Embracing the Wind: Denmark's Recipe for a Model Democracy

By Manfred Ertel and Gerald Traufetter

Part 3: Prioritizing Consensus

Photo Gallery: The Secrets to Denmark's Success Photos
AFP

Hardly a day goes by at the Siemens facility in Brande without there being yet another delegation of parliamentarians, civil servants or concerned citizens from around the globe wandering through its production halls. "The last group was from South Africa," Stiesdal says.

When the Bundestag, Germany's parliament, approved the energy transition last year, a phone rang shortly thereafter in Copenhagen. It belongs to Hanne Windemuller, a petite, determined woman with reddish-brown hair. A colleague from the Environment Ministry in Berlin was on the line because she knew that Windemuller has plenty to say about what a state has to do if it wants to revamp one of its key sectors from the ground up.

As a legal expert at the Danish Energy Agency, Windemuller has occupied a key position in her country's ambitious climate plans. The parliament approved the project in the spring. This gave an urgently needed political victory to Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the Danish prime minister who has been under constant pressure to disprove charges that she is too young and inexperienced since assuming office late last year. And it created a great deal of work for Windemuller.

Windemuller is on her way to the next meeting, so she grabs a quick bite to eat and rushes back across the corridor with her food tray. The building features the kind of Scandinavian design based on concrete, steel and wood that is so readily copied by the educated elite in the rest of the world. "The consensus in parliament was overwhelming," she says. In fact, this consensus has existed with few exceptions since the days of the first attempts by the wind farmers of Jutland.

What may sound like uniformity and a lack of change to passionate ideologists has, in effect, enormous advantages: "Such a consensus provides support for major projects that transcend legislative periods," Windemuller says. Her political superior, Danish Energy Minister Martin Lidegaard, knows that he can rely on the support of his fellow Danes. "It looks like Danes have an affinity for the wind," he says.

There has been much speculation about the Scandinavians' relentless will to reach consensus. Does it find its roots in a form of Protestantism based on reforms rather than revolutions? Already at an early stage, the black-clad ministers set out to teach people throughout the country to read and write. They were at least expected to understand the catechism. This created an early maturity of the masses that was unparalleled in Europe, as political scientist Fukuyama claims in his book.

There were probably also pragmatic reasons, though, for the search for consensual solutions in a country as small as Denmark. In any case, consensus could be a lesson that was learned from many lost wars, above all the Second Schleswig War in 1864, which entailed the loss of the country's southern territories to Germany. "Winning on the interior what has been lost on the exterior" was a popular slogan of the day, and it is still readily used today. In other words, it means that a small country can only survive through cohesiveness rather than through ideological conflicts.

Transparency and Trust

The Danish system of consensus is based on its citizens' deep-seated trust in the state and politics. In fact, this is much greater in Denmark than in most other Western democracies. And civil servants like Windemuller ensure that this remains the case.

Her team is responsible for setting up offshore wind parks. It coordinates all the relevant ministries, commissions the necessary environmental studies, acquires the necessary permits and introduces guidelines -- all under one roof. "We calculated how much wind power we need to meet our energy goals," Windemuller says. Then, she continues, they asked about possible locations in local communities, picked out the best ones and conducted all the necessary preliminary studies.

"That's the kind of thing we do for the investors," says Windemuller, who finds it unfathomable that a wind-power company would first have to run a gauntlet through ministries and government agencies. The areas that Windemuller's team have studied and selected are then auctioned off to a company via a tendering process. "The contract is awarded to the company offering the lowest price per kilowatt," she says.

This process has advantages for everyone concerned: The companies know exactly what to expect. "They can rest assured that they won't have to contend with any complaints or new regulations from the administration," says Windemuller, a former oil-industry executive herself. The state also benefits from the efficiency of this central planning: It can be sure that established targets are also respected.

Indeed, mismanaged energy policies like the ones in Germany, where billions of euros have been invested in inefficient photovoltaics at the cost of consumers, would be virtually unthinkable in Denmark.

Thanks to this transparent procedure, citizens can hope that the project will be a success -- and they generally thank the authorities with their loyalty. However, since trust also entails making sure that all parties play with an open hand, companies have to show that they are respecting the guidelines stipulated in the bidding process.

In fact, even Windemuller's agency has to ensure the highest degree of transparency. "Corruption," says Windemuller, as she pushes her empty tray aside as if it held an envelope stuffed with money, "is practically impossible in this country." There is hardly any detail of the process, she says, that can be kept hidden from public view.

