The Danish ambassador to Mexico on the nations' links, plus the case for a new UN refugee chief.
Mexico and Denmark see each other as allies when working within international institutions on environmental and climate issues. But when it comes to bilateral relations, the two countries are increasingly focusing on trade and commerce. Settling into a chair on the back patio of the Danish embassy in Mexico City’s regal Polanco neighbourhood, ambassador Henrik Bramsen Hahn picks up a ceramic-and-wooden sugar bowl, an example of the type of product from his home country that is now being sold in Mexican boutiques. “The Danish furniture sector started in the 1930s with simplistic, clear-cut designs,” he says. “These have gained a worldwide reputation.”
While the Danish embassy and the ambassador’s residence have fairly modest exteriors, inside is a grand variety of Danish products. “Winter in Denmark is long and dark and since we spend so much time indoors we want a home that is nice to look at,” says Hahn. Inside the embassy, details range from a toy-size house made from yellow and red Lego bricks to a barometer made by Hahn’s great-grandfather.
Denmark established diplomatic relations here in 1827 and opened its embassy a century later. Mexico is exposed to tropical storms on both coasts and is one of Denmark’s strongest partners in efforts to combat climate change. Today, as well as prioritising environmental issues and clean energy, the Denmark-Mexico relationship is also defined by commercial ties. Lego’s biggest factory is in the northern city of Monterrey and shipping giant Maersk exports Mexican-made products.
“We have a growing number of companies here,” says Hahn. Alongside furniture-maker BoConcept and dairy giant Lurpak, an expanding group of Danish luxury brands are looking to enter Mexico. “The potential is there: the upper-middle class is growing and they are looking for these kinds of products. There’s a market for luxury goods.” While Hahn has seen Mexican food grow in popularity in Copenhagen, he also sees a growing interest among Danish chefs in building their reputations in Mexico. “René Redzepi from Noma comes here once a year.”
After driving us from the embassy to his home, a mid-century mansion with modern lines and floor-to-ceiling windows, Hahn tell us that everything we see is Danish. He does, however, make sure that his kitchen is stocked with Mexican coffee beans. “I serve espresso made of beans from Chiapas,” he says. “It’s excellent.”
A boxy two-storey building on a quiet side street.
The embassy has 15 Danish members of staff who handles request relating to issues in Mexico and the Caribbean. They enjoy the use of Danish-made adjustable desks that can be used in a standing or seated position.
The biggest challenge
"You always feel guilty about how you use your time," says Hahn. "It's a balancing act between time spent with one's family and time spent solving the tasks that the job as an ambassador entails."
The search for a new UN high commissioner for refugees rarely makes the headlines. But as Europe struggles to deal with the refugee crisis, the debate over who should lead the organisation has garnered more attention.
Former Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt wants the job but her country’s hardline response to refugees may go against her. Only one of the previous 10 high commissioners came from a developing country, though the French-born, Swiss-and-US-educated Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan of Iran barely counts as non-western. Perhaps it’s time for a high commissioner from a poorer nation who understands why refugees make these dangerous journeys in the first place.
Successful peace talks are usually a cause for celebration. However, the response in South Sudan to the agreement between president Salva Kiir and his erstwhile deputy-turned-rebel-leader Riek Machar was muted.
Threats of UN sanctions persuaded Kiir to sign but the underlying ethnic tensions remain. So too does the endemic corruption that has bedevilled South Sudan throughout its short life. Add into the mix far too many weapons, high levels of poverty, the threat of famine and an international aid industry that still hasn’t worked out how to make a positive difference and it’s not hard to see why fears of a new war remain.