EVEN though Denmark is closing its diplomatic mission in Slovakia due to budgetary constraints, Danish Ambassador Christian Konigsfeldt believes that Slovakia and Denmark, “both relatively small countries in size and population, but definitely great nations”, will succeed in finding new ways to expand their ties. The Slovak Spectator spoke to Konigsfeldt about Copenhagen’s green success and Denmark’s high ranking in the area of employment culture, as well as Danish farmers in Slovakia and his impressions of the country which he will soon be leaving.
The Slovak Spectator (TSS): Denmark is closing down its diplomatic mission in Slovakia. What are the reasons behind the decision and how will this move affect links between Slovakia and Denmark?
Christian Konigsfeldt (CK): In January 2014, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark launched the largest reform of the Danish Foreign Service in recent times, implementing an adjustment of the network of Danish Missions abroad. Budgetary constraints made it necessary for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to make some difficult decisions. There will be changes to the Danish presence in more than 25 countries. Therefore, Denmark unfortunately must close its embassy in Bratislava as of July 31, 2014. Missions will also be closed in Cyprus, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Slovenia, Milan (Trade Council) and in Libya. Denmark attaches great importance to finding new ways to continue and expand the good and close political, economic, cultural, commercial, etc. cooperation with Slovakia and to pursue Danish interests in Slovakia after the closure of the mission. I am confident that Slovakia and Denmark, both relatively small countries in size and population, but definitely great nations, will succeed in this endeavour. A request has been submitted to the Slovak authorities for having the Ambassador of Denmark to Austria side-accredited to Slovakia. We are now awaiting the official response.
TSS: The Danish capital was awarded the European Commission’s prestigious European Green Capital Award for 2014. How did Copenhagen achieve this?
CK: Several factors contributed to Copenhagen being awarded the European Green Capital Award. Overall, the jury concluded that Copenhagen is a highly successful green economy, with an efficient communication strategy and a commitment to develop its role as a model for Europe and beyond. Copenhagen focuses on tackling environmental, economic and social concerns through green economic development. An example is the development of an urban area and the expansion of infrastructure in the North Harbour, which will also include a “Green Laboratory” with a focus on innovation and development of eco-technologies. Likewise, Copenhagen aims to increase the number of people biking to work or school from 35 percent (in 2010) to 50 percent in 2015. This aim is, moreover, part of Copenhagen’s ambiguous goal to be CO2 neutral in 2025.
When speaking about awards, I would like to add that Copenhagen, for the third time, and the second year in a row, was identified on June 14 as the world’s most liveable city by the urban lifestyle magazine Monocle. The reason behind the award is a mix of culture, tolerance, efficient public transport, green areas and good architecture. Copenhagen is a city that encourages creativity and which is a nice place to live. The song “Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen” is most appropriate in this context.
TSS: The latest continental study by the global consulting and advisory firm Great Place to Work ranked Denmark second (after Germany) in terms of having the best working environment in Europe. Why, in your opinion, have so many Danish companies scored so highly? What makes company culture in Denmark unique?
CK: Danish companies are characterised by a ‘flat hierarchy’ with an informal structure of cooperation and communication. This means that the opinions of employees on issues related to the company are considered important and listened to by the management. Employees also have their representatives in company boards. Moreover, Danish companies are founded on mutual trust, cooperation and teamwork between employees and management. This Danish company culture explains the high ranking in the survey. Let me add that in Denmark employees are expected to work independently, to be responsible and to be ready to give their opinions and advice. It is the experience that employees who are given responsibility in general have high work satisfaction. In addition, a well-functioning balance between work and leisure time and promising career opportunities also contributes to Danish company culture.
TSS: A number of Danish farmers are already active in Slovakia, while other projects are in the pipeline, for example, a plan to revitalise a former pig farm in Palárikovo and develop it into one of the biggest pig farms in Slovakia. Why are Danish farmers attracted to Slovakia?
CK: Denmark has a historic and strong tradition in agriculture and today Danish farmers are considered among the best in the world, as they have a high level of efficiency and quality of production. As I mentioned in an interview with The Slovak Spectator in 2013, when the markets in central Europe opened after 1989, the Danish government decided to stimulate reforms in eastern European countries to advance economic and industrial growth and boost closer economic cooperation between Denmark and those countries. A venture capital fund was established, providing loans, share subscriptions etc., on normal commercial market conditions. Slovakia benefited from this. Several Danish farmers, as well as industrial enterprises, utilised the venture capital fund to invest in Slovakia. The loans naturally had to be paid back by those who utilised the possibility. Today, Danish farmers contribute to Slovak economic growth, they create employment, they pay Slovak taxes, they ensure a transfer of know-how and new technology and they contribute to some degree of self-sufficiency. For example, approximately 40 percent of pork production in Slovakia comes from farms
in Slovakia owned by Danes.
I was very disappointed and saddened when I noticed negative media reports in Slovakia about Danish farmers. They are in Slovakia to produce crops, milk, pork, etc. They are hard working as well as professional – in short they do a tremendously good job.
