much talked about case (in Denmark) about a municipal mayor who managed to spend lavish amounts of tax money on personal wining and dining. Under the proposal the number of counties (amter) would be reduced from thirteen to five regions (regioner). Also the number of municipalities was reduced from 271 to 98. The responsibilities of municipalities and counties changed significantly too, especially with regard to providing health care.

2005 election

On January 18, 2005 Rasmussen called an election for February 8, 2005. He delayed the call by a couple of weeks because of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake which killed several Danes. His government had been criticized by a few Danes for what they thought was a slow response to that crisis, although a clear majority applauded the government's way of dealing with the disaster.

Although his party's support was reduced from the 2001 election, resulting in the loss of four seats, Venstre was able to maintain its coalition after the election through gains by other parties, and on February 18 Rasmussen formed the Cabinet of Anders Fogh Rasmussen II.

Rasmussen received the most "personal votes" ever of any politician in the Folketing (Denmark's Parliament) with 61,792.

2007 election

At 11.30 pm on November 13, 2007, the day of the election, Anders Fogh Rasmussen claimed victory on the basis of almost complete results. By the morning of November 14, 2007, after results came through from the Faroe Islands and Greenland, Fogh Rasmussen's centre-right coalition of the Liberals, the Conservative People's Party and the Danish People's Party had obtained the 90 seats required for him to continue as Prime Minister. He thus becomes the longest-ruling Liberal Prime Minister of Denmark.

Future EU career

Anders Fogh Rasmussen has been considered one of the prime candidates to become the first permanent President of the European Council from 2009, and a Danish newspaper, Ekstra Bladet, has printed an article stating that "strong forces" in the European Union are working hard to secure him this post. According to the newspaper, the most important competitor for the position, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Tony Blair, will be unable to defeat Rasmussen as Germany is expected to veto Blair's appointment.

Muhammad Cartoons and Danish goods boycott

A major period of conflict in Rasmussen's political career concerned a set of cartoons printed in Jyllands-Posten, a major Danish newspaper. In September 2005 the newspaper printed a full page with 12 cartoons depicting the Islamic prophet Muhammad, including one in which Muhammad appeared with a bomb in his turban. Some of the schools of the islamic religion do not allow to depict the figure of Mohammed. Many Muslims found the cartoons offensive.

  • Eleven envoys of predominantly Muslim states issued demands that the Danish government condemn the cartoons and requested on October 19, 2005 a meeting with Rasmussen to discuss this. Rasmussen refused this request, saying, "That is not how our democracy works." Subsequently, it has been the subject of an intense debate as to whether Rasmussen made a sound, principled decision or displayed misplaced arrogance when refusing to agree to such a meeting.
  • As the dispute escalated, Rasmussen was asked to apologise to Muslims on behalf of Denmark. Rasmussen refused this request, saying the government "cannot make apologies on behalf of a Danish newspaper."
  • Several months later, a group of Danish-based Muslims organised a trip to various places in the Middle East, spreading information about the cartoons and campaigning for political action against Denmark. This trip was later widely criticised, especially when it became apparent that untrue allegations and fabricated photographs were shown to stir up hostilities towards Denmark.
  • The increased media awareness in the Islamic world and domestic political agendas in the regimes across the Middle East fed the controversy. Libya and Saudi Arabia recalled their ambassadors to Denmark, and a campaign was organised in several Islamic countries to boycott Danish products. Danish embassies in Syria and Lebanon were attacked during mass demonstrations and torched with molotov cocktails and ransacked. Death threats were made against the Danish cartoonists and the Danish flag was burned.
  • Across the world demonstrations were held to protest the cartoons. Several people were killed in chaotic demonstrations in Kabul and Islamabad. In London, a protest demonstration with offensive and threatening placards and banners and speeches later led to year-long prison sentences for four British Muslims for inciting terrorism, spreading hate-filled threats and racist language.
  • Rasmussen appeared on the Arabic television network Al-Arabiya and explained that he regretted the offense caused by the cartoons, but that Danish law gave the government no power of censorship over the media. He has stated on numerous occasions , that he supports freedom of speech but he did not approve of the message in these cartoons. He indicated his disapproval after initially stating that he did not want to comment on the cartoons themselves.

Bibliography

  • Opgør med skattesystemet — der straffer de aktive og belønner de passive, Liberal, 1979; ISBN 87-7519-045-1
  • Fra socialstat til minimalstat : en liberal strategi, Samleren, 1993; ISBN 87-568-1204-3

See also

References

External links

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