One of the founders of the Alternative party, Niko Grünfeld, was born and grew up in Jutland. He studied at Aarhus School of Business, supplementing his studies with courses in leadership, meditation and psychology from schools in the US and England.
Niko’s first job was for AGF Football Club as a PR and business consultant before being employed by the consultancy firm, Kaospiloterne. He helped develop and lead the firm, which works with clients from both the private and the public sector. In 2006, he started his own educational company within the health sector.
Niko has been treasurer of Alternative for two periods and has been involved in setting up six local subsidiaries around Copenhagen.
What makes a good local politician?
A good local politician tries to include citizens in as many political questions as possible and – more importantly – gives them an actual mandate to set the agenda at the Town Hall. A good local politician speaks less than he or she listens, and inspires people to take an interest in political decisions.
We need some kind of system of representation in a complex modern society, but whenever local solutions are to be found, we must include the people whose everyday lives will be affected. We’ve already seen some relevant initiatives around the world that we can draw inspiration from. Froome in the UK and the People’s Lottery in Toronto are two wonderful examples of innovation where representative democracy is supplemented with local direct democracy tools.
Has working for Kaospiloterne been an advantage to you as a local politician?
I believe so. It was a time of incredible creativity and there was space for radical ideas and a firm belief in the need for new ways of thinking about education and knowledge. It taught me how to practice leadership in an environment of inclusiveness and full-on entrepreneurship.
Which areas politically are closest to your heart?
I am concerned that Copenhagen is developing into a city for wealthy people only. Flats are becoming more and more expensive and people with average incomes are having a hard time finding an affordable place to live.
As well as housing issues we must think global – and act local. The global climate changes we are facing are of a fundamental character. We need to address this from a local perspective.
What are your specific policies in these areas?
Regarding the housing market, we need to take action on several levels. First of all, the existing space in the city needs to be put to better use. There are lots of possibilities for using the attics of building all over town as flats. Secondly, it’s crucial that we build more housing for all, avoiding the private market that pushes lower-income families out of the city.
On climate issues, we should reduce the amount of meat served in public institutions and serve 100 percent organic dishes.
We also need to preserve the cultural and natural legacy of the city by not building in parks or other similar places. Finally it’s crucial to completely rid ourselves of fossil fuels and go over to green engines – not only in public transport, but in the private sphere as well.
A lot of expats and non-Danish speakers can vote, but some feel that perhaps it’s not worthwhile using their vote. What do you say to that, and what could you do for this group if you were elected?
Voting is not only a choice, it’s an obligation. I believe that when Alternative gets its first term in the Town Hall, we will see radical changes almost immediately. One thing I can promise is that we will change the debating culture by focusing on solutions rather than check-mate politics.
What would you do to ensure a ‘greener’ Copenhagen in the future? Are you in favour of the ban on diesel cars that Frank Jensen wants to impose from 2019?
The proposal is indeed interesting. I’m happy to see that most parties recognise that we have a massive environmental crisis. That said, I am not satisfied with the tempo – either as regards attitude or action when it comes to climate policies. I believe that we can dramatically cut down on private cars in Copenhagen much sooner, while giving reasonable incentives for people to choose more pollution-friendly traffic alternatives.
Do you have any plans to strengthen public transport – and maybe even introduce lower fares?
Public transport is the key to cutting down on the amount of private cars in Copenhagen. Private cars are annoying for two reasons: they pollute and they take up a space we could otherwise use for flats, green areas, sports etc.
Public transport needs to be strengthened to persuade people to leave the car at home. This means more public transport, cheaper public transport and greener public transport. But let’s not forget that over 60 percent of Copenhageners travel by bike more than once a day, so we need to strike a balance between modern and sustainable public transport and making it more comfortable, secure and attractive for people to ride their bikes.
How do you feel companies can best grow in Copenhagen so that we continue to have prosperity and jobs for its citizens?
In the Alternative we want to attract entrepreneurs and startups of great diversity and with crazy ideas and inventions. Today there is not enough public assistance given to companies.
What is the main difference between your policies and those of the established blue and red blocs?
We don’t belong to any of the two long-established blocs in Danish politics. The Alternative belongs to the green bloc and we are value-based. This means that we’re ready to co-operate with anyone who wishes to set the scene for sustainable policies that take care of the environment while being socially and economically viable.
Your party program has a lot of ambitious goals but how would you pay for them without raising taxation significantly?
We do not need to raise taxes to fulfil our ambitions. Politics are a matter of economic prioritisation, and at the moment, we are spending way too much on projects that do not work.