Helle Thorning-Schmidt Becomes Denmark's First Female Prime Minister

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Lisa Mullins: I'm Lisa Mullins and this is The World. Denmark has elected its first female prime minister. Helle Thorning-Schmidt's victory yesterday is historic in more ways than one. The election of her left-leaning alliance ends 10 years of center right rule, and the past decade the Danish right and far right pushed through tough anti-immigrant measures. This time around though it looks like Denmark's economy has trumped all other concerns. The World's Clark Boyd is in the capital, Copenhagen. In a word, Clark Boyd, describe Denmark's economy.

Clark Boyd: Well, Lisa if I could use a couple I would say maybe stagnant and debt-ridden.

Mullins: Stagnant, debt-ridden, which is what's going to be facing this new prime minister. Tell us about her and what she says she's gonna do to change that.

Boyd: Well, she has a very different approach than her opponent. Her opponent was following along the line of very, very tight fiscal policy; I wouldn't go as far as to call them austerity measures of the kind that we've seen in places like Greece by any means, but definitely a tightening. Thorning-Schmidt on the other hand came out and said well, here's what we are going to do -- we're going to increase taxes on the rich, we're going to use that money to fund better schools and better hospitals -- but the most interesting idea, and the one, Lisa, that at least got the most press was to have each Dane work 12 extra minutes a day unpaid.

Mullins: Everybody has to work 12 minutes a day extra unpaid like earlier, later, does it matter?

Boyd: I guess it doesn't matter as long as it...this is her way of trying to get Danes to help fix their own economy I guess. She figures a few million employed people, one extra hour a week, because that's what it would total up to in a five day work week, she figures that might have a big impact.

Mullins: Interesting here, also this new prime minister is talking about increasing taxes on the rich or increases taxes at all. We know how that goes over here in the United States. How about there in Denmark? What's the appeal?

Boyd: Well, I should just let a little bit of tape tha twe have speak for itself. This is Helle Thorning-Schmidt addressing her social democratic supporters after the results came in.

Helle Thorning-Schmidt: [speaking Danish]

Boyd: Lisa, she's basically saying there that her victory shows that her party, the social democrats, is once more a force in Danish society after being out of power for a decade.

Mullins: And what does that mean and what's it mean for Denmark's allies including the United States?

Boyd: Well, I mean I think one of the most interesting things about it as far as meaning and what I'm seeing in this was the fact that in this go around the economic concerns trumped some of the big immigration questions here. Of course, news out of Denmark I would say in the last few years has been dominated by questions of immigration, questions of tougher border controls, and that's been echoed in a lot of countries in Europe. So I find it interesting that in this case at least there's a bit of this sort of we threw the other guys out kind of moment here, but it does seem that at least this time around at least economics was more important than these immigration issues.

Mullins: And, Clark, the fact that Helle Thorning-Schmidt is the first female prime minister in Denmark's history, did her gender enter into the election at all? Did it figure in her win?

Boyd: From the people I talked to, Lisa, it didn't seem like that was a big issue one way or the other. It was interesting though, of course, Thorning-Schmidt is part of a coalition of parties that will govern and some of the people that will be governing with her will be women as well, and they've been dubbed Helle's Angels.

Mullins: She could do worse than that, couldn't she? Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the new female prime minister of Denmark. The World's Clark Boyd telling us about her. Thanks very much, Clark, in Copenhagen.

Boyd: You're welcome, Lisa.