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A Danish perspective on the World today

Speech to the Foreign Policy Society, Christiansborg, Copenhagen 10 April 2014

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Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for inviting me here today. I hope this will be the beginning of an annual tradition on the status and perspectives on Danish foreign policy.

In politics one should always be careful of making promises, but I promise to be back next year, and the year after that, and the year after that - and I will work hard to ensure that it will be as keynote speaker and not as spectator.


As a foreign minister it is almost impossible to open one’s mouth these weeks without commenting on Ukraine. But allow me to begin my speech today with a broader and more strategic perspective. A perspective which I can already now reveal will lead to the conclusion that Danish foreign policy should focus on the following four areas in the years to come:

• Denmark must be as close to the core of the European Union as possible
• Denmark must ensure a strong Kingdom of Denmark in a new Arctic
• Denmark must actively contribute to peace and stability and counter international crises
• And Denmark must influence the new emerging economies in areas where we have special competences

Ladies and Gentlemen. If we take a look out the window and glance upon the world we are experiencing at this moment, we must first and foremost acknowledge that it is a world in motion and that it is moving faster than ever. In just a few years globalisation and technological developments have changed our world significantly. Only 25 years ago, the Berlin Wall was still standing and none of us had an email account or been online.

Today, many of us barely remember the Cold War, the internet is an integral part of the development of our society, and the global middle class has grown massively. The world’s population has grown by two billion and around one billion have been lifted out of poverty and have, as part of the middle class, bought their first car, house and steak. All in just 25 years.

This is an amazing accomplishment, but also a development which has created challenges, not least for the climate and the management of our resources. It has been a ferocious development - but not if we look at what lies ahead. In the next 20 years the world economy will double and the global middle class will have three billion new members. The production, consumption, and welfare that have been created over a period of a thousand years will double in just 20 years.

The vast majority of this growth will take place outside the EU. New centres of power and new economies will develop which will create challenges – geopolitically for Europe, and in the form of pressure on the climate and our resources, desperation for the many who are bypassed by the economic growth, as well as cross-border problems and threats.

But it is also a development that will create endless opportunities. Within the space of one generation, we will be faced with a brand new world, and Danish foreign policy must focus on limiting the challenges and tapping the potentials of this new world.

To achieve this, we need to make our goals and the means to reach them clear, and we need to think of new ways to promote our interests. We need to prioritise and focus. But we must also maintain an active engagement in the constants in Danish foreign policy – the cooperation with the Nordic countries, the engagement in the EU, the UN, NATO and the other multilateral fora, as well as the close transatlantic cooperation with the United States, to mention some of the most important ones.


The goal of Danish foreign policy is essentially to promote Danish interests. These are security, European, commercial, economic and developmental interests. As well as the interests of Danish companies and citizens abroad.

With this in mind, let me attempt to establish three broad goals for Danish foreign policy in the coming years:

First: Our foreign policy must promote a safe and secure world. This will improve the lives of populations around the world and reduce the pressure on Europe and Denmark. A primary goal for Denmark is to make the world more secure. We will work to achieve this goal bilaterally, through multilateral organisations such as the EU, the UN and NATO, and in our Nordic, European, and transatlantic alliances. We will also make the world safer through working for peace, stability, human rights and respect for universally agreed principles. Furthermore, we need to make sure that the growth of the next 20 years is far more resource-efficient and climate-friendly. This is also security policy and a ‘must’ for Danish foreign policy.

Second: Our foreign policy must promote basic Danish values such as democracy, rights and rule of law. This is and will always be a guiding principle. We must accomplish this by actively building and supporting a multilateral world order based on rule of law, protecting individuals against violations of their rights, and by combating poverty. Denmark’s outstanding development policy plays a crucial part in this regard. Furthermore, in a world where our values are under greater pressure, we must always consider how we fight for these values in the best possible way. This will more often be through cooperation and influence than through shouting through a megaphone.

