DANISH Ambassador Jorgen Munk Rasmussen believes that the issues of climate change and energy security and efficiency will rightly dominate future discussions within the European Union. His homeland has grown from a country dependent on fuel imports to a land which is now self-efficient in energy: Denmark now has ambitious targets to reduce its energy consumption.
The Slovak Spectator spoke to Ambassador Rasmussen about the quality of Danish universities, Denmark’s efficient health-care system, its labour market and about how it is handling the challenges of globalisation.
The Slovak Spectator (TSS): About two years ago the Danish government launched a strategy in order, it said, “to gear Denmark for the future”. This envisions several reform initiatives. What are the main areas where reforms have been planned and why?
Jorgen Munk Rasmussen (JMR): The very short answer is: globalisation, which brings opportunities but also challenges to all countries. Denmark is one of the world’s wealthiest nations, and a recent international survey ranks Danes the happiest people in the world. Denmark also tops rankings from competitiveness to a corruption-free society. However, no country can expect to remain in a comfortable position without preparing for the challenges of globalisation.
In 2005, the Danish government founded a Globalisation Council involving representatives from all parts of Danish society as well as international experts. The work resulted in a strategy published in April 2006, which contains 350 specific initiatives covering all aspects of society. Since I cannot name all of them I would name the most important reforms. Preserving competitiveness, education, innovation and research are key factors, together with good conditions for business and an effective public sector. A major part of the reforms should strengthen the education system from primary school to the universities – and in particular the international aspects of the Danish education and research sector. It also should engage the Danes in lifelong learning.
Reading skills, maths, sciences and English will be emphasised more while kids will be screened for language abilities from the age of three and during their 10-year compulsory education they will be required to participate in at least one international project. Half of all young people should acquire higher education. Universities will be geared towards international ratings to attract foreign students and researchers. Public investment in research and development should reach 1 percent of GDP in 2010 and private sector expenditure 2 percent.
TSS: Slovak academia and educational institutions have often been criticised for being disconnected from the needs of the business, something which has already been reflected in a lack of qualified labour in several areas. Are there close ties between business and academia in your country?
JMR: These ties have traditionally been strong – even though most research and innovation relevant to the development of new consumer products and medicine have taken place in private companies.
Together with the boost in public financing the universities will now be required to engage in a systematic dialogue with private business, double the number of industrial PhDs and establish advanced trainee courses in private companies for talented graduates.
TSS: None of Slovakia’s universities were ranked among the world’s top 500 in the prestigious Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) compiled by the Institute of Higher Education at Shanghai Jiao Tong University. Voices calling on Slovak universities to become more competitive are growing louder. Are Danish universities competitive on the international field?
JMR: According to the latest ranking, three Danish universities are among the 200 best universities in the world: Copenhagen (48th), Aarhus (81st) and Denmark’s Technical University (133rd). Copenhagen is ranked 12th in Europe and the best in the Nordic countries, which is not bad for a country the size of Slovakia. But it is still not good enough.
However, I would also like to mention the Copenhagen Business School (CBS), which – technically speaking – is not a university. CBS has advanced courses offered mostly in English. It attracts students from many EU countries but also from countries further afield such as China.
TSS: What, in your opinion, is the most important factor for a country to attract foreign students?
JMR: Language proficiency is the key. In Denmark, English is the most widely studied language. I started learning English and German and then at high school I started learning French even though I was not a language student but a mathematics student. The study of English now is enforced by the spread of the internet.
But there is one additional thing, which helps Danes a lot in their study of foreign languages: in Denmark we do not have the system of dubbing foreign movies. We have them in the original language and then the Danish translation at the bottom. When I was a kid and we went to the Sunday movies, waiting two hours before being let in, there was an American western and we listened to it in original and read the Danish translation. We learned so much from that. It is still like that.
TSS: Do Danish universities attract many Slovak students?
JMR: Unfortunately, not yet. Last year we had fewer than 30 applications for studies in Denmark. I have to admit that today the formal framework is rather limited. Based on our bilateral cultural agreement, Denmark offers scholarships to Slovak students and junior scientific workers of 15 months’ duration and 2 scholarships for Danish language courses during the summer.
Students from Slovakia aged at least 17-and-a-half can receive a grant covering approximately half the tuition fee for 12-month courses at Danish Folk High Schools.
