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Video - Prime Minister: Progress in Denmark is the common thread

Set ambitions high, invest in growth and keep the door open to skilled foreigners, said Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen in his speech to about 1,200 business leaders and politicians this past Tuesday at the Opera House in Copenhagen.
Click on the image to see the Prime Minister’s speech in full length (20 minutes)

Publiceret: 27.09.2017
Af Karen Witt Olsen mail

DI Business journalist Peter G. H.  Madsen has interviewed the Prime Minister for this issue of DI Business. Read the article below:

When Lars Løkke Rasmussen (Venstre) was appointed prime minister for the second time on 28 June, 2015, there was little to suggest that the past decades of development towards an increasingly open and global world was up for discussion.

Certainly, it was no secret that there was scepticism towards the EU amongst the British population. But that it would actually result in the Brits saying goodbye to the EU still seemed impossible at the time. And although Donald Trump had just announced his candidacy for the US presidency, few believed that he could win the American election with his outspokenly protectionist course.

The course of development has created both opportunities and risks for a small country such as Denmark, which has benefited for decades from an open and regular global economy where Danish companies have been able to sell their goods and services abroad, says Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen.

- We are a trade nation that has become wealthy as globalisation has intensified. The setbacks and increased degree of local self-sufficiency we are currently seeing are therefore not in our interest. But on the other hand, these things also create opportunities that we must understand how to take advantage of, he says and adds:

- In a situation where the UK is on its way out of the EU, there is a greater need for us to get involved. We must come forward and help ensure that the EU remains an open trade bloc. Meanwhile, we must be ready to seize the opportunities following the signals now coming from Washington. There is a vacuum and a chance to land some agreements as a result of the US having taken a step back.

Specifically, the Prime Minister points to the fact that the trade agreement with Canada, CETA, has come about as a result of Donald Trump having withdrawn from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Similarly, he views the trade deal between the EU and Japan as evidence of the fact that although the development towards an increasingly open global economy may have slightly slowed, it has by no means come to a halt.

- In relation to the course of the EU, it is also clear that there is now a space for reform in which we can make a difference. Some of what I am trying to put on the agenda are fairness initiatives. Yes, we need an internal market and free movement, but it is also crucial that there is a fairness to it, a balance, so that we can also take care of the Danish welfare system - otherwise we risk losing public support, says the Prime Minister.

That does not mean, however, that Denmark should shut itself off from the rest of the world, the Prime Minister notes.

- That is something that worries me at the moment. An alliance has suddenly arisen at Christiansborg where there are parties saying that integration and foreigners pose a challenge; ergo, we must close off entirely. But that also means we close Denmark off to something we need. We need skilled foreign workers, skilled foreign students, and we need influence from abroad as well as to have influence out there.

Fear of globalisation is grounded in reality

For Lars Løkke Rasmussen, it is equally important to focus on the underlying basis for the scepticism towards globalisation that has gained ground abroad and that the Prime Minister also sees amongst some groups in Denmark.

- Naturally, the traces of national self-sufficiency we are seeing in various places have a cause. It stems from something. And we see that at home, too, he says.

According to the Prime Minister, it particularly has to do with the divide between the collective benefits of globalisation and the individual’s “justified”fear of being left behind as the losing party in a world where everything happens faster and faster. 

- It’s no problem to find the proof to show that Denmark has benefited from globalisation and that prosperity has increased. It is the at more personal level that it is challenging. It is my impression that many have a feeling that, metaphorically speaking, the earth is spinning faster and faster, and that there is a risk of falling off, he says.

Fundamentally, it also has to do with the fact that competition has become fiercer as globalisation has intensified. And while it is all very well that Danish businesses in general are doing excellently in the global competition, for the individual, the developments can seem both complex and threatening.

- It is both the possible gains and possible losses that have increased. If you do well, you not only do business in Denmark, but the whole world. But the risk of failing has also become greater as competition has increased, says Lars Løkke Rasmussen.

Globalisation poses challenge to social cohesion

Lars Løkke Rasmussen sees this particularly among the younger generation, where the gap between those who seize global and technological opportunities and those who lag behind has increased significantly compared to previous generations.

- There are plenty of young people who make me proud and happy. They have a mastery of language, an outlook and an ambition for the future that I cannot recall having when I was their age. But then there is also a group that is lagging behind, and for whom the price of lagging - both personal and financial - is greater than it was a generation ago. This poses a challenge to social cohesion, he says. 

And it is here, among other things, that he believes companies can and must play a crucial role.

- I fully acknowledge that you are a small company in a competitive situation in which you naturally have a primary focus on the immediate future and the next quarter.  But there is also a responsibility that goes beyond that. Companies have a responsibility to help educate the next generation rather than simply pointing out that we will face a lack of labour, he says.  

Studies and figures won’t cut it

The responsibility of companies to get Danes to seize the opportunities of globalisation was also emphasised by Minister for Foreign Affairs Anders Samuelsen (The Liberal Alliance) in an interview with DI Business earlier this year. Here, he called for companies to step up and fight for globalisation. 

Even though the Prime Minister is always an advocate for getting involved, he does not believe that well-meaning words from a business leader will make much of an impression on the parts of the population that fear that progress is passing them by. 

