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  • Writer's pictureBastian Friborg

Diplomatic interest representation in Denmark

Updated: Jan 9

What does the diplomatic scene in Denmark look like?

There are about 70 diplomatic missions in Denmark (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2020). Each embassy naturally has its ambassador and works for his country's interests and relationship with Denmark.

As a Dane, I believe that

most things work as they should in this country, and it is quite straightforward to work and live here. However, this is not the same picture that many of the ambassadors living here see. They fight every day a battle to penetrate with their messages or have given up because the way things work in Denmark is so much different than elsewhere in the world. It's a problem. It is a problem for the ambassadors who have difficulty doing a proper job for their country, and it is a problem for Denmark as the country may lose its reputation in the international community if it is not to work as a diplomat in the country (Marcussen & Nielsen, 2019).

Denmark's diplomatic appeal is reasonably high, with both embassies and international organizations located in the Greater Copenhagen area. However, these are typically small embassies, with few diplomats employed. Working with the conditions for diplomats in Denmark, so it became attractive for different countries to open or expand embassies in Denmark would benefit both countries (Marcussen & Nielsen, 2019). It's all about networking. However, here I will focus on what difficulties the diplomats experience and touch upon how they can address these issues.

There is a significant resource in the local ambassadors, which is rarely used by Danish politicians or the civil service. There are about 70 ambassadors with one or more employees who have a deep and in-depth knowledge of their home country, both politically, culturally, and commercially. These diplomats often have a good network in their home country, a network that even the most talented Danish diplomats cannot build on a secondment.


As it is today, some of the ambassadors have gathered in groups. These groups typically recur all over the world. They are usually defined by the regional and cultural conditions, where the embassies that represent culturally similar countries or countries from the same region gather to be able to talk and speak with a collective voice to e.g., the Danish government. An example of this was when a group of ambassadors for Muslim countries gathered for a letter to the government during the Muhammad crisis (Marcussen & Nielsen, 2019).

How does interest representation take place in Denmark?

When an embassy has to look after its interests and build relationships in Denmark, as part of fulfilling the mandate the individual ambassador has received from home, then several elements affect the ability to penetrate the decision-makers. We can call them 'BHD." 'BHD' stands for brand, hinterland, and decision-makers. These three elements influence how effectively an ambassador can work in Denmark.

When we talk about 'brand,' it concerns the country the embassy represents. How do the Danish population, the media, and the decision-makers perceive the country of dispatch? The hinterland, in this case, is the sending country, which may be more or less committed concerning Denmark, which will typically be reflected in the ambassador's mandate. What should the ambassador do for his / her country while he/she is in Denmark? Finally, there are the decision-makers, who are ministers, politicians at the national, regional, and local levels, as well as the higher-ranking officials. How can the embassy, ​​with its staff of diplomats, create value for the local community, the region, or Denmark? It is about creating value for the decision-makers so that the embassy does not end up being judged out as being irrelevant. In this connection, it is essential that the ambassador has a strong mandate with him in the meeting with the civil service and politicians, and that figures and facts are in order.

What are the biggest challenges for diplomacy when it comes to interest representation in Denmark?

The ambassadors' biggest challenges regarding advocacy in Denmark can roughly be divided into three categories: culture, language, and media. For many diplomats, there are significant cultural differences between their home country and Denmark, both on the social and administrative levels; this can create tensions and challenges. The language is a difficult barrier to overcome, especially considering that many Danes have an excellent knowledge of English. However, there are not many media or many parts of the central administration that communicate particularly purposefully in English. Finally, the media has a different form in Denmark than in many other parts of the world; it is very independent and proud.


The cultural differences are very much evident in the meetings with Danish stakeholders, including the media, the central administration, the Folketing, and the population. The direct tone and the purposeful rational meeting culture, together with the generally reserved Danish personality, are barriers that are very difficult for foreign diplomats to overcome, even if they are very experienced. In Denmark, not much time for cozy meetings without a formal agenda (Marcussen & Nielsen, 2019).

New diplomats in Denmark will often contact the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs when they apply for a task from home. The expectation is that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has the competencies to help provide the information that can help solve the task. However, this is not the case in Denmark, where the skills are spread over the various sector ministries, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has a more coordinating role in inter-ministerial initiatives. In the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, there is a small unit, the Protocol, which is responsible for receiving the diplomats and, to some extent helping them to be registered in the Danish system and some practical things as well as arranging meetings at the political level. This unit does not have the resources to take care of the embassies' interests in relation to the other ministries, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs does not have the competencies to trump a sector ministry (Marcussen & Nielsen, 2019).

The fact that it is not the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that you should call presents a new challenge: who should you call? The central administration is a jumble of centers, offices, departments, and agencies that can be difficult to find around, even for a driven diplomat. This is partly due to the fact that the English versions of the websites for the ministries are often inferior to the Danish version. It can often be challenging to find out which office to go to to get an answer to your question or have a meeting with the right person (Marcussen & Nielsen, 2019).