Third: Our foreign policy must promote Danish economic interests in the new world order. For a small, open economy like ours, export, innovation and active engagement in the global economy is a prerequisite for preserving our welfare and a high level of prosperity. And economic diplomacy is an important foreign policy task.

One might also have formulated these three goals 30 or 50 years ago. But in the new world order, the accomplishment of the three goals imposes new requirements on the instruments of our foreign policy. It also requires us to focus our engagement. Denmark cannot and should not be present everywhere. On the other hand, we must strive to leave our clear fingerprints where we can, where our interests are at stake and where we have particular expertise.


To accomplish this I suggest, as mentioned before, that the foreign policy in the following years focus on four areas:
• Denmark must be as close to the core of the European Union as possible
• Denmark must ensure a strong Kingdom of Denmark in a new Arctic
• Denmark must actively contribute to peace and stability and counter international crises
• And Denmark must influence the new emerging economies in areas where we have special competences

Let me start with the EU and Europe. What we are most concerned about at this moment is, of course, Ukraine.

Before I turn to this, I would like to share a small story specifically with you. Because if there is one thing that all of us in this hall share, it is the wish for the foreign policy arena to become closer and more prominent to even more Danes. My special advisor talked to a TV newsreader the other day, who told him that the reports from Ukraine are the first TV news reports on foreign policy issues in a long time where ratings do not drop significantly during the report due to people changing channels. There have even been reports on Ukraine which have had more viewers in the Sunday evening news than the previous family TV show on DR (Danish Radio).

The Danes are very engaged in what is going on in Ukraine. This is understandable – as it only takes a few hours to fly from Kastrup to Kiev. I would definitely rather have done without the crisis. But I believe – maybe naively in these times of discussion on welfare services to European citizens – that the Danes’ interest in the crisis in Ukraine is a sign that more and more people understand how close a conflict can get and how crucial a role the EU - and thereby also Denmark - plays in this conflict.

When the Berlin Wall fell, we thought that we were entering a period in European history without war, bloodshed and human horrors. This perception was quickly refuted by the Balkan wars. We learned, we became wiser and we developed our European toolbox. We enlarged to the East and entered into partnerships – also with Russia.

Ukraine’s battle for self-determination and Russia’s unacceptable conduct have been a new wake-up call for the EU, Europe and European security policy. This crisis requires us to consider how we relate to our strategic partners as well as to our Eastern neighbours in the future. Clearly, the crisis poses a series of relevant questions about security in our immediate neighbourhood which we will have to address.

One month ago I was at the Maidan Square in Kiev along with Carl Bildt. Standing there you understand – very directly – the relevance of and the wish for a strong European community. The flower alters for the dead are decorated with candles, children’s drawings and Ukrainian flags, but also often with EU flags.

These are people next to our borders who are fighting for those values and privileges that we in the EU enjoy and take for granted: a Europe where freedom and prosperity go hand in hand. Their dreams are not merely about achieving basic freedoms, but also about getting a job, better living conditions, economic progress and equal educational opportunities. It is, in my view, a foreign policy imperative that we should support their struggle for freedom and democracy, politically and economically. We have done so in the past few months, and we will continue to do so.

It is not about standing together against Russia but about standing together for our values, for Ukraine and the Ukrainian population, for modernisation and reform, for international law, and for freedom and stability in Europe. The EU has reacted rapidly and wisely to the crisis and now stands more united. Furthermore, there has been close collaboration between the EU and the US concerning our response to the crisis. And we have also worked closely together under the auspices of NATO.

Denmark has led a very active policy with a firm hand, both condemning and sanctioning Russia. But also with a hand reaching out and with offers to resume the dialogue and the collaboration if Russia ends the violations of Ukrainian and international law. We have pursued the policy through the EU, NATO, the OSCE and other fora. We have come out quickly with clear messages and we have worked for targeted sanctions. We have sent observers through the OSCE and offered fighter aircraft to the Baltics through NATO to show solidarity with the members most affected by the crisis. We live up to our commitments in the nearby region and we are strengthening our bilateral Neighbourhood support with a focus on free elections, the justice sector and better conditions for NGO’s. And we are ready to support Ukraine in becoming less dependent on Russian energy.

