‘When we have a discussion in Denmark, we like to imagine we are in agreement when we start’

The Local spoke to Clement Kjersgaard, political anchor with broadcaster DR and founder of current affairs journal Ræson, about national and international media, Danes’ English skills, and why there’s no place for hygge in politics.

'When we have a discussion in Denmark, we like to imagine we are in agreement when we start'
Clement Kjersgaard will host a series of international events featuring political big-hitters at Copenhagen's Imperial Bio. Composite photos: Ræson

Danish political journal Ræson is currently preparing a new international series of high-profile political lectures in English, aimed at internationals and with a focus on internationally-driven discussion.

Ræson’s International Series will take place four times a year, with a “distinguished guest” invited to give a keynote lecture on one of the most pressing dilemmas of the day, the political journal announced on its website last month.

The high-profile billing is lived up to in the project’s first two events: EU Commissioner Margrethe Vestager will guest the Imperial Bio in Copenhagen on Monday August 20th, followed by Minister for Finance Kristian Jensen, a potential future prime minister, at the same venue on September 25th.

Each will give a keynote lecture, followed by conversation and questions from the floor. The entire event will be conducted in English and Kjersgaard will be on hand to moderate the discussion.

The Local spoke to the DR heavyweight about his motivation and hopes for the concept, as well as his views on the culture of political debate in Denmark and abroad.

What’s in it for Ræson to cater to internationals?

“When I founded Ræson back in 2002 there was an expectation that I, and I think many people had, that we were moving with the effects of globalisation into a future where international politics would become a more prominent feature of the media landscape. I think that has not happened at all. You could ask the question whether we’ve seen a bit of the opposite taking place.

“You’ve seen this in terms of the political landscape but maybe also the media landscape, a sort of national focus that a lot of the time I think very much runs counter to the reality of the world.”

Who is going to be interested?

“It’s such an evident, obvious good idea to do something in Copenhagen for an international audience, and when I realised that these events essentially didn’t exist it was just a matter of deciding where to start. We intend that many of these tickets will be bought by people from around the world working in Copenhagen, and then some of them likely will be bought by Danes, who have the exact same interest in hearing out Kristian Jensen, and hearing Vestager.

“I think there’s a severe lack of these sorts of events in Copenhagen. You could say that Copenhagen likes to think of itself as an international city, Denmark likes to think of itself as a very global country, and in some ways it is, but in other ways it really isn’t.

Will the subject matter be any different from a similar event in Danish?

“Yes. I really believe that. It really wasn’t very difficult to come up with the first couple of names, and you can mention a handful of other people we’d like to feature and building on that, you can imagine international names taking part as well.

“I do believe that, not just in Denmark, there really is a strong tendency at the moment to choose a national perspective, sometimes with a kind of abandon that is almost silly. Where is the EU heading? Of course that’s a question which is a completely different type of question today than it was before Brexit. Kristian Jensen is a very likely contender for the premiership in a few years’ time, so [the audience will] hear him on some of these larger questions which are often ignored in day-to-day discussion. I do think the questions we will ask, and the answers we will get, will be very different in an international context.”

Was it difficult to convince your guests to speak a foreign language on home turf?

“Not at all. We’re working from a very short list, you could maybe mention ten or 15 Danish figures of their stature and I think all of them on that list will relish the chance.

Minister of Finance Kristian Jensen. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

“I think you’re right in terms of the language. I think despite the fact many Danes are good at English or relatively good at English, there is definitely a challenge in terms of, will you be as nuanced, will you be as honest, will you be as specific. On the other hand, in my experience, whenever you change your language it’s an opportunity to sort of re-examine your own beliefs, right, because you are forced to think, ‘why would I express myself in this manner?’, so there is something refreshing about that as well.

“There’s a tendency in the international context for political debate to become very polished, very polite. The challenge, then, is to make sure you can make it honest and forthright and a little gritty, even.

“I think many Danes consider themselves to be of a very global mindset, I think many Danes consider Denmark to be a very open-minded country and to some extent it is, but in many ways it is not, when you compare Copenhagen to Berlin or London or whatever it does feel like a small place. There is an expectation that we’ll leave the global dimensions to someone else – well, apparently no one else is picking it up.”

Does that mean Denmark could be a moderator in international political discourse?

“That would be interesting, wouldn’t it? The Brexit discussion is such an excellent example, because it really just goes to show you that all of these countries are dealing with the same dilemmas, like immigration, integration, equality and so forth.

