There are some birthdays that are more sparkling than others. In Denmark, that of Prince Christian, eldest son of the heir to the crown, Prince Frederik, was extensively reported by the media. For her 18th birthday, a grand gala dinner took place on October 15 at Christiansborg Castle in Copenhagen. Among the 400 guests were 196 young delegates from the country’s 98 municipalities and 80 others representing the sporting and cultural worlds. The festivities, with horse guards and dancing concerts, were designed to maintain the cohesion of the country around the royal family, the symbol of national unity. The monarchy prides itself on being the oldest on the continent, since Harald Blue Tooth, crowned in 958.
Everything would be fine in one of the most prosperous countries in the world if Russia had not invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022. This aggression caused trauma in Denmark. Saint Petersburg is located 1,100 kilometers from Copenhagen, at the other end of the Baltic Sea on which Russian and Danish sailors have continued to cross paths for centuries. Suddenly, the gigantic neighbor represents a concrete threat.
The electroshock had many consequences. In June 2022, a referendum approved Denmark’s participation in the European Union’s common security and defense policy. Six months later, the social democratic party and the liberal Venstre party, the two parties which usually alternate in power, decided to govern together in a demonstration of national unity. And last June, a large majority of deputies representing seven parties adopted a foreign and security policy strategy providing for a sharp increase in the defense budget over ten years, up to 2% of gross domestic product from 2030.
So the peace dividend is over. For decades, Denmark has seen itself as a small country in terms of size and population, but open to the open sea, trade and technological innovation. If the kingdom was a fighter during the last millennium, it has lost all its wars for two hundred years and society has become profoundly pacifist. The nation is experienced as a large community where trust and solidarity prevail. A culture of personal responsibility prevails, supported by a generous welfare state.
Denmark is one of the countries with the highest tax and social security rates in the world, which guarantees free medical care and education. However, the increase in the defense budget will lead to reducing these advantages. Society is not prepared for it.
The new geopolitical situation also brings the country back to its responsibilities regarding Greenland. This immense frozen territory where 57,000 inhabitants live is governed according to a mode of very broad autonomy, but its defense falls to the authorities in Copenhagen. Its central position in the North Atlantic makes it a key issue in a context where Russia, which has several military installations inside the Arctic Circle, is adopting an aggressive global posture. Denmark can only meet the challenge in the context of powerful alliances: NATO, of course, but also the European Union, which was until now considered an entity external to the country. “In 2022, we have truly become European,” we recognize in Copenhagen.