All these efforts have been important. And to me there is no doubt that the EU has played and is playing the most important role. And this leads me to my first focus – the EU. Denmark formulates our foreign policy nationally and from Danish interests. But a large part of it we pursue with and through the EU.

This tendency will be strengthened. And if Denmark is to have a chance of securing influence in the new world with new and big power centres, this can best be achieved if the EU speaks with one voice.       

The distinct vision of the Danish Government is therefore to be as close to the core of the EU as our opt-outs allow us to. We should swap the illusion of formal self-determination with the genuine opportunity for co-determination.

To be close to the core is about influencing the voice of the EU in the world, but also about influencing those decisions which unavoidably affect Danish citizens and companies. It is about continuing to play an active role in those areas which we prioritise and where we have something to contribute with: the Single market, financial regulation, our welfare model, green development and the EU’s common foreign policy.  For example, we succeeded in achieving results on the climate and energy policies at the EU summit meeting last month that were more ambitious than what was initially drafted after a persistent Danish effort. 

I do not wish to go further into depth with the EU. But I will end by saying that once we are on the other side of the important referendum on the EU Patent Court and the renewal of the EU institutions, which are my immediate European policy priorities in the coming period, Denmark must deliver solid input regarding what kind of EU we should develop in the coming years and what the EU should prioritise under the new Commission.

The Arctic is another one of our neighbouring regions which very much has my attention, and which will see major changes in the next two decades. The Arctic is increasingly a setting for global political and economic forces. And the economic development and climate change involve new opportunities – and new challenges for the Arctic people. It is in our interest to ensure that the development takes place peacefully, sustainably and in collaboration.

Denmark has played and should play a special role there – in close collaboration with Greenland and the Faroe Islands. The different parts of the Danish Commonwealth should support each other in their political and economic aims. We should focus on resources, the environment and climate. But also on economic development that benefits the Arctic people.

I would like to contribute to the formulation of a positive political-economic agenda for Denmark and the Danish Commonwealth’s work in the Arctic in the coming years. I would also like to engage the EU more in the Arctic agenda. And I would like to intensify the collaboration in the Arctic Council on concrete areas within environmental and climate issues where we can promote the level of protection and the collaboration. The Arctic Council is also a forum where it is important to engage Russia regardless of the conflicts we have elsewhere.

A third focus for me is Denmark’s contribution to stability in the world’s hot spots and to conflict resolution. In recent years, Denmark has gained respect and international recognition for our military, civil, economic and humanitarian contributions in international crises. Our soldiers are among the world’s best skilled and most appreciated. Our efforts rest – for the most part – on a broad political support. And in recent years we have been able to do what has been increasingly asked for, namely to integrate our efforts.

We should prioritise participation in international operations and contributions to crises where we can employ all of our skills – military, political, civilian, developmental, humanitarian and economic. It takes more than merely military efforts to create and secure peace. And the sooner one integrates peacebuilding in our efforts, the greater the chance of securing it becomes. This is where Denmark has expertise and it is this expertise that we should focus on.

We should contribute in all regions. But of course especially in our extended neighbouring regions – such as Mali, Syria and the Horn of Africa. The instability that emanates from these regions directly affects Europe and Denmark. Fragile states and conflicts provide a breeding ground for radicalisation and terrorism, piracy, refugee flows, organised crime, assaults, human suffering, oppression of rights, a poorer climate and lack of economic opportunities. It also affects Danish interests negatively and we should use all tools in the toolbox to counter these threats.

Our efforts in Mali and in the Sahel region as well as Denmark’s large contribution to fighting piracy off the Horn of Africa and the continued engagement in Somalia are good examples of such integrated and comprehensive efforts.

This also encompasses our effort in Syria, where Denmark is leading the mission to bring the Assad regime’s chemical weapons out of the country. We give considerable humanitarian aid. And we contribute to a considerable civilian stabilisation effort in the moderate opposition-controlled areas. Focus here is on the justice sector, police and delivery of basic services to the suffering population. The Danish stabilisation efforts will be gathered in the Government’s new stabilisation programme for Syria, which has a budget of 100 million kroner and will be launched in the spring.