TSS: Earlier this year the Danish government revealed a package of measures to help the ailing economy out of the crisis. Could you describe some of the key measures the government plans to enact to heal the economy? What are the main challenges the economy faces?
CK: The economic plan “Denmark out of the crisis – business in growth” consists of 89 initiatives with particular improvements of the environment for small and medium-sized companies.
The key objectives of the plan are to make it cheaper and easier to be a company, to strengthen the companies’ access to finance, to ensure lower prices for consumers and companies and to improve the recruitment of skilled labour to create more advanced production in Denmark. The Danish economy is challenged by three main issues: productivity, demography and a tight economic policy. After many years with a growing workforce in Denmark, big generations are now leaving the labour market and smaller generations are entering. With fewer shoulders to carry and a tight economic policy as a consequence of the economic crisis, a solid and embracing welfare state as the Danish has its challenges. However, a recent report from The Europe 2020 Competitiveness Report ranks Denmark as the fourth most competitive economy in Europe, with specific emphasis on the Danish ‘flexicurity’ system, as it creates the most efficient labour market in Europe. Flexicurity, in particular, is one of the cornerstones of the Danish welfare system. Other crucial factors to the benefit of the competitive economy are the innovative capacity, the enterprise environment, the level of education and training and, finally, sustainability.
TSS: Has the potential for Danish-Slovak economic cooperation been fully tapped? Where do you see room for further ties?
CK: More than 50 Danish subsidiaries were established in Slovakia during the last 20 years. In addition to approximately 13,000 jobs in Slovakia, Danish companies contribute to the diversification of the Slovak economy. Danish employers and Slovak employees seem to be a good match and Slovakia offers important parameters, such as a central position in Europe, and a trained, loyal and trustworthy labour force. Luckily, there is still an immense scope for expanding and strengthening the bilateral cooperation, e.g. in research and innovation, in services, in tourism – just to mention a few examples. So, there is attention to the Slovak market, and Danish companies still have Slovakia on their radar.
TSS: Denmark has a respected food and restaurant culture, with some Danish restaurants regularly making it to the top of the rankings. What are the factors behind the success of your food culture? Is it something traditional or a rather recently developed trend?
CK: I believe that a number of factors lie behind the success of Danish restaurants. The concept of the “Nordic kitchen” producing gourmet food mainly based on local ingredients combined with molecular gastronomy was new in Denmark until some years ago. However, Danish food and restaurant culture took a huge leap forward when the Danish restaurant NOMA was selected as among the best restaurants in the world. That suddenly put Danish cuisine in the spotlight. Through creativity and hitherto unutilised ingredients from Nordic nature, Danish restaurants caught the attention of foreign reviewers and people with an interest in food, and thus became famous worldwide. Restaurant NOMA has created the perception in Denmark that gourmet food does not necessarily have to be from a foreign cuisine, but can actually be Danish. This has also inspired other chefs in Denmark to pay attention to what is readily available in the local market.
TSS: How would you assess the country’s investment environment based on the reactions of Danish investors here? Where do you see room for improvement?
CK: In market economies doing business is dependent on supply and demand. And Slovakia offers a lot, e.g. a central position in Europe, a trained, loyal and hardworking labour force, possibilities to make acquisitions of industrial as well as agricultural facilities, etc. As in all other industrialised countries, education is the foundation for dynamic job creation and economic growth. And I talk about education in the broadest sense of the word: from primary school to universities and also vocational training.
Today’s buzzwords, such as economic growth, creation of jobs and green economy will continue to be high on the agenda in years to come, and success will depend on progress in terms of innovation, research and development. I believe that synergy and cooperation between educational institutions and companies is crucial because this is the best way to prepare students for the labour market. Slovakia seems to be aware of these challenges and is taking steps to deal with them. This was, for example, illustrated by the recent Slovak-Nordic Innovation Forum, where experts from the Nordic countries gave advice and spoke about their experiences.
On a final note, I would like to stress the importance of competent authorities engaging proactively in conflict resolution and in finding appropriate solutions if and when foreign investors experience difficulties.
TSS: In your opinion, do Danish and Slovak people know enough about each other? What aspects of Slovakia might Danish tourists find attractive?
CK: I would like to see an increase of personal contacts at all levels between Denmark and Slovakia. Slovakia has beautiful and diversified nature, and it boasts of cultural heritage sites, several of them on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. You can eat and drink well in splendid company with happy Slovak citizens. For sure, Slovakia has a lot to offer and Danes are attracted to such qualities.
TSS: You will be leaving Slovakia shortly. How would you sum up your Slovak experience?
CK: I will unfortunately be leaving Slovakia shortly, after having lived here for 12 months. The strongest memory, which I will always carry with me, is the honest hospitality and warm friendliness of all the Slovaks I have met. At the professional level, I have, almost without exception, been received with openness and a willingness to exchange views and to jointly seek solutions to problems. Denmark and Slovakia share the same values and visions for the future.