At times it’s awkward being a foreigner in Denmark. And although many people aspire to live here, there is an anti-immigrant rhertoric. Yes, I’m from the UK where we too have a debate going on about immigration. But the language used in Denmark, often by politicians, can at times appear pretty xenophobic.
On Tuesday the Confederation of Danish Industry, DI, held its annual conference. It was a big event and had some impressive speakers including Danish PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the new Finnish PM Alexander Stubb (who stole the show), former Italian PM, Mario Monti and a host of others – including me.
Several months ago DI decided the AGM would focus on how to make Denmark more attractive and friendly towards foreigners. That was a pretty brave move when you realise that even mainstream politicians talk openly about ‘us’ and ‘them’.
The leader of the opposition, Lars Lokke Rasmussen from Venstre, was on stage talking about the issue of ‘social dumping’ and ‘welfare tourism’. He talked openly about closing the door to people the Danes don’t want. The party has already discussed an immigration policy based on religion – yes to Christians and no to Muslims.
DI asked Danes to treat foreigners better and to think of ways to attract more high-skilled workers. There was a call to cut the administrative red tape for foreigners along with more help with understanding tax, schools and housing. There was agreement reached by both the PM and Rasmussen that more affordable international schools will be built (there is a big shortage in Denmark).
When I was on stage with two fellow foreign journalists we also discussed our experiences of Danish life. On the one hand there’s a great work-life balance. But on the other, it can feel hard to fit in (and I know language is an obvious barrier). But I was very impressed with just how welcoming people involved with DI were. I do now feel that Danes – even politicians – are listening. And that can only be a good thing.
And you can watch all the speeches and discussion from the DI conference by clicking here. It includes the Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubbs, who really is worth a watch.