Illustration by Laura Hempel
Denmark is full of Rasmussens and Pouls: only one is TOP

It is not quite the best time to be nominating a Top European. The past month has been dominated by one big flop that's difficult to ignore.

An aggressive marketing campaign launched by the European Parliament to reverse the trend of decreasing turnouts at the European polls proved hopeless - 57 percent of the European population gave the polling stations a wide berth. Fancy YouTube clips and Facebook enticements with the EU logo hardly made a difference. Poor turnout combined with the "punishment vote" for the socialist parties enabled the far right to make quite impressive - or rather, quite scary - gains across Europe. Try spotting a Top European in the ranks of the British National Party or the Austrian "Liberals"...

Thus I decided to play a little trick here. If today the Danish politician Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, the president of the socialist party PES in the European Parliament, epitomizes (whether he likes it or not) the failure and the lukewarm attitude of the disintegrated left, his liberal compatriot Anders Fogh Rasmussen ought to get the prize for being something very different. Now, as Anders happens to have impeccable European credentials and has recently got the top job in NATO, he may well deserve the accolade of Top European.

Who exactly is Rasmussen mk.2? Coming from a farmers' family from Jutland, he immersed himself in the world of politics pretty early on. Already in the age of 25 Anders became a member of the Danish Parliament (Folketing) and within ten years, he already held a ministerial post. 2001 marked his first break-through: as a leader of the Danish National Liberal party (Venstre) he managed to kick Poul Nyrup Rasmussen out of the Prime Minister's office and take over after a decade of socialist rule in the country. Reelected ever since, he had to resign in April 2009... to take up a job with a few more perks as NATO Secretary-General. Neither Anders' long stunt as Prime Minister nor his promotion is likely to have thrilled Poul...

Thus the Rasmussen-Rasmussen comparison is a bit more than just linguistic trivia. Ironically, both the ambitious Danes, representing such different political affiliations, have also been considered for the post of the European President which is to be created by the Lisbon Treaty, still undergoing painful ratification. However, Anders has always been the clear favourite, even thwarting the ambitions of such EU celebrities as Tony Blair or Jean-Claude Juncker. Why is he so valued in Europe? According to Silvio Berlusconi, he is Europe's fittest leader. (And recent gossip suggests that Berlusconi knows a thing or two about physical appeal!) Well, there is something more to it than that...

"However, Rasmussen has been calling vigorously for adoption of the Euro, even though it is unlikely to get him votes."

He played a crucial role in the EU negotiations over enlargement in their most vulnerable phase in 2002. Tensions over agricultural subsidies were already high when Poland demanded EU-wide recognition of the professional qualifications of Polish nurses. According to Poland's Prime Minister at the time, Leszek Miller, while Western diplomats were fuming, it was Rasmussen who charmingly discharged the atmosphere and allowed a break-through by saying: "Have you ever seen a Polish nurse? No? Well I have, and I can only wish you all that when you fall ill, you find yourselves in her arms." Support lent by a respected Western leader enabled the parties to overcome the strife and negotiations continued.

Now he has a new task at hand - improving the dismal state of the EU-NATO coordination. "As NATO's coming Secretary-General, I will build up trans-Atlantic relations and improve cooperation between the EU and NATO when it comes to international tasks like Afghanistan," he proclaimed immediately after his nomination. Americans value him for sending troops to Iraq, Europeans for his strong respect for European liberal values and UN-style multilateralism. Thus he does have the potential to move things in the right direction: to encourage hesitant Europeans towards greater international engagement, whilst inhibiting American military bonanzas.

His European profile has so far been somewhat impaired by the fact that Denmark stays out of the Eurozone and cherishes a number of opt-outs from EU policies. However, Rasmussen has been calling vigorously for adoption of the Euro, even though it is unlikely to get him votes. He means it - on his initiative, the Danes will vote again in 2011 in a referendum on the Euro and other opt-outs. The crisis is helping - it seems that this time round, a majority of Danes may say yes to the monetary union. If so, Anders and the EU will be able to claim yet another victory.

And if he fails, you can bet Poul will be the first one to mention it.

IN -1106 DAYS