An exclusive Fair Observer interview with Speaker of Danish Parliament Mogens Lykketoft.
A prominent Danish politician believes the conflict between Russia and Ukraine over the sovereignty of Crimea is threatening the security of Europe. According to Speaker of Danish Parliament Mogens Lykketoft, Denmark is ready to comply with the European Union’s (EU) punitive measures against Russia and, at the same time, encourages the promotion of political and economic stability in the crisis-hit Ukraine.
A respected politician, Lykketoft has presided over the Danish parliament since 2011, and had previously served in the government of Prime Minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen as the finance minister and minister of foreign affairs. In his capacity as an intellectual, Lykketoft has authored and co-edited several books on politics and society, including The Danish Model: A European Success.
To discuss economic and social developments of Denmark, the rise of xenophobia in Europe and tension between the EU and Russia, Fair Observer spoke to Lykketoft.
Kourosh Ziabari: Sustainable development and the utilization of green, renewable sources of energy are areas in which Denmark has made significant progress. Figures show that Denmark produces around 30% of its electricity through wind power and the country is now seen as the world’s wind power hub. Some rankings also name Denmark as the world’s first producer of electricity through renewable sources. Why have you invested in renewable and sustainable energies so extensively?
Mogens Lykketoft: We want to be at the forefront of development, which we think is absolutely necessary, if we want to secure the long-term survival of our planet without mass migration and conflict as consequences of dramatic climate change. And being at the forefront globally, we hope to commercially profit by being able to deliver state-of-the-art products and technologies to the rest of the world.
Ziabari: In recent years, Denmark has toughened immigration rules and regulations for foreign nationals who seek permanent residency in the country. Many members of parliament, especially from the Danish People’s Party, have advocated for imposing stricter measures on foreign citizens trying to receive asylum in Denmark or getting married to Danes. Danish society especially seems to be unwilling to receive Muslims as new citizens. What’s your view on that? Are there certain reasons why Denmark has become unwelcoming to Arabs, Africans and Muslims?
Lykketoft: You are right [that] tougher rules have been introduced, but the reasons for most Danes are not the ones you mention. Stronger regulations are an answer to developments in other European countries as well, and aim to limit the number of immigrants from very different cultures to a size. [We also] have reason to believe that we can manage successful integration in Danish society and on the Danish labor market.
Ziabari: Further to my previous question, I would like to ask you about the rise of xenophobia in Europe. You surely remember the mass shootings of July 22, 2011, at the Workers’ Youth League camp in Norway by Anders Behring Breivik. Do you think the peaceful coexistence of followers from different religions has been undermined in Europe? Is it true that Muslims face difficulties in not only practicing their religious rituals, but also in interacting with their fellow European citizens?
Lykketoft: I don’t think, and I certainly don’t hope, that there will be a general trend of animosity toward Muslims because of religion or a reaction against multiculturalism. Of course, we all know this is the case in certain circles, but it is not the situation in the general public. Breivik’s horrific massacre in Norway was the work of a madman and contributed to the understanding that all with a social responsibility have to argue and fight against extreme expressions of xenophobia.
The conflict over Crimea and eastern Ukraine is extremely tragic and dangerous for peace and stability in eastern Europe and globally. Denmark is part of the economic sanctions against Russia and is ready to take economic consequences for its own industry.
Ziabari: Copenhagen hosted the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference. With the expiration of the Kyoto Protocol’s mandate, do you see the firmness and resolve in industrialized nations to continue working toward a serious and remarkable reduction in their emissions? Your climate and energy minister, Rasmus Helveg Petersen, recently demanded that EU nations unite to reduce CO2 emissions by 40% and increase the use of sustainable energy by 30%. Is it practically possible?
Lykketoft: I think that with [the] little outcomes in Copenhagen, we finally have reasons for some optimism after the latest decisions over the reduction of emissions inside the European Union and the agreement signed by President Barack Obama and Xi Jinping in Beijing this November. But it is still too optimistic to expect there will be enough progress to reach the goals presented by Rasmus Helved Petersen.
Ziabari: Your colleague at the Folketing, Margrethe Vestager, has been elected as the European Commissioner for Competition by Jean-Claude Juncker. Do you think she will be able to foster competition laws and preclude the growth of anti-competitive practices in EU economies? What do you think about the arrangement of the newly-appointed Juncker Commission and its 27 members?
