In keeping with tradition, Bornholm Mayor Winni Grosbøll took the stage first at the opening of Folkemødet 2016.
She spoke briefly about how much things had changed since last year’s meeting, when the parliamentary election was first and foremost on everybody’s mind. She mentioned the refugee crisis, the increasing threat of terrorism across Europe, and wryly mentioned that the political winds in Denmark have shifted since last year’s Folkemødet.
Wryly, of course, because Winni is a well-known Socialdemokraterne politician, and the man she was introducing to do the keynote address this morning was PM Lars Løkke Rasmussen, Venstre’s number one man.
As he took the stage, the PM took a photo of the crowd with his mobile phone.
“You know how it is these days,” he quipped. “If it is not on Twitter or Instagram, it didn’t happen.”
“Would you like to see the slides from my summer vacation?”
Rasmussen continued in a relaxed and folksy style as he spun a tale about Bertel Haarder and his methodology for convincing his fellow Danish politicians to create Folkemødet.
“He was like that friend you have who will not stop talking about his summer holiday, even in October,” said Rasmussen.
The PM was referring to a trip that Haarder took in 2006 to the Swedish forerunner of Folkemødet, Almedalveckan, which each year draws up to 11,000 visitors to the Swedish island of Gotland. Haarder would have no rest until he had created something similar in Denmark.
After subtle and not-so-subtle arm twisting and letters sent outlining the plan, Haarder got his wish in 2011. Rasmussen marvelled at how the ‘baby’ has grown in its six years of existence.
“The attendance is much larger than the Swedish version, and even though it has its roots in Sweden, Folkemødet is Danish at its core,” he said.
The PM praised Grosbøll and the people of Bornholm for allowing the population of the island to be doubled and perhaps tripled over the course of the four-day meeting. He also singled out the 300 volunteers who work to make it all happen. Rasmussen’s mother was a Bornholmer, and his affection for the island was obvious.
“It is good that we are on Bornholm,” he said. “We are all a little different while we are here. We leave the neckties at home, relax a bit more and get a little more down to earth with each other.”
Rasmussen had to head back to Copenhagen for an afternoon meeting with the US secretary of state, John Kerry, but promised to be back on Bornholm by the evening.
“As much as I look forward to meeting with John Kerry, I look even more forward to coming back to Folkemødet,” he said.