Finally, some Slovaks study in Denmark as part of EU schemes, such as Erasmus. But we don’t know how many.
Unfortunately, I would not call the ties between Slovak and Danish academia close. Historically speaking, Slovak academia has probably concentrated on contacts with neighbouring countries and nowadays on top-level universities in countries like the US and the UK.
TSS: Denmark is the second-highest country in the Euro Health Consumer (EHCI) ranking, which assesses 31 European countries. What are the factors behind Denmark’s success in the health sector?
JMR: A lot of the normal medical services in Denmark are free of charge and financed via taxes. Denmark has a healthy mixture of public and private hospitals and clinics. There is a guarantee of treatment for serious illnesses which means that the public health insurance system pays for treatment at private hospitals if the waiting lists are too long at public institutions.
Looking at the EHCI, I have noticed that Denmark’s ranking is primarily explained by the categories of “patients’ rights and information” which is linked to the right to a second opinion, patients’ access to their own medical records and active participation in important decisions concerning the health sector. The “e-Health” category is related to the public access to catalogues of quality ranking, e-transfer of medical data and e-prescriptions.
TSS: Are there experiences that Slovakia could use since the country has been struggling with the challenge of reforming its health-care sector?
JMR: You can always learn from countries with a better record. To me an important area to start with would be corruption in the health sector in Slovakia. The stories I hear from Slovak friends about doctors’ demands for under-the-counter payments are pretty terrible. It should be possible to do something effective about this.
TSS: Your country is planning to fully open its labour market to new EU member countries. Is there a lack of qualified labour in Denmark? What are the sectors in greatest need of qualified labour in your country?
JMR: Before the financial and economic crises, unemployment in Denmark was non-existent (2 percent), primarily due to years of economic growth and a flexible labour market: the so-called “flexicurity” system, which makes it easy to hire and fire while combining generous payments to the unemployed and re-employment measures.
Denmark was actively recruiting labour from the other EU-countries most importantly construction workers, engineers, medical specialists, nurses and IT specialists.
This situation is changing. Denmark, too, has started to feel the effects of the economic crisis and seems to be in for a period of negative economic growth. This has immediately affected the construction sector and a lot of foreign, Polish, workers are now leaving Denmark. However, we still lack specialists in other sectors and continue the active recruitment campaigns for engineers, medical specialists, nurses and IT people.
TSS: Do you expect Slovak workers to take up jobs in Denmark in large numbers?
JMR: Denmark has not been a priority country for Slovak labour. But our Slovak friends are certainly welcome and I hope that many will look to Denmark as employment opportunities in other countries (Ireland, UK) seem to subside.
TSS: While in the early 1970s Denmark was completely dependent on imported fuel, 94 percent of which was oil, within about 20 years Denmark had become self-sufficient in energy. How did Denmark achieve this? And what is the situation in the energy field in Denmark today?
JMR: Denmark is the only EU country that is self-sufficient in energy; it generated 130 percent of its needs in 2007. This is a combination of two factors: firstly the extraction of oil and gas from the Danish sector in the North Sea and, secondly, systematic energy efficiency efforts and the introduction of renewable energy sources. Even though Danish GNP has increased 50 percent since 1980 energy consumption has remained the same.
Denmark in February 2008 adopted an energy policy for 2008-11 with very ambitious targets such
as energy savings, energy efficiency, renewable energy, energy taxes, technological development and transport with a view to cutting Denmark’s use of fossil fuels by 15 percent by 2025.
In energy saving the target is a further reduction in consumption by 2 percent up to 2011 and by 4 percent to 2020. By 2011, renewable energy such as wind, waste, biomass, geothermal and solar should provide 20 percent of energy consumption. Today it is 15 percent and the target for 2020 is 30 percent.
The funding for research and development of new technologies will be doubled. Denmark is already in the forefront on wind power with wind turbines from Denmark accounting for half of the installed capacity worldwide.
TSS: Denmark has a broadly developed agricultural sector. Slovakia, by contrast, has been struggling to reform agriculture and make it more effective. What are the lessons that Slovakia could take from Denmark in this area?
