Few politicians get a full 100-day honeymoon. But Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, it seemed, barely got 100 hours. Shortly after taking office, a leading paper began what some believe was a campaign to discredit the government from the get-go. “Broken promises,” ran the media refrain for months. Then, in short order, there was trouble within the government coalition, with left- and right-leaning members of the alliance pulling in separate directions. There was trouble in Europe. As the Danes took over the rotating chairmanship of the European Union, the economic crisis hit with full force. Add to that the continued eruptions of “Taxgate”—a baroque scandal sparked by an income-tax audit of the Thorning-Schmidt household that led to revelations of nefarious doings by her political enemies and, in a preemptive strike, the highly unusual decision by the prime minister to publicly declare that her husband isn’t gay—well, let’s just say it’s been a full first year for the P.M.
Like her fictional counterpart in Borgen, the international hit television series, Thorning-Schmidt was unexpectedly thrust into the role as P.M., the leader of a centrist party governing with a weak parliamentary majority. And like her fictional counterpart, she has had to make some uncomfortable decisions relating to her family life. (For inexplicable reasons, the family’s accountant told authorities during a tax audit that the prime minister’s husband is gay. In an interview with a newspaper in August, Thorning-Schmidt said: “It is not true and it will never be true.”)
During these months of adversity, a rare ray of sunshine was the Danish EU chairmanship, for which Thorning-Schmidt earned high marks at home and abroad. And the prime minister is nothing if not a true believer in the EU project. When asked about the euro crisis during a visit to New York recently, she offered a spirited defense of the union. “It’s extremely important to remember that it’s not the euro’s fault that we ended up in a crisis in Europe,” she told Newsweek. “We are still individual member states in Europe, responsible for our own budgets. And what’s very clear is that many of the problems that we see in Europe right now are due to governments which didn’t in due time tighten up the economy, and make ends meet ... It’s not because we had too much integration. Perhaps it’s because we had too little.”
A former member of the European Parliament, the P.M. holds a master’s degree in European studies from the College of Europe in Belgium, and some wonder if she is more at ease away from Denmark. “Whereas in international matters she is very comfortable, she hasn’t been able to create enthusiasm at home,” says Lasse Jensen, a leading Danish journalist. “The general perception of her is that she is cool, bordering on distant.” Noted political writer Hans Mortensen says her problem is that she’s a skilled campaigner in search of a political project. He also notes her trademark toughness—a skill that has stood her in good stead this past year. “I don’t think I’ve seen a politician go through so much adversity and still stand up straight and continue the fight,” he says. “She gets beaten up a lot. Yet she seems almost untouched.”