“During the Covid-19 pandemic, we have … willingly accepted certain limitations in our own daily lives to keep those who are most vulnerable safe”

Putting the needs of society first

Minister of Foreign Affairs of Denmark Jeppe Kofod


December 2020 The Interview / Text by Andrew Howitt / Photos by Claus Bech

Denmark’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Jeppe Kofod, a Social Democratic politician, was first elected as a member of Danish parliament in 1998. Between 2014 and 2019, he served as a member of the European Parliament, where he was also vice president for the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats. He was appointed to his current position by Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen in June 2019.

Could you tell me about Denmark’s response to the coronavirus pandemic?

In a word: samfundssind. It’s a distinctly Danish word that can be roughly translated as “community spirit”. Samfundssind is to put the needs of society as a whole above our own individual needs and wishes. During the Covid-19 pandemic, we have rallied around this concept and have willingly accepted certain limitations in our own daily lives to keep those who are most vulnerable safe. It’s a selfless attitude, which rests on a sense of societal duty. I think, at heart, this is something we Danes and Japanese share.

In essence, we have adopted a better-safe-than-sorry approach in Denmark, which by all accounts has served us well. The Danish government reacted swiftly with a total lockdown followed by a gradual, responsible reopening of society. This has enabled us to protect both public health — especially vulnerable and at-risk groups — and our national economy.

We’ve also enacted several support schemes for citizens, businesses, associations, and culture and sports organisations. Promoting economic recovery quickly and decisively while focusing on green and sustainable solutions have been crucial to our approach. Our actions include a number of guarantee schemes for businesses and two major support packages targeting exports and inward investment, measures that have had broad support across Danish parliament.

How have you seen EU member states strengthening ties through this experience?

We are in the process of overcoming an unprecedented crisis in an area where the EU has limited competence. In spite of this, we have helped each other in ensuring the return of Europeans stranded abroad, laying the foundation for common procurement of vaccines, and agreeing to strengthen the EU’s health programme. I believe the European Union and its 27 member states will emerge from this crisis stronger on the other side.

How would you describe the relationship between Denmark and Japan?

Denmark and Japan have a solid tradition of cooperation and 153 years of diplomatic relations. The very good personal relations between the Danish Royal Family and the Japanese Imperial Family is a symbol of the strong relationship between our countries. The Japanese Imperial Family has an open invitation from the Danish Queen to visit Denmark, which we hope they will be able to accept as soon as the situation allows.

Personally, I hope to go to Japan at the beginning of 2021, to develop our already strong bilateral relationship even further.

Could you tell me about Denmark’s cooperation and partnership with Japan in the international community?

Denmark is a strong supporter of Japan’s efforts to reform the United Nations and other important international institutions that are vital for an international rules-based society.

Free trade is another important component in the international community and one that Japan has made a strong effort over the past decade to improve. We are very happy with the EU–Japan Economic Partnership Agreement.

What are your hopes for Denmark–Japan ties once we are finally able to get through this time of uncertainty?

With Prime Minister [Yoshihide] Suga’s announcement that Japan aims to become carbon neutral by 2050, we are excited to see the partnerships that will be born in the area of sustainability, energy, and green diplomacy.

We stand ready to cooperate with Japan on a green energy transition and to share our experiences, for example, on a regulatory framework that would help the country tap into its large offshore wind potential.

Denmark has great expertise in wind power generation — especially offshore — which could be an important component in helping Japan to reach carbon neutrality. At the same time, Japanese technical expertise in areas such as carbon capture and the use of hydrogen can help our own ambitious goal of a 70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared with 1990 levels.

It is in times of global uncertainty that the international community needs to come together. Both Japan and Denmark are good examples of countries that support the international community, as we are strong believers in multilateralism and a rules-based world order.

What are Denmark’s climate goals and how is the nation working towards achieving them?

Denmark has a national target of becoming a climate-neutral society with net zero emissions by 2050 at the latest. Work is already underway, which includes negotiating a climate agreement that will set the path for quadrupling our offshore wind capacity by 2030.

Denmark will invest heavily in green renovation of infrastructure and accelerate green heating and transport, as well as develop a green tax reform. We aim to build back better and greener by turning the challenge of the pandemic into an opportunity to make things right.

In Denmark, we have gradually transitioned our society away from fossil fuels, and particularly coal-fired power generation. Since 1990, Denmark’s GDP has grown by 55%, energy consumption has fallen by 6%, and CO2 emissions have dropped 38%. We have achieved this through deployment of renewable energy such as on- and offshore wind and energy efficiency measures.

Could you give me an overview of your phone conversation with Japan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Toshimitsu Motegi in August?

Both Foreign Minister Motegi and I expressed our great appreciation of the strategic partnership between Denmark and Japan and the good and close bilateral relationship between our countries. We agreed that we want to strengthen this partnership within important areas such as energy, environment, health, digitalisation, and food products. Both of us put emphasis on cooperation on pharmaceutical products and green energy.

We agreed on the need to have closer cooperation on efforts to tackle Covid-19. This cooperation should, among other things, ensure increased protection of data and increased support of the World Health Organization. Both Japan and Denmark are keen supporters of the rules-based international system, which is one of the reasons we have a strong relationship.

“We stand ready to cooperate with Japan on a green energy transition”