Transparency is a two-way street in Denmark: Citizens and journalists can view the inner workings of everything that the state is doing. In return, citizens have to allow the state a more unrestricted view of their private sphere than is the case elsewhere.

Increasing Support, Reducing Litigation

Since this principle of openness is a key characteristic of Scandinavia, it's not particularly surprising that Denmark consistently ranks at the top or in second place in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index, meaning that it is perceived as being one of the least corrupt of all countries surveyed by the organization. This may have something to do with the puritanical Protestantism in these countries. For centuries, devoutly religious community leaders have relentlessly ensured that all rules have been strictly followed. But political scientists also view this transparency as one of the secrets of Scandinavia's success.

Corruption is like a corrosive liquid that flows through a state's machinery and causes everything to rust until it finally grinds to a halt. If people believe their political leaders engage in nepotism, for example, their desire to play along wanes.

Windemuller knows that if a government announces a major new project, and its citizens' knee-jerk reaction is to immediately file lawsuits and organize demonstrations, then something is indeed rotten in such a state. What's more, she can't fully comprehend why the resistance to offshore wind farms in Germany is so great that they have to be built beyond the horizon.

She says it's certainly not because Danes are particularly environmentally conscious. Wind parks, particularly on land, also have their opponents in Denmark. But then the government goes about making the wind turbines more appealing to locals. The agency offers incentives: A portion of the profits from the wind energy generated flows back into the communities, where it's used for environmental projects. "That's a nice additional source of income for them," Windemuller says.

If the construction of a wind turbine threatens to erode the value of nearby real estate, the owners receive compensation. Furthermore, the state acts as a guarantor should a local operator association go bankrupt. "This takes away the locals' anxieties about joining forces and investing in wind power."

An added benefit is that there are not as many wind-power-related lawsuits in Denmark as there are in Germany. Instead, there are two boards to hear citizens' objections, each of which is presided over by a judge. "Anyone who has objections can voice them there," Windemuller says. It takes between six months and a year for the arbiter to reach a decision, and there are no provisions for appeal. "As far as I know, a lawsuit has never been brought before a normal court," says Windemuller, as she enters the conference room right on time for her next meeting.

One of the items on the meeting's agenda is an office that the agency is currently opening in Beijing. China, with its population of over a billion, is looking for advice, Windemuller says. "Imagine that," she adds, "from a country as small as Denmark!"

Read SPIEGEL's introduction to this series on good governance here, the first installment (on Brazil ) here and the second installment (on the US ) here. Check back for the final installment, on China , in the coming weeks.

Translated from the German by Paul Cohen

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1. Denmark - price of electricity
patfla 08/28/2012
This http://www.theoildrum.com/node/7215 confirms what I'd read elsewhere which is that Denmark has, by far, the highest cost of electricity in the OECD. Much of this is in taxes but the article confirms that the taxes are necessary to support the all-wind model. Moreover the article also showed me, for the first time, that all of the burden is paid by consumers and none by industry. Danish industy's price is inline with the rest of the OECD. Denmark made an enormous bet on wind power - maybe only a very small country could do this. It isn't clear to me (quite the contrary) that the bet has paid off. In general comparisons between very small countries like Denmark and larger countries like Germany are ill-founded. Hong Kong can do things that China can't. And visa-versa of course but the two categories are not the same.
2. The Killing is right
BTraven 08/30/2012
---Quote (Originally by patfla)--- This http://www.theoildrum.com/node/7215 confirms what I'd read elsewhere which is that Denmark has, by far, the highest cost of electricity in the OECD. Much of this is in taxes but the article confirms that the taxes are necessary to support the all-wind model. Moreover the article also showed me, for the first time, that all of the burden is paid by consumers and none by industry. Danish industy's price is inline with the rest of the OECD. Denmark made an enormous bet on wind power - maybe only a very small country could do this. It isn't clear to me (quite the contrary) that the bet has paid off. In general comparisons between very small countries like Denmark and larger countries like Germany are ill-founded. Hong Kong can do things that China can't. And visa-versa of course but the two categories are not the same. ---End Quote--- The figures are interesting, indeed. Above all, they support those who defend that companies which need a lot of energy – the Germans have invented a word for it, of course, “energy-intensive” – should pay much less than an ordinary consumer will be confirmed in their opinion. Knowing it I will watch the last episodes of the series “The Killing” (part 1) with different eyes. I have thought so far the reason why the rooms are so sparsely illuminated is to increase the tension. But it reflects the reality. Danes are really so thrifty. I can perfectly understand it.
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