Our view | Ringing out the year of the foreign voter
The best way to channel the momentum gained from the 2013 local election would be to use it to improve the status of English here
December is a time for looking forward, as well as back. As we look back, one of the things we can be most satisfied with is that 2013 was the year when foreign residents became politically attractive as voters for candidates for local council, thanks in no small part to the City of Copenhagen’s efforts to make foreigners aware of their rights. For the 380,000 foreigners living here, voting in local elections gives them a say in their society, the health service, schools, childcare and personal safety issues.
There are no statistics available, but our best estimate is that the turnout among foreign voters was below the national average, but still higher than in the previous local election.
The next logical step would be to give this group the right to vote in the 2015 General Election. The party that leads the charge in this effort can count on the support of this group. You needn’t have lived long in Denmark to know that Danes are pre-occupied with what’s going on in Brussels, which laws the EU is passing, and what effect they will have on them.
In the same way, foreigners living here have an interest in the decisions made by parliament. The laws passed in Copenhagen impact on everyone that lives here, regardless of whether they are a citizen or not. Giving these people the right to vote is the right thing to do. Those disappointed with the tone of the immigration debate could also find that giving foreigners the right to vote might help their cause. Allowing foreigners to fight back by letting them vote expands democracy and adds new voices to the political discourse.
This is also an issue that has a forward-looking aspect to it. The education minister, Christine Antorini (S), has already proposed teaching English in the first year of school. By that time, your average six-year old has already been exposed to English through music, film, video games, cartoons and other aspects of popular culture. Supporting this process with structured learning won’t hurt. The next local step after that would be for Denmark to take the lead in the EU and to enshrine English as an official second language. You could argue that it already is – unofficially at least.
This newspaper is the only news outlet in Denmark that whole-heartedly serves the foreign community. But, we aren’t the only organisation in Danish society that recognises the importance of actively communicating in English. The country’s 50 biggest companies all use English as their corporate language, which means that internal communication, particularly among the most senior employees, takes place in English.
The same situation can be found at our universities. There, 40 percent of all teaching is conducted in English. An ever-increasing amount of scientific research isn’t published in Danish. Danes are secure enough about their language and their culture that this isn’t a worry. On the contrary, learning English is widely seen as the key to a successful career, regardless of the field. All Danes, as people here tell you, speak English. The truth is that some speak it better than others, and most don’t speak it as well as they think they do, so the practice will do them good.
As the curtain closes on 2013, we’d like to say thank you all the candidates who showed an interest in foreign voters this year. Let’s make 2014 continue in that vein and make it the year of the foreign language. Maybe we can even add it to our list of ‘world’s bests’ come next December.