Pragmatist and Ideologist
These two contending characteristics are central in understanding Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who as the first Danish prime minister ever, preferred another job, despite the fact that he could have continued to govern Denmark.
Before becoming prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen wrote a book about the minimalist state – a highly ideological clash with the welfare state. As party leader – and even more so as prime minister - he has pragmatically accepted the welfare state and let the Liberal Party challenge the Social Democrats as the primary, popular mainstay of the state.
In foreign policy, he has pragmatically completed a European Union presidency full of results, but ideologically and unilaterally decided to allow Denmark to take part in the war on Iraq. In the battle for values he has pragmatically dropped liberal demands for reform, but ideologically made the war on terror and the defence of Jyllands-Posten's Mohammed cartoons part of a showdown with what he sees as Danish disrepute during the occupation and the Cold War.
His success as a politician rests on the fact that he has managed to unite result and power-seeking pragmatism with an ideological harshness that was consistent with the Danish People’s Party’s nationalistic, intolerant and populist policies.
The price has been bloc politics and polarisation – but neither of these have deterred the electorate from assuring him the premiership three times in a row .
His two characteristics were also evident when he wanted to retire from Danish politics. Pragmatism and competence ensured him the backing of European leaders such as Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy.
The ideological stubbornness shown during the Mohammed crisis created uncertainty about the NATO job up until the last minute. But irrespective of whether he was appointed late last night, he has to leave Danish politics. The public’s immediate farewell will be respectful, but without much warmth.
To a certain degree he has also failed those who supported him. As far as the judgment of history is concerned, it is difficult to believe that it will not be harsher than that of the electorate. Ideological damage often ploughs deeper furrows that pragmatic gains.
Translated by Julian Isherwood