A Balancing Act For Denmark’s Youngest Prime Minister

Denmark's new coalition government stands on shaky ground.

Elected at 24 years old, she was youngest member in the Danish Parliament’s history. In June, 41-year-old Mette Frederiksen became the youngest prime minister in the country’s history.

Born in 1977 in far-northern Aalborg, Denmark’s fourth-largest city, Frederiksen joined the youth organization of the Social Democrats—the party she now leads—when she was 15. Her rise to the country’s top political post, however, was hard-fought. Hailed by many observers as symbolic of the resurgence of the Social Democrats, her appointment came only after protracted negotiations with political allies.

“Mrs. Frederiksen has said from the very beginning that her goal was to form a one-party minority government, relying on support in Parliament from three other center-left parties,” says Jørgen Elklit, professor of political science at Aarhus University. The coalition was necessary, he explains, because the Social Democrats and its Red-Green Alliance partners performed worse than in the 2015 elections, but more leftist parties—the Social Liberals and the Socialist People’s Party—did well enough to secure a majority for the bloc.

Keeping all three supporting parties happy will not be easy. “There are policy areas on which everyone [in the coalition] mostly agrees,” Elklit says, enumerating climate change, social welfare and education.

Immigration will be thornier, as the otherwise leftist Social Democrats under Frederiksen have aligned with right-wing forces in pushing anti-immigrant policies, while their more leftist allies favor a “softer, more human approach,” Elklit says.

One more quandary: The coalition has produced an 18-page paper outlining many initiatives and policy objectives. “What the paper does not say,” Elklit notes, “is how it is going to pay for them.”