It began as an open event where politicians could meet their constituents, face to face. And it caught on, big time!
In the years since its humble beginnings in 2011, the four-day political gathering, whose name in English means ‘the people’s meeting’, has seen its number of participants swell to 60,000 – treble the number who attended in the first year.
All of parliament’s political parties will have a presence in the tiny harbour town of Allinge on the island of Bornholm, where the meetings are held. But, not everyone attending Folkemødet will be a rank and file voter. Many of them will be representatives from unions, businesses, universities, NGOs, culture organisations and local governments. In short: lobbyists.
Roskilde minus the Stones
Folkemødet was the brainchild of the then interior minister, Bertel Haarder, who was inspired by a similar event in Sweden and decided to bring the idea to Denmark. Haarder is proud of his baby.
“I had a budget for promoting rural areas and Bornholm received one million kroner to get the ball rolling,” said Haarder. “The success proves there was a need for such an event.”
Haarder said that he wanted “a mixture of a summer camp for grown-ups, a Roskilde Festival and a political fair – and that’s exactly what I got".
This year, over 1,500 events are scheduled to take place between the opening gavel today and lights out on Sunday night. All the events are free and open to the public.
Some say that the immense success of Folkemødet has created a problem. Instead of engaging in a freewheeling give and take, they say that leaders like Helle Thorning-Schmidt and Lars Løkke Rasmussen (Venstre) merely use their allotted time on stage to deliver their usual stump speeches and play to the more than 400 assembled media representatives with precious little contact with ‘the people’.
Good for business
Whether you say Folkemødet is for the people or for the politicos, there’s one group of people who are happy that someone is throwing a party in their back yard: Bornholm businesses.
Allinge Røgeri, a harbourfront fish restaurant, is ground zero for much of the long weekend’s activities. Speeches will be given from the tiny stage in the corner of the restaurant, and organisations will fill up the surrounding area with tents. Attendees are sure to check in for a smoked herring lunch or at least a beer. Owner Rina Hansen said the event is a plus for businesses on the island.
“It if course great while the event is going on, and the effect carries over because it shines a spotlight on Bornholm,” she said.
For an island heavily dependent on tourism, bringing in enough guests to double the island’s population – a couple of weeks before the main tourist season even kicks in – is a dream come true.
Ray Weaver will be posting stories from Folkemødet all weekend. Follow him on Facebook and at cphpost.dk