Opinion | What can we do for you today?

I have often wondered why foreigners willingly choose to move to Denmark. The weather is bad, the language is hard to learn, and taxes and costs of living are high. So why do you move here?

Earlier this year an article appeared on the website of Politiken newspaper. The headline was ‘British blogger praises Denmark to the skies’ (Britisk blogger skamroser Danmark). The British blogger was Cathy Strongman, who followed her husband to Denmark three years ago. The story of Cathy Strongman soon became one of the most read – and talked about – articles of the day.

What made me take notice was what Cathy Strongman focused on in her praise of Denmark. She focused on the fact that men can take a leave of absence when they become fathers, just as women can when they become mothers. That it is safe to walk and bike the streets and crime is low.  That we have high quality healthcare and childcare. Cathy Strongman points to our strength as a society: our welfare model.

The Western world is experiencing massive demographic challenges. Our populations are ageing, and there are an ever fewer number of people of the working age. In Denmark only four enter the labour force for every five who leave. That is a huge challenge for our model of society. There is no quick fix to this problem. But part of the solution is to attract and maintain a foreign workforce. Especially when we experience labour shortages in areas that demand well educated and highly-qualified employees. If we cannot attract foreigners and make them want to stay in Denmark, then Danish businesses will be forced to move their production elsewhere.

Highly-educated, resourceful people have the world as their playground. We need you more than you need us. This is a fact that we Danes may have been slow to realise. We must not take for granted that foreigners will continue to make Denmark their home.

Denmark cannot and must not compete on low tax rates and the cost of living. Our strengths lie elsewhere. But we can make an extra effort in securing that you and your families have the best possible living conditions in Denmark. And we as the national association of local governments have a special responsibility in this respect. We set up job fairs for the spouses of expats. We collaborate with the companies that employ you to co-ordinate our efforts. Most local governments have developed ‘welcome packs’ that aim to help newly-arrived foreigners navigate the Danish institutions, rules and regulations. But we can do better, and we must do better.

That is why we in the Kommunernes Landsforening (Local Government Denmark) argue that local governments should be able to establish and run international classes within the public Danish schools. We think that is one way to ensure that there is access to international education for your children, also outside of Copenhagen, Aarhus and other large cities.

Danes are a bit reserved. This is a matter of culture and not subject to rules and regulations. But local governments can – and many try to – help foreigners and Danes bridge the gap. Some help foreigners to get to know and become active in Danish civil society associations. Outside the workplace and institutions of education, this is where Danes make friends. And it is also where you can make your mark on society.

Civil society associations are one reason for the well-functioning Danish welfare model. For generations citizens in Denmark have met in associations and debated how to better our society. You are – at least for now – one of these citizens. Many of you can vote in the upcoming local elections. And all of you are welcome to speak your mind and make your mark on society.

Jan Trøjborg was formerly the president of Kommunernes Landsforning, the national association of local governments. He passed away on May 6.

Originally published by the Consortium for Global Talent.