- You cannot talk the worries away in a lecture. I think what is really needed is that we equip people to seize the new opportunities. I think it is more important to take action so that the individual can say to themselves, “come on, future, I can take it,” than that some business leaders - or politicians, for that matter - lecture people about not having understood how the world works, he says and adds:
- I also know all the calculations showing that the internal market has been a major boon. But that does not make the working class family look at the future or globalisation any more positively.

According to the Prime Minister, what will make a difference, however, is that companies clearly announce that they have a plan for future automatisation and digitalisation, so that the world can be won. And that is why workers must be upskilled.

- Rather than a theoretical lecture on globalisation, corporate management must tell people that there is room for you in the future, too, but it requires that we enhance your skills.

According to the Prime Minister, the government is already looking closer to home and focusing heavily on the upskilling of Danes. 

- That is why I am so concerned with initiatives to help the weakest children in primary schools. That is why I am so concerned with getting social partners together in a  disruption council, so that we can get a clear picture of the opportunities and risks that exist. And that is why it is so important that we adjust our adult education offers so that they match the needs of the future labour market.

Danish wealth is not a law of nature

Prior to the interview with the Prime Minister, DI Business asked a representative selection of Danes whether they believe Denmark can maintain the position as one of the world’s wealthiest countries. 25 per cent of respondents answered no. But 63 per cent answered yes. Even though the Prime Minister does not wish to respond directly to the Danes’ response, he does not mind talking about his view of Denmark’s future.

- I do not doubt for a second that Denmark will still be a wealthy country in ten years. Our wealth will not crumble in front of our eyes in the course of a few years. But it is also important to be aware that is not some law of nature that Denmark should be one of the world’s wealthiest countries, he says.

It has to do partly with developments at home, but also to a great degree with what happens in the world around us.

- In a world where others are moving forwards, you fall behind if you stand still. Is that a problem? Well, you might not grow poorer simply because others grow richer, but you measure yourself relative to your neighbours, meaning that if other countries pull ahead and we simply maintain our prosperity, we will become poorer by comparison, he says.

Lars Løkke Rasmussen has travelled to China for many years, and one of the things that has struck him on his trips is that there, the parenthesis, so to speak, is the precise inverse.

In China, there is a perception of the country as being an empire that has held that status for centuries, and then there is a historical parenthesis - a century - where China has been hard-pressed. But now, the country is regaining its former greatness, and “it is only a matter of time before the country is again the world’s greatest economy. 

- In Denmark, it’s precisely the opposite. The parenthesis is the golden age in which we currently live. On a ‘good day’, we have had 100 - 200 years where we have done really well. Where we have really made progress and created something unique. We must fight to maintain this, says Lars Løkke Rasmussen.

To emphasise just how crucial it is to make the right decisions, he draws on another experience from his travels.

- I have travelled a lot in South Korea. And I can’t help but think about how differently the development has gone in South and North Korea since the demarcation line was drawn in 1953. On one side of the line, you have the world’s 13th greatest economy. On the other side, you go hungry to bed. And that is despite the fact that these are, in principle, identical countries with the same genetic material, same natural resources, same everything.

Not that the Prime Minister sees any risk of things suddenly going completely wrong in Denmark, but it helps to underline the need to safeguard what we have achieved.

- You cannot simply extend the past and say that Denmark will continue to do well.

Holes in the cheese

Denmark’s basis for remaining a winning nation is very good, if you ask the Prime Minister.

First of all, there is the existing economic situation. This year Denmark stands to achieve the highest growth since 2006. Secondly, optimism in businesses is high, and thirdly, Danish companies and their employees are relatively good at utilising new technological possibilities.

Meanwhile, there is no doubt that the Scandinavian social model is something quite special.

- I think that it is becoming increasingly clear these years that we have certain competitive advantages such as trust, a good work-life balance, flexibility and relatively low income inequality. There is a competitiveness in that model. And that competitiveness is something we all have a responsibility to maintain.

And should the Prime Minister forget that there is unique value in our social model, he is reminded of it again and again these days, when everyone - from the OECD and French President Emmanuel Macron to the fast-growing Asian economies - are looking to Denmark for solutions.

- From the time I started working at Christiansborg in the mid-1990s until now, there has been a clear heightening of interest in Denmark. And that is in all respects. It’s in relation to the green transition, our work-life balance, our flexicurity model and the widespread level of trust in society and at the workplace, he says and adds:

- In fact, it is only Denmark that is not looking towards Denmark, because we are how we are and always look for the holes in the cheese. But the international community’s interest should also spur our own interest in what it is that we do well.

The Prime Minister is, however, quick to add that this should not be along the lines of the Social Democrats in their campaign, “The best Danish invention is Denmark”. In his view, this is far too centred on the status quo.

- All inventions must be developed and maintained. Also in Denmark. It is not as though we have reached the highest stage of development and ought to just stay there. The rest of the world is moving, and we must move, too, he says and adds:

- In that effort, businesses play a lead role. It is the companies that must bring the benefits of globalisation home through exports and interstate commerce. It is the companies that have a responsibility to stay on top of the technological development and automate, adopt robots and maintain competitiveness.  And it is the companies that have a responsibility to ensure that their employees have the necessary skills and can adapt in an increasingly fast-paced world. •
I do not doubt for a second that Denmark will still be a wealthy country in ten years. Our wealth will not crumble in front of our eyes in the course of a few years.
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PUBLISHED: 9/27/2017 LAST MODIFIED: 9/28/2017