Denmark will continue to make a large contribution in Afghanistan. We are not going anywhere. The country is in the process of an important presidential election and must stand on its own to a much larger extent than previously. In the coming months the negotiations for a new Danish Afghanistan programme for the period 2015-2017 will begin. This will also reflect a notable new phase in which the Afghans will take the front seat when it comes to the country’s security and development.    

Finally, I would like to mention as the fourth focus the greater priority assigned to the collaboration with authorities in the emerging economies. The trade cooperation with these countries is significant, but we should also become better at cooperating on political issues. We should engage ourselves far more in the new power centres of the world in a way that reflects our position as a power when it comes to soft power and creative solutions.

The emerging economies face a large number of strategic choices and to put it briefly it is not unimportant which type of growth they choose. We have an incontestable interest in influencing them to pursue a path of growth which is more sustainable - environmentally, socially and economically. This will be a precondition for enabling us to reach our foreign policy objectives – namely a safe and stable world, a democratic world, and the promotion of Danish interests.

Denmark’s long experience of regulating and legislating our way to political aims within health, welfare, green energy, education and food production has given us an expertise which many other countries wish to be inspired by. If we gift this experience to the emerging economies, we will gain foreign policy influence and pave the way for exports of Danish products and solutions because our companies belong to the world’s leading in these very same areas for the same reasons.

There are already many good examples of cooperation between authorities:
- The cooperation with China is growing both in width and in depth with the strategic partnership from 2008 as the foundation. We should reaffirm this during the upcoming state visit. A shining example of the collaboration is the close dialogue on energy policy formulation that we have launched with China and which I was very much involved in as Minister for Climate and Energy. The centre which China and Denmark collaborates on feeds directly into the next Chinese five-year plan today.
- The Danish 3GF initiative by which we facilitate public-private partnerships within green development.
- The Danish growth initiative in Africa - Opportunity Africa - where we will strengthen the collaboration between authorities in Africa and the North concerning green and inclusive growth.

It is this type of impact and political cooperation that I want much more of with selected emerging economies and which will contribute actively to reaching our goals. Furthermore, a focus on accentuating Denmark’s domestic policy strengths in our foreign policy will embed the foreign policy within Danish society. We can create new alliances with civil society, with other actors – and that is just what is needed.


Danish foreign policy draws long threads back in history. This year many of the threads will merge together. 150 years ago we lost the battle of Dybbøl to our German neighbours. We had learned from that 100 years ago when World War I broke out and we stayed neutral. 25 years ago our conditions in Europe changed fundamentally with the fall of the Berlin Wall. And 10 years ago we were able to welcome the new members of the EU from Central and Eastern Europe after a long and sustained effort by Denmark among others.

All this reminds us that our society, our everyday life and our conditions are shaped by events outside our frontiers. And it is therefore in our interest to influence the surrounding world actively. Denmark is a strong foreign policy actor because of our values, our social model, our commitment, our companies, our civil society and our alliances – the European, the Nordic, the transatlantic, and the new ones we will build. This we must use to leave notable Danish fingerprints, not least in our neighbouring regions and our alliances.

My focus is on a Denmark at the core of Europe, an enhanced cooperation with the emerging economies, a strong engagement in the Arctic, as well as on the important operations when international crises flare up and we can contribute to peace and stability.

Denmark has capabilities and people listen to us when we are credible, when we speak from our expertise, when we work as an active and constructive bridge-builder and compromise-maker, and when we combine Danish interests with a global outlook. It is our soft power at its best and we shall use that even more and in new ways in the coming years. It is in the interest of Denmark and the Danes because it contributes to making Denmark stronger, richer and safer. But it is also in the interest of the surrounding world because we can help ensure that the new world we will see in 20 years will be an even safer, more just, more pleasant and more beautiful place to live.

Thank you for listening.    

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