How open is cOPENhagen? Obviously, not at all, if you are a Muslim, but what about the rest of the world? How keen are the Danes to do business internationally?
I recently took part in a panel discussion at a gathering of Copenhagen’s Goodwill Ambassadors. These are Danes with high profile jobs or positions out in the real world, from Brazil to South Africa, the US and Japan, who work to spread the word about what a great place the Danish capital is to do business.
The audience was made up of the ‘ambassadors’ themselves, in town for their annual get-together.
Alongside me (no, I have no idea why I was invited: I assume Chris MacDonald was busy) on the panel to discuss how they might achieve their goals were a Harvard professor who had moved to Copenhagen to work at the Niels Bohr Institute (“When are people going to stop asking me when am I going to leave?” he wondered at one point); a Dane who lives in Germany and has a big job at VW; and US-based goodwill ambassador, Henrik Fogh Rasmussen, who, as the astute among you will have guessed, is the son of the former PM and current, outgoing head of Nato, Anders Fogh Rasmussen.
We talked around the subject of how to sell Danish goods abroad and how to attract foreign companies and talent to Copenhagen, but in truth the key issue was being skirted.
What was the one single thing that would help present the Danish capital to the world as attractive and open for business, the host finally asked me?
“Well, the elephant has just left the room,” I said, referring to the previous debate which had featured Morten Messerschmidt, the Danish People’s Party’s (DF) notorious MEP, and the recipient of the most personal votes in Danish election history.
“Copenhagen is an amazing city – frankly, I can not understand why you guys all live abroad – but the biggest hinderance to foreign investment and skills coming here is the current political landscape. When Danes vote for xenophobic parties, what message do you think that sends?” I asked.
The truth, sadly, is that I wasn’t just talking about DF. The rot set in during Fogh Rasmussen’s father’s time as PM when he kowtowed to DF, introduced ill-thought out immigration restrictions (such as the 24-year rule) and bungled the Mohammad cartoons crisis.
Over time, the xenophobic tone introduced into the political mainstream during the first decade of the century has spread across the political spectrum, Legislation which would once have been deemed Draconian and regressive is broadly accepted by all parties (the current, Social Democratic-led government has done little to actually change the laws in this regard).
Before our panel debate, the current foreign minister, Martin Lidegaard, had given a slick little presentation on Denmark’s current foreign policy – slick, but insubstantial. Afterwards he was challenged by a goodwill ambassador from Brazil about policy on visitors from his adopted homeland (the Brazilian Embassy had recently voiced its indignation at the restrictions to Brazilian nationals who wanted to come to Denmark), but Lidegaard could offer no concrete policy changes in terms of those all-important BRIC countries. “I can categorically say that Brazilians are very welcome to Denmark,” he said, meaninglessly.
The truth is, cOPENhagen can talk as much as it likes about its welcoming attitude to overseas investment and skills, but if the people vote DF – as they have done and will do again, likely in greater numbers than ever – that ‘branding’ will mean nothing.
No one is advocating a Swedish-style, open-door immigration policy for Denmark, clearly, but whether the Danes like it or not, they must now compete in a globalised world and, with that in mind, the story of a closed, fearful, ‘småracistisk’ people unable to discriminate between radicalised Syrians and educated Brazilians is the wrong kind of Danish fairytale to be telling in 2014.
Michael Booth is the author of The Almost Nearly Perfect People: The Truth About the Nordic Miracle available now on Amazon and is a regular contributor to publications including the Guardian and Monocle.