‘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


KEY POINTS: What is Denmark proposing to change in its latest reform package?

Denmark’s government on Monday proposed a new reform package which could see major changes introduced at universities and public sector workplaces.

KEY POINTS: What is Denmark proposing to change in its latest reform package?

A new proposal for reforms in Denmark, presented by the government on Monday, could see a significant number of Master’s degree programmes shortened from two years to one and red tape in public services trimmed back.

The proposal is titles Danmark kan mere III (“Denmark can do more part III). It follows earlier reform packages tabled in September 2021 and April 2022, which focused on social welfare and energy, among other areas, respectively.

Higher education 

The headline element of Monday’s proposal is arguably the plan to shorten a large number of Master’s degrees at Danish universities from two years to one.

The proposal was first reported in Danish media last week and has now been formalised with Monday’s announcement.

READ ALSO: Denmark plans to shorten university courses to save money 

Currently, it takes two years to complete any Master’s degree in Denmark (after completing the three-year Bachelor’s degree).

While it is common in some countries – including the United States and United Kingdom – to enter the labour market after completing a Bachelor’s degree, this is not the case in Denmark, where most university students go on to do a Master’s programme.

The government is proposing to shorten around half of all Master’s degrees by a year. This means that the Master’s programme will take one year, rather than two, and that the total time these students spend at university will be around four years, not five.

Under the proposal, around 35 percent of existing MA or MSc degrees will become one-year programmes. 15 percent will become so-called erhvervskandidater “professional Master’s degrees”. These can be structured over anything from one to four years but will require students to work at least 25 hours per week while studying. The total hours of studying add up to a one-year course.

The remaining 50 percent of Master’s degrees will continue as two-year courses.

The government has not specified which programmes will be shortened but has confirmed that humanities and social science subjects will be the primary targets. Scientific degrees are less likely to be cut back.

“The educations in which you need an actual authorisation, for example in the health sector, or where you need to take a specialisation early, these need to remain at two years,” the Minister for Higher Education and Research, Jesper Petersen, said at Monday’s briefing.

The move will release two billion kroner of funding that can be reinvested in education, the government said.

Universities have shown opposition to the proposal. The rector of Aarhus University, Brian Bech Nielsen, told broadcaster DR that the changes would degrade the quality of university educations.

“This is very, very drastic because it is a very, very large proportion of university degrees that would be shortened. How do we know that this helps? [University] requires immersion in study, and that takes time. You can’t learn everything in half the time,” he said.

“It would mean that some Master’s graduates would have a lower level of qualification. That would damage Danish businesses our society and the students,” he said.

Public sector

The government wants to save money by cutting back on bureaucracy, particularly at the municipal level.

Around 2.5 billion kroner of spending will be diverted to other areas under the reform plan by cutting back on administrative labour and spending additional resources on “core welfare” (kernevelfærd), the government said.

“The human side of welfare has been given less time and documentation and cold numbers have been given more time,” Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said at the briefing.

One example of reduced administration is a plan to scrap half of all daily registration tasks in the elderly care sector, DR reports.

According to the government, the plan does not mean fewer public sector workers, but a higher proportion in sectors such as childcare and elderly care.

As such, the plan does not mean people will lose jobs, Finance Minister Nicolai Wammen argues at the briefing.

“Some people will have to be re-trained. Others will spend less time in front of the computer and more in front of the public. It’s not something that can be done with a snap of the fingers but we want to set a very clear direction here,” Wammen said.

The government also wants to apply a “rule stop” (regelstop) meaning that every time a new rule is introduced in the public sector which could divert time from into administration, an existing rule must be scrapped. As such, the total number of rules does not increase.

The national organisation for municipalities, KL (Kommunernes Landsforening) expressed skepticism over the plan in comments to DR.

”There are no shortcut solutions in relation to reducing administration and releasing resources for welfare,” KL’s chairperson Martin Damm told the broadcaster.

The proposal would need backing from a majority of parties to be passed in parliament and implemented.