Lykketoft: I believe Ms. Vestager will be a strong commissioner in order to enforce true competition inside the EU and lead the fight against tax evasion or tax havens through arrangements in Luxembourg. But there is a huge task to realize the good intentions of the Juncker Commission and create new and sustainable growth in employment. A new consensus has to be established.
Ziabari: According to the Legatum Institute’s 2014 Prosperity Index, Denmark is the world’s fourth most prosperous nation. The ranking is based on eight indices, including economy, entrepreneurship, governance, education, personal freedoms and health. Denmark’s best performance was in the entrepreneurship and opportunity indices, where it ranked second after Sweden. This is despite the financial crisis in the mid-2000s, which affected most European nations, including Denmark. How has Denmark made such remarkable achievements and turned into an ideal place for living, working, business and education?
Lykketoft: Denmark has better conditions for both employees and companies in a well-organized labor market — playing good together with the Danish Welfare and Flexicurity Model. High tax revenues are used to strengthen free access to education, health services, kindergartens and old-aged care. The state supports and encourages cooperation with the business community on research and development. The business environment is favorable with little bureaucracy and rather low corporate tax. Flexicurity means it is easy for companies to hire and fire, but the state also invests a lot in employment insurance and active labor market policy [through] training and further education for those who are unemployed.
Ziabari: During the 164th parliamentary session, Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt talked of her concerns about the rise of the Islamic State (IS) and the fact that some Danes are joining the terrorist organization. How do you think the crisis in Iraq and Syria should be addressed?
Lykketoft: I think civilized nations had no choice but in various ways to support the fight against ISIS [Islamic State]. This terrorist group is destabilizing vast areas of Iraq and Syria, and has shown it is willing to commit genocide against groups with other religious beliefs. ISIS also has the potential to commit dangerous terrorist attacks outside the Middle East and is, therefore, a direct threat to Europe.
Ziabari: In a historic move, the British House of Commons voted in favor of a resolution to recognize an independent Palestinian state. A few days later, the newly-inaugurated Swedish government also announced that it recognized a Palestinian state. What do you think of the growing interest among the European governments to recognize Palestine? What is the Danish government’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
Lykketoft: I think the movement in European parliaments and from the government of Sweden to recognize the State of Palestine is a reaction to the observation that the present Israeli government has no intention to contribute to formation of a sovereign Palestinian state, while this is expressed by the vast majority of member states in the United Nations through numerous resolutions. I understand it is not right now the intention of the Danish government to follow the example of Sweden.
Ziabari: The Danish foreign minister, Martin Lidegaard, traveled to Iran earlier in September and held meetings with Iranian officials. This was the first trip by a high-ranking Danish official to Iran in more than a decade. Does the trip indicate a new phase in Iran’s relations with Denmark? Following the election of President Hassan Rouhani, more than ten EU foreign ministers have traveled to Iran. Is this U-turn in Iran-EU relations a result of Rouhani’s moderate foreign policy and his efforts to reach out to the West?
Lykketoft: I certainly hope that the visit of Mr. Lidegaard to Tehran is part of [a] successful movement toward normalizing relations between Iran and the Western world, through an agreement that makes sure the Iranian nuclear program is for peaceful purpose only. I think both Iran and us have strong interest in developing a genuine cooperation and partnership in the fight against ISIS and other terrorist organizations. And it seems to me that President Rouhani has the same understanding.
Ziabari: The crisis in eastern Ukraine and the dispute over the sovereignty of Crimea continues to tarnish relations between Russia and the EU. What is the stance of Denmark on this growing conflict? Is your country willing to abide by the EU’s economic measures against Russia and restrict its trade with Moscow?
Lykketoft: The conflict over Crimea and eastern Ukraine is extremely tragic and dangerous for peace and stability in eastern Europe and globally. Denmark is part of the economic sanctions against Russia and is ready to take economic consequences for its own industry. We support all efforts to contribute to democratic, institutional and economic stability in Ukraine. We hope that very soon an armistice in eastern Ukraine can take effect, that Russia will stop bullying its neighbors and that it will be generally agreed that Ukraine needs better working relations both with the EU and Russia.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.