As Copenhagen gears up to host the United Nations Climate Change conference COP15 later this year, Monocle meets Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen and talks about Denmark’s identity, global security and the impact of the ‘cartoon crisis’.
It’s a big year for a small country. This year Denmark hosts COP15, the climate conference that will establish a new agreement to replace the soon-to-expire Kyoto protocol. And Denmark’s prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen is the man who will have to encourage global leaders to sign an ambitious set of targets. Rasmussen invited Monocle to the official summer residence at Marienborg outside Copenhagen to reveal his ambitions for the meeting (and explain why Denmark is the perfect green role model). He also talks about Obama, sending troops to Afghanistan and why his country is primed to get through the financial crisis.
Tyler Brûlé: In a little under 10 months, you’re going to be welcoming heads of state, captains of industry, scientists, the academic community, to your capital. What are the key aims for COP15?
Anders Fogh Rasmussen: The most important goal is to make a comprehensive global agreement on a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and in my opinion we should agree on a reduction equivalent to 50 per cent by 2050, compared to 1990. So that’s a very exact goal.
TB: Denmark is known for being a very pragmatic nation but do you feel a lot of pressure – this time around people are going to expect real results?
AFR: It’s a comprehensive task. It’s a big challenge. But we have to succeed: for the globe’s sake. First, to protect our climate and environment, secondly to improve our security, and thirdly to strengthen our economy. So I think we can create a political momentum during 2009, leading to an agreement in Copenhagen. Not least after the election of President Obama.
TB: If I’m a head of state flying in from Malaysia or Latin America and I survey the landscape in Denmark, what will I be able to walk away with? What are the concrete lessons that are seen in Denmark?
AFR: Well, it would be visible in the landscape. You would see a huge amount of windmills. Which is a strong symbol, but also a strong example of what we are actually doing. And we can read it in facts and figures as well because during the past 25 years, our economy has grown by nearly 80 per cent. But during the same period of time, our energy consumption has stayed stable. And an increasing degree of energy production is produced on the basis of renewable energy.
TB: Do other peers raise their eyebrows slightly because they think: Denmark, lovely country but it’s only 5.5 million people?
AFR: They are very interested and they ask a lot of questions. And when I visit my peers, we very often conclude our meetings by making an agreement on strengthening cooperation in environmental and energy technologies. For instance, I visited China recently and we agreed on strengthened cooperation between big China and small Denmark.
TB: If we look at what the mission of your foreign ministry is – what sort of messages do you push out in the world?
AFR: I would point to three important images of Denmark. First, Denmark as a creative nation: the nation of design, fashion, architecture, modern furniture, etc. Secondly, Denmark as the green nation. And thirdly, I would say, Denmark as the life-quality nation. These three elements are strengths in the modern world.
TB: Is it important to be made in Denmark or simply designed in Denmark?
AFR: I think it is a combination of manufacturing and design. And let me stress that Denmark will still for quite some years be a manufacturing country. And be very strong in agriculture. But more and more, Denmark will be a service-oriented country. We will see employment move from manufacturing – manufacture in Denmark – to China and India. But in exchange, we will create new jobs in the areas of design, fashion and so on.
TB: Is there a level of soul-searching going on in Denmark at the moment given where the economy is currently sitting?
AFR: I think one of our strengths is the informal way of living; the very short distance in our decision-making system. This provides us with a very flexible society. So we can easily and quickly adapt to new situations. So in that respect, small is not just beautiful, but also very efficient.
TB: If we wind back to the start of this decade, your country and government put in some unfashionable ideas in terms of immigration policy – there wasn’t quite the open door. Where do those ideas sit now?
AFR: First of all, I would like to stress that the policies we have pursued since 2001 have been a success. Actually, Denmark is a much more open society today than it was seven years ago, when we took over government. At that time we had an uncontrolled influx of people coming to Denmark, asking for asylum. We strengthened the legislation and today the number of foreigners coming here for family reunification and asylum has been reduced to a third of the level in 2001. But we have tripled the number of foreigners coming to Denmark to work and to study. So, we have opened the Danish society for people who want to work and contribute positively to the Danish society.
TB: Can a small nation like Denmark make a meaningful contribution to global security, whether in Afghanistan or future conflicts?
AFR: I think we have demonstrated that a small country can make its mark on the international scene beyond the size of the country. The fact that we do host a big international climate conference is an example. The fact that we are engaged in military operations in Afghanistan, Kosovo and in the fight against piracy around the coast of Somalia show that even a small country can make a very important contribution. Within the EU we have contributed to setting the agenda. So there is no doubt in my mind that a small country can get influence if we argue consistently – if we work determinedly.
TB: Following the comic book incident, Denmark was thrust on to the global stage. What lessons were learned in crisis management?
AFR: The so-called cartoon crisis has been the most difficult foreign policy challenge for Denmark since the Second World War. We learned a lot from that. We have expanded and improved our system of international monitoring in our Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Secondly, we realised how important it is to be an integrated part of a bigger community. We got a lot of support from the EU and our allies the US. It’s essential we cooperate with close partners during such a crisis.
TB: You mentioned your great ally the US. How do you view the new administration?
AFR: I very much look forward to cooperating with President Obama. I have not met him – I have had a telephone conversation with him – but I see important international challenges, which call for strong cooperation between the US and Denmark. Denmark is heavily engaged in the southern part of Afghanistan, so we are in favour of Obama’s plan to increase the number of US troops in Afghanistan.
TB: Even if he asks you for more troops – you’re currently around 500?
AFR: Seven hundred. Per capita, Denmark is one of the main contributors to the international mission in Afghanistan already. So I don’t think we are in the first line. But I would not be surprised if President Obama would request more troops from the Europeans. We would have to see. At least we strongly support his plan to increase the number of US troops. And of course there’s the climate conference. It’s obvious that a precondition for achieving the global agreement in Copenhagen is a strong engagement from the US and also from the president himself.
TB: You’ve been tipped for a top Nato or EU role, but where do you want to end up next?
AFR: (Laughs) Well. I think you know my answer. That I have no other plans than to stay as a prime minister of Denmark, as long as the people want me.
1953: Born in Ginnerup, rural west Denmark. Son of Knud (a farmer) and Martha Rasmussen. 1974: Becomes leader of Young Liberals Party (aged 21). 1978: Degree in Economics from University of Århus. Elected to parliament the same year. In his early years he criticises the welfare state for developing a “slave mentality” in the Danish population. 1999: Becomes leader of Liberal Party. Changes his position and projects an image of a guardian of the welfare state. 2001: Elected prime minister. He has been compared to Tony Blair and Gerhard Schroeder for the way he appeals to the political centreground.
— The United Nations Climate Change Conference, (COP15), takes place in Copenhagen in December 2009.
— COP15 means the 15th Conference of the Parties. That is the highest body of the UN’s Climate Change Convention consisting of environmental ministers who meet once a year.
— 15,000 participants from 189 countries are expected to attend the conference.
— The conference aims to establish a new global climate agreement to replace the Kyoto protocol, which expires in 2012.