With its liberal economic policy, Denmark has a high degree of welfare, security and comfort, and also a competitive economic sector. The Danish Ambassador, H.E. FRIIS ARNE PETERSEN, talks about his country’s position in the world.
Excellency, how has Denmark changed since the last election?
The most important result of the government’s work in the last three years has been a series of very ambitious socio-political reforms. The aim of these reforms was to make our welfare state more competitive, especially in a global context. For Denmark, it is always important to have a strong economy that is oriented towards the globalized world. And over the last four or five decades we have shown that we belong to the group of countries that have shown the greatest openness with regard to imports and exports in relation to the gross national product in comparison to other countries. In many ways we are more open than Germany. But this also means that we must always try to be even more competitive than others in order to have an economy that generates surpluses. Denmark has almost full employment, good economic growth of almost two percent and balanced public spending. In the trade balance we are running a surplus and public debt is falling. So, if you take the macroeconomic point of view, things are going very well for us, and the government wants to ensure politically and economically that it remains that way.
In the past, your country has received a very large percentage of refugees in terms of numbers – in figures: about 40,000 at 5.7 million inhabitants in the past five years. But now even the Danish Social Democrats have spoken in favor for stopping. How is the status quo here?
Compared to other EU countries, Denmark is accepting its quota of refugees. At the same time, however, it is also important to us to pay attention to how many refugees a society can handle. It is important that the refugees, who come to us, are well integrated so that they can become part of the Danish society and share our values. Education and work are crucial, also for learning the language. Only in this way can one take on a role in society from which one benefits the most, just like society itself. In addition, we have high social benefits and a high minimum wage in Denmark – some of our social benefits are almost twice as high as in Germany. It is therefore quite attractive to receive these benefits. But the most important thing must be to become a well-integrated family or a well-integrated citizen of Denmark.
For decades Denmark has been committed to a constructive and pragmatic European policy approach. Which partnerships are most important to your government?
Within the framework of the European Union, the North Atlantic Treaty and the United Nations, Denmark attaches great importance to close cooperation with like-minded countries. On many issues discussed in the EU or NATO, this includes Germany. In the EU, however, these are often the other Nordic countries or the Netherlands. We are very close in free trade, for example, but also on other economic issues such as the reducing state subsidies, improving the internal market and expanding the digital market. In the context of NATO, we work very closely with the United Kingdom and the United States, since Greenland is part of Denmark through the socalled “Reichsverband” together with the Faroe Islands. Therefore, there is a close Danish-American cooperation in security policy. Here, we also work closely within NATO with Eastern European countries such as the Baltic States.
With Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finland, Denmark has close cooperation within the Nordic Council. What role are the autonomous regions of Greenland and the Faroe Islands playing, which belong to the Danish crown?
It is very important to us that the autonomous regions of Greenland and the Faroe Islands are involved in the political process in Denmark as much as possible. Both Greenland and the Faroe Islands have two representatives in the Danish Parliament. At the same time, we try to involve both autonomous regions and their interests in all international negotiations. And we ensure that the rights of the indigenous people in these autonomous areas are protected. This includes the representation and protection of the rights of the Inuit, the indigenous population of Greenland, in the relevant forums of the United Nations. Greenland and the Faroe Islands play a role in the Nordic cooperation, for example through the Nordic Council, because it is generally important to Denmark to give autonomous regions the opportunity to express their views through relevant international platforms.
With “flexicurity”, Denmark successfully practices a labour market model that combines relatively low dismissal protection with a high level of social protection. How does that work?
Our “flexicurity” model ensures that all companies have great freedom to hire or release the employees they need. However, this model also requires that society ensures that social decline is prevented. This means that unemployment is not synonymous with economic and social disaster. With very high levels of social support and social benefits, Danish society ensures that there are no marginalized or impoverished groups. But this model also guarantees that Danish companies can meet the requirements of the global market with the greatest possible flexibility. That’s why Danish companies are among the most dynamic in the world. They ensure higher employment and higher growth, but neither would they have without this flexibility in the labor market. The surprising result for many is that such a liberal economic policy, combined with the described social policy, creates a balance that on the one hand produces a high degree of welfare, security and comfort, and on the other hand ensures the competitiveness of the economic sector.
Denmark supports high-tech companies in the fields of biotechnology, pharmaceuticals and information technology. What incentives do you offer to investors?
For the Danish government it is very important to maximize competitiveness in all areas of society through high qualifications. This applies to business-friendly framework legislation, effective bureaucracy, and a society that is at the forefront of digitalization. Similarly, the promotion of foreign language skills plays an important role. All these are things that make it easier for businesses in Denmark than in other countries. And that’s why we’re always in the lead in international surveys and country comparisons on how good and easy it is to do business. In addition to the political framework that a government can set, of course, there are also social trends. Our population, for example, has fully embraced digitization and, of course, is also demanding digital solutions for the public sector.
