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”European cooperation is an experiment which has been successful beyond expectations”

Claus Grube, Denmark’s Ambassador to the United Kingdom since 1 October 2013, is one of Denmark’s most experienced EU diplomats. Starting in his new job, he offered his views on the Danish-British relations.

“Well, it wasn’t because of the weather”, says Claus Grube, when asked why he wished to be posted in London.

Denmark’s recently appointed Ambassador to the United Kingdom laughs and looks out of the window towards Sloane Street, where people with umbrellas hurry past the Embassy. He pauses a few seconds before giving the serious answer:

”Denmark’s international relations are increasingly attended to via multilateral organisations such as the EU, NATO and the UN. In all of these organizations the United Kingdom is an important ally to Denmark. Our countries have close relations and common opinions when it comes to foreign and security policy, defence, trade, business and competition policy. In that perspective it is important for Denmark to closely follow the British discussion about the relations to the EU, the European Council and the Human Rights Convention. We need to see where this takes Britain, because it may affect Denmark’s position in the multilateral organisations.”

Claus Grube on the Embassy's balcony overlooking Sloane Street

This is an experienced EU diplomat speaking. The 62 year old Grube has been in the Foreign Service since 1977, the last four years as the Permanent Secretary of State in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark. But he has spent much of his career representing Denmark in the EC and later on the EU. From 2003 to 2009 he served as the Danish Ambassador to the EU in Brussels. Now he has become Ambassador in a country where many people tend to be sceptical towards the EU, with a referendum on the membership looming in the horizon.

”It is no secret that the Danish government does not share the wide-spread British scepticism towards the EU. Even though Denmark’s membership includes opt-outs on the Euro, defence policy and justice and home affairs, we still wish to be close to the core of the EU-collaboration and contribute to the decision making. A possible British referendum in 2017 will also be of importance to Denmark, says Claus Grube.

Individual countries are in crisis, the Eurozone is not

He emphasizes that he does not believe that it is his job to make British people change their mind about the EU.

“But it is in our own interest to contribute to shedding a light on the facts and figures in relation to EU cooperation. It goes without saying that it is entirely up to the British people to decide if they want to leave the EU. But it is in Denmark’s interest to help analysing the consequences of a possible British exit. The decision should be as well informed as possible”, says Claus Grube.

It is a common opinion that the EU – and the Euro in particular – is in a crisis. Claus Grube does not agree.

”The crisis is not about the Euro. It is about individual countries going through a rough spot because of public debt, budget deficits and structural problems in the economy. This creates tensions between the countries and challenges the whole collaboration”, he says.

“Denmark has chosen to cooperate in a constructive manner to find the best solutions to these challenges, including the banking union. It has not been decided yet if Denmark should be part of the banking union, but we wish to play an active role in the process. We want to contribute to a solution that Denmark as well as Europe as a whole will benefit from – ideally all of the 28 member countries.”

“Neither Denmark nor the United Kingdom is part of the Euro. But unlike the UK, Denmark has a fixed-rate agreement with the European Central Bank which keeps the Danish Krone stable towards the Euro. It makes sense because 70 per cent of Denmark’s exports go to EU countries, with Germany being our biggest trade partner”, says Claus Grube.

European cooperation has secured peace in Europe

“The younger generations tend to take for granted that we can work in other countries, make affordable mobile phone calls, travel and trade without restrictions across the borders. But those are privileges which we have been granted through the European cooperation. Anyone who decides to leave the cooperation will lose the privileges too, unless they can negotiate them on other terms”, says Claus Grube.

Practical and economic advantages aside, Claus Grube thinks that it is important to keep EU’s main purpose in mind. He wants to stress that the original idea was not about the export of bacon, machines and cookies. It was about economic integration and growing prosperity as a means to secure peace, democracy and freedom in Europe.

“It was a very ambitious experiment and it has been successful beyond expectations. In almost 70 years there has been peace between the great powers in Europe, something that has never happened in history. It is not law of nature. NATO, the OECD and the European Council have all played important parts in this development, but the EU in particular has been the engine behind the process”, he says.

“It is not a given thing that we can’t have a war in Europe again – the human nature is not peaceful. Thanks to the integrated collaboration, going to war has become so costly, financially as well as politically, that no one in their right mind would dream of such a mad adventure. We should remember that Winston Churchill was among those who supported the European project”, says Claus Grube – and adds with a smile:

“Even though he didn’t think the United Kingdom should be part of it.”

There is another important decision he looks forward to keep an eye on: Will Scotland vote for independence in 2014?

“In relation to the Scottish referendum we experience a lot of interest in Danish affairs just as we have seen it before from regions like Flanders and Catalonia. But it is very important that we don’t interfere with the domestic political debate in the UK. The question about Scotland’s future is an internal matter and the British have decided to solve it through a proper democratic process. It deserves our respect”, says Claus Grube.

You get the best ideas when you are not at work

The new Ambassador wants to sustain and strengthen the close relationship between Denmark and the United Kingdom in a broader field.

“The UK is still our third biggest partner in trade. And London is a financial hub of great importance to the Danish economy and trade”, he says.

”At the moment there is an unusually big interest in Denmark when it comes to tourism and culture – not least because of the New Nordic Kitchen and popular Danish films and TV series such as Borgen and The Killing. We must use this focus to bring our countries even closer. At the same time the Embassy is here to service the estimated 50 – 60,000 Danes who live in the UK. We are not going to be out of work.”

Privately he looks forward to live in a global city with all its culturally and intellectually stimulating opportunities. But he has also promised himself not to forget that there is more to Great Britain than its capital.

“I hope to meet people and experience the new and the ancient cultures all over Britain. And of course it’s a country with a glorious nature that I look forward to enjoy. In fact, I always feel better when I am outdoors.”

He laughs:

“Maybe I should have chosen a different career.”

He is an enthusiastic yachtsman and he often sits down at the piano to relax and improvise. He is married to Susanne Fournais Grube who is an artist. Between them they have five grown-up children, none of whom live in Denmark – they seem to have been inspired by their parents’ international approach to life. But Claus Grube will travel far to spend time with his children, children-in-law and grandchildren.

”It is very important for me to distinguish between my work and my private life. Real life is the life you spend with family and friends. The other bit is just work”, he says.

When he was the Permanent Secretary of State in the MFA he was responsible for thousands of employees around the world. Now he is in charge of an Embassy with a staff of less than 40 people. But his advice for them remains the same:

“Don’t let your work control your life. The best ideas and greatest inspiration happen when you are not at work. It demands self-discipline and you sometimes need the courage to choose not to do something rather than to do it. But it is important. I don’t think you can be a complete employee if you work all the time. Anyway, I can’t.”


Claus Grube was interviewed by Kåre Gade, Press Attaché at the Danish Embassy in the UK