When a connection has finally been established to the right office and the right person, it will often be a specialist or chief consultant you meet with in the first place, sometimes even a clerk. This is, in many cases, very unfamiliar to the diplomats who are used to meetings at the executive or political level.

The administration in Denmark is characterized by pragmatism and a consensus-seeking approach to the cases. This often means that a multitude of stakeholders is involved in the preparation of a bill or something else. At the same time, the administration is incredibly rational in purpose; there is no time to take a walk around other topics. Where an ambassador may sometimes need to take a broader talk about the direction and development of relationships, this is too broad and undefined for the civil service (Marcussen & Nielsen, 2019).


The language can be a barrier, although as a diplomat, you usually speak fluent English, you do not necessarily have access to all the information you need in your diplomatic work. Most news media in Denmark are exclusively in Danish, the English-language news media, such as Copenhagen Post, are quite limited in their coverage of events and political initiatives. If you, as a diplomat, want to follow the legislative work in the Folketing, this will be done almost exclusively in Danish (Marcussen & Nielsen, 2019). Besides, the shameful truth that in a busy central administration, it is often easier to handle inquiries in Danish. Knowledge of the Danish language also opens up a wealth of interaction opportunities with the Danes, e.g., for festivals, flea markets, or market days in the local center (Marcussen & Nielsen, 2019).


In a country like Denmark, the press is, to no small extent, the fourth state power. It is the media's most important task to be critical of the administration of power in Denmark. It is a task that the press takes very seriously and cherishes. Where the interest in domestic policy issues of any kind can easily gain access to the media, it is far more difficult for foreign policy events, especially if they do not affect Denmark. The press finds it difficult to take an interest in conditions in other countries unless this other country is the United

States, China, or another similar superpower. In Denmark, ambassador status does not automatically give access to the press, which can be frustrating and difficult to work with, for many who are used to societies where status has a greater significance than is the case in Denmark (Marcussen & Nielsen, 2019).

How can diplomacy take care of its interests even better in Denmark?

Interest representation can be worked on in many ways in Denmark. Here three are mentioned with the certainty that it is possible to combine and subtract and use an altogether different method.

Groups of ambassadors

Diplomats around the world need like-minded people to share experiences, information, and experiences with, as otherwise, it can be a lonely and challenging job. This also applies to Denmark. The ambassadors like to meet in small groups, where they can find and build deeper, trust-based relationships. The groups can be knowledge-sharing forums, negotiation groups where several countries come together to stand more influential in a negotiation with the host country, or the groups can have a more social character. The groups are often formed based on geographical proximity, as this is presumed to imply a certain degree of common foreign policy positions.

In Copenhagen, the most important diplomatic groups are the EU Group, the Nordic countries, the African countries, the Arab countries, the ASEAN countries, and the Latin American countries (Marcussen & Nielsen, 2019). Cooperation in these groups can increase, especially the smaller embassies, the opportunity to be heard in the Danish central administration. A senior official appreciates a better time for a group of ambassadors than to an individual. However, there must still be a clear agenda for the meeting. It may be relevant for the groups with a coordinated effort, which may. can be managed from the embassy with the ambassador with the highest seniority or secretarial assistance can be obtained from third parties.

Sector ministries

In the Danish bureaucratic democracy, there is no way around the sector ministries, not even when it comes to foreign affairs. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is no longer alone in pursuing foreign policy, and more and more departments have or are building up their own, strong international competencies in their area. For diplomats in Denmark, it is thus essential to familiarize themselves thoroughly with the political-administrative-economic system in Denmark; otherwise, it can be challenging to accomplish quite a lot in Denmark. This task can seem vast, especially when the English-language websites often do not have the same information as the Danish ones. Hence, it can usually pay off for the embassies to have local employees (Marcussen & Nielsen, 2019) or for shorter or longer periods hire assistance from Danes, who understands the political-administrative-economic system and can find the right contacts.

The media

The relationship with the public and the Danish population can be a help for some ambassadors who want to get through to the decision-makers. However, it is the fewest ambassadors who have a network among journalists, and only quite a few ambassadors are visible in the Danish media picture. There may be several reasons for this, as some are simply not interested in working via the media, and others have difficulty working with the Danish press, which can often seem uninterested or dismissive. When the ambassadors work with the media, it is important to clarify what they, as diplomats, can give in terms of statements and background. Often, ambassadors, with their in-depth knowledge of their home country, will be excellent sources of background material and perhaps history, however less relevant in relation to a quick comment on events, as they must here represent their home country (Marcussen & Nielsen, 2019).

An ambassador who wants to work with the media can choose to be interviewed for a portrait or contact the smaller, local media around the country, to spread positive stories about his home country and cooperation with Denmark.

Several sides of the same coin

Ambassadors in Denmark must, therefore, be able to work in several different ways, to perform well in Denmark and get the most out of their stay. There must be classic diplomatic work, with high-level negotiations, inter-ministerial work with professionals in the sector ministries, and work through the media with the population's view of the ambassador's country.

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