Far more than 40 per cent of the Danish power generation is from wind power. After protests from the population, your Energy Minister Lars Lilleholt recently said that the search for oil and gas should be abandoned after more than 80 years. How do you envisage energy supply in the future for Denmark?
Very positive – because we have just seen that the higher the demands of the political side on the energy sector in terms of sustainability and environmental friendliness were, the more the technology and business sector has succeeded in meeting this expectation. That is why the Danish parliament has decided that by 2050 the energy supply will be fully fed from renewable sources – so, that CO2 emissions will no longer be produced. And so far, the implementation of this plan has almost gone surprisingly well. We have a fantastic and attractive economic development both in terms of energy efficiency and in the area of wind and solar energy, so that we have a very realistic chance of achieving our goals. Denmark opted for innovative solutions for energy supply such as district heating many years ago. We are now continuing along this path with the new technological possibilities.
In mid-March, your government decided to abolish broadcasting fees, which were very high at 330 euros per year. How will Danish broadcasting be financed in the future?
In the future, citizens will pay for their license through their taxes. This will be similar to a levy for the Danish broadcaster. In principle, this is only a transfer of payment from one tax source to another. In the future it will be very important for Denmark to have a large public media sector. At the same time, our politicians also know that in today’s world, every public broadcaster must be willing to do more, produce more, and function more effectively. The same applies to other countries like Germany. More quality has to be produced for a national audience, which ideally can also be marketed internationally, and at the same time everything must be done more efficiently.
Education is also very important in Denmark. Mergers between universities and government research institutes are creating internationally competitive entities. What other goals are there?
Denmark wants to offer all its citizens a good and broad education, and we need extremely ambitious scientific training. But we want education to be accessible to everyone. That’s why studying in Denmark is free. At the same time, through the dual training system, we also want to safeguard the professional qualifications that should supplement the field of science. We believe that with this combination of high academic and scientific ambitions and high professional qualifications will create a good foundation for an economy in which talent, competitiveness and diligence can produce good results.
Denmark is world-famous for its writers, designers, architects and composers. 300 Danish artists live in Berlin alone. What funding opportunities exist in your cultural policy?
Of course, we support cultural life in Denmark. But here, too, the focus is more and more on the international possibilities. Two years ago, the Danish government published a strategy for Germany, which has now been expanded to include a cultural dimension. In this strategy the cooperation with German partners play a major role. Germany is the only country with which we share a common land border. So Germany is our only neighbor, a very important neighbor. This means that our links have always been close historically, politically and economically. Of course, that also applies to the culture and its influence in Denmark. German culture, language and science have always had great influence on Denmark. Denmark’s specific objective in its cultural exchange with Germany over the next three years is to strengthen new and long-term relations of cooperation. The purpose of cultural cooperation must also be to create more visibility for the cultures in both countries as well as the common and different values. In today’s world, where the roles of Britain in Europe and the United States are changing on a global stage, the EU, European cooperation and European partners like Germany or France are becoming more important to us. Europe has acquired a new value, a new meaning. This applies to business and politics as well as to art and culture.
A special feature of bilateral relations is the German minority in North Schleswig and the Danish minority in South Schleswig. How is the current situation there?
The current situation looks like there is an absolutely smooth cooperation between Denmark and Germany with regard to both national minorities. This exemplary cooperation is based on the Copenhagen-Bonn Declarations, which for us in Denmark represent something like the best treaty in the world for the protection of minorities. They may like to set an example for others. The celebrations for the 100th anniversary of the referendum in 1920, which led to today’s border, are not far away. And this is really a reason to celebrate, especially when you consider how much turmoil the world has experienced in the last 100 years, and this border has remained unchanged! It is planned to use this 100th anniversary year for a German-Danish year of friendship. Again, we support ideas that are particularly related to the cultural cooperation of our countries. With the already mentioned cultural strategy and the focus on the cooperation with Germany, we also want to promote cultural activities from 2018 to 2020, which will help to strengthen Denmark’s relationship with Germany as an important economic, political and cultural partner with whom we share the same values. In our activities and events we rely on cooperation, dialogue and common ground. In addition, we also want to use a German-Danish cultural year of friendship 2020 to underline the good relations between Denmark and Germany. This is a forward-looking perspective on how a majority society deals with a national minority, as well as an excellent historical example of how two nations can build a beneficial neighborhood.
Official name: Kingdom of Denmark
Area: 43,094 km²
Population: 5.78 million
Population density: 130 inhabitants per km²
Official languages: Danish, Faroese, Greenlandic, German
Government: Unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy
Head of state: Her Majesty Queen Margrethe II
Head of government: Lars Løkke Rasmussen
National anthem: Der er et yndigt land