“I’m seen as being controversially assertive in the way that I interview and the way I approach these issues. I have realised that in a Danish context and in the Danish tradition there is a huge premium on consensus. On hygge, essentially. When we have a discussion in Denmark, we like to imagine that either we are almost in agreement when we start or at least we know we will be very close to agreeing when we finish. That of course is a really rather insane approach to having a discussion because, then, what are you essentially discussing? If you insist that everyone must agree, at least at the end, maybe even at the beginning, then what’s the bother?

“In Denmark there’s an insistence on consensus, and you’ve found Danish politics becoming very polarised over the last ten or 15 years. In the US and the UK you have a different approach, but the politics have become equally polarised.

“We can’t approach every issue with this sense that we are five minutes from total agreement on the role of Islam in society, or the future of the European Union, or whatever it is. We need a discussion which is about opening up, not closing down.

“European countries are having the same discussions in parallel without listening to each other.”

Tickets for Ræson's International Series can be purchased here.

READ ALSO: Danes once again discuss who is a Dane

For members


KEY POINTS: What is in Denmark’s 2023 budget proposal?

Denmark’s coalition government presented on Thursday a new budget proposal in which it said it was “stepping on the brakes” on state spending.

KEY POINTS: What is in Denmark’s 2023 budget proposal?

Danish budgets are usually tabled and eventually adopted during the autumn, but last year’s election disrupted the normal timetable.

The proposed budget, given the title “A Responsible Way Forward” (En ansvarlig vej frem) was presented by ministers from the three coalition parties on Thursday: Finance Minister Nicolai Wammen, acting Defence Minister Troels Lund Poulsen and Culture Minister Jakob Engel-Schmidt.

A cautious economic approach to spending is needed given global circumstances including the war in Ukraine, inflation and last year’s energy crisis, Wammen said.

“Even though a lot of things look good when we look at the Danish economy, that doesn’t change where we are. Uncertain times,” he said.

Engel-Schmidt added that some might describe the proposed budget as “boring”, given that it “doesn’t bring a shower of presents”.

Key points from the proposed budget are outlined below. The proposal will go into negotiations with other parties in parliament before being voted through in its final form.

Inflation assistance to lower income groups 

Last year saw the highest inflation rate for 40 years in Denmark, and the effects will still be felt in 2023 even if the inflation percentages themselves are less severe.

Although the government wants to “step on the brakes”, it has still set aside 2.4 billion kroner for financial assistance to people vulnerable to rising prices.

Some 1.1 billion kroner will be spent on 5,000 kroner “cheques” for elderly persons who receive social welfare. People who have high medicine costs and students who receive subsidies because they must provide for others, such as single parents (SU-forsørgertillæg) are also among groups to be assisted with the inflation spending.

READ ALSO: Danish government agrees inflation package for vulnerable families 

‘Acute plan’ for hospitals

An agreement with regional health authorities on an “acute” spending plan to address the most serious challenges faced by the health services has already been agreed, providing 2 billion kroner by the end of 2024.

The agreement was announced by the government along with regional and municipal officials in February.

READ ALSO: What exactly is wrong with the Danish health system?

‘Lower than ever’ reserve fund

A so-called “negotiation reserve” (forhandlingsreserve), a pool of money in the budget that can be allocated at a later date based on agreements between parties, has been significantly cut to 200 million kroner.

A 2023 budget proposal from August last year, which was not adopted due to the election, had the fund at 600 million kroner. The reserve has been as high as 1.5 billion kroner in the past, according to broadcaster DR’s report on Thursday’s proposal.

The previous, single-party Social Democratic government was reported to favour mental health services and the elderly as areas which could benefit from the fund in 2023.

The lower amount is partly due to the shorter timescale of this year’s budget. The 2024 budget will be proposed and passed in late 2023 under the regular timetable.

“There are still things we can prioritise but we are asking you to take responsibility to get Denmark through while inflation is still a major challenge,” Wammen said.

Spending on courts system

Some 32.2 million kroner has been put aside to specifically target a reduction in waiting times for court dates, DR writes. The money is part of a larger amount, 185 million kroner, to be spent on the courts.

Denmark’s courts system has in recent years seen a rising number of criminal cases and lengthy processing times.

Broadband internet to get boost in rural spending

The “broadband fund” or bredbåndspulje will get an additional 100 million kroner to improve coverage in areas that still have patchy connection.

Another 100 million kroner will go into the landsbypulje or “Village Fund”, giving rural municipalities funding for demolition or renovation of deteriorated buildings.


A majority in parliament has already voted in favour of a seven-billion kroner fund in 2023 to help Ukraine defend itself against the Russian invasion.

The fund will be spent on Danish military, civilian and commercial assistance to Ukraine.

Part of the spending is funded by Denmark’s international development budget, while over 5 billion comes from spending an increased portion of the national GDP on the 2023 budget.

READ ALSO: Denmark announces seven-billion kroner Ukraine fund