JMR: Agriculture was the backbone of Denmark’s economic growth and exports until the late 60s and it received a major boost after Danish membership in the EC in 1973. Today Danish agriculture is highly effective and most production happens in large, technologically advanced units.
It is my impression that Slovak agriculture has not yet adapted its structure, equipment and production methods to modern times. There are too many small and medium-sized holdings for effective production based on up-to-date technology and methods.
There are already a large number of farms in Slovakia – in Hlohovec, Malacky, Blahová, Veľký Meder and Šamorín - owned and managed by Danes. Anecdotal evidence suggests that they produce around 20 percent of the total production of milk and pork in Slovakia.
We have been told that the Danish farmers were not very popular with Slovak farmers in the beginning – because of their very effective production methods – but this situation has been changing. Instead of regarding the Danish farmers as competitors many of their Slovak colleagues now seem to realise that they can learn a lot from the Danes.
TSS: Is Slovakia an attractive investment destination for Danish companies? What areas of Slovak business are interesting for them? And what are the areas that in your opinion promise the best prospects for economic cooperation between Denmark and Slovakia?
JRM: Definitely. We already have around 150 Danish companies in Slovakia: most of them metal and plastic producers located in western Slovakia. However, an increasing number have settled in the central and eastern part of the country. They include international heavyweights such as Ecco, Danfoss and Unomedical. Velux is building a factory in Partizánske.
Slovakia remains attractive for Danish investors – primarily because of its central geographical location, good infrastructure, qualified work force and yet lower cost level than Denmark. Slovakia’s membership in the eurozone will bring added value for some Danish companies.
The metals industry remains of great interest to Danish companies, especially, because of the know-how and quality of labour and specialists in this sector in Slovakia.
When speaking about Danish expertise and exports I would suggest that Danish companies have a lot to offer in almost all the relevant areas of renewable energy sources, energy efficiency and climate friendly solutions.
TSS: In 2008, the international magazine Monocle in its ranking of the 25 most liveable cities ranked Copenhagen top, which should certainly boost the city’s tourism potential. Has the tourism potential between Slovakia and Denmark been explored?
JRM: Unfortunately not. We have noticed an increase in the visits of Danish tourist groups to Slovakia, but not the other way around. Since Monocle cannot be totally wrong I hope that many more Slovaks will wake up to all that Denmark can offer – not only Copenhagen but our beautiful landscape, beaches, and friendly, English-speaking people.
TSS: What aspects of Slovak culture could be interesting to Danish tourists and vice versa? What are the most important cultural links between the countries? Could you name a few activities?
JRM: Slovakia can offer culture in the traditional sense: classical music, opera and ballet. In the area of tourism: beautiful nature with a strong imprint of history by way of castles, manor houses, castle ruins, churches and ancient buildings. An affordable local price level compared to several other EU countries will, of course, not detract from the pleasures of Slovakia.
The presentation of Danish culture in Slovakia has traditionally been centred on the translation of some of the giants of Danish classical literature and philosophy, Hans Christian Andersen and Soren Kierkegaard, by excellent Slovak translators Milan Žitný and Milan Richter.
However, the chief editor of the literary magazine Revue Svetovej Literatúry, Jarmila Samcová, has fortunately taken the initiative to publish a special edition of Danish literature that will be much more comprehensive and introduce Slovak readers to modern Danish authors. And in the years to come we have decided to put more emphasis on Danish music and will start to introduce Danish jazz to the Slovak public. This initiative is still in the planning stage.
TSS: What are the biggest challenges that your homeland faces today?
JMR: The greatest challenge is to integrate all the peoples from different cultures who live in Denmark, in particular the second generation of immigrants from Muslim countries. We have had several waves of immigrants and we have learned a lot from the cultures they have brought to Denmark. We also want them to be fully integrated in Danish social and economic life and to be part of the political and social consensus that is a fundamental part of recent Danish history.
Denmark: general facts
Political system: kingdom
Total area: 43,098 square kilometres
Population: 5.4 million, 126 inhabitants per square kilometre
Official languages: Danish
Currency: Danish krone (DKK)
Key exports: industrial products (esp. pharmaceuticals, wind turbines and furniture), oil,agricultural products
Number of Danish citizens living in Slovakia: several hundred
Sources: www.denmark.dk; the Danish Embassy in Bratislava
2. Feb 2009 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová