RIP Uffe Ellemann-Jensen (1941-2022)


Former Danish Foreign Minister Uffe Ellemann-Jensen has died, 80 years old. He was an often controversial foreign minister for Denmark in the period 1982-1993, serving during some of the most important years of post-war European history. Back when he was a minister, he changed the Danish foreign policy from being nationalistic, or at most Nordic, to be European and international, and by doing that, he helped shape not only Danish foreign policy ever since, but even the path of Europe.

As a foreign minister he often split the nation – a lot of people, especially on the political left, found him arrogant and even undemocratic, while for many other people, he was the very picture of a statesman, making such that Denmark punched way above its weight in international matters. During the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the fall of the Berlin wall, Ellemann-Jensen led the Nordic countries in playing a key role in recognizing the emerging Eastern countries, and he ensured that Denmark was among first countries in the world to re-start diplomatic relationships with the Baltic countries in 1991, helping speeding up the process of the world recognizing them as independent countries. To read more about the role of Denmark regarding the freedom of the Baltic countries, I recommend reading The Role of Denmark in the Renewal of Latvian Independence (pdf), which is on the website of the Latvian embassy in Denmark, or Danish Support for the Baltic Struggle for Independence 1988-1991: A Hawk-Dove Domestic Confrontation (pdf), which also explains the pressure Ellemann-Jensen faced in Danish politics.

I think it is fairly safe to say that history has shown Ellemann-Jensen to be right, and that very few politicians would today try to roll back the changes he brought to Danish foreign policy. Denmark still punches above its weight, and Denmark is still explicitly pro-EU and pro-NATO.

After the Social Democratic government took over in 1993, he became leader of the opposition, and continued to be so, until 1998, which his side lost by one mandate – he needed just 85 more votes. Thus he is often referred to as the best Danish Prime Minister we never had. After that he retired from politics, but not from the occasional political opinion. In his post-politics years, he became a strong voice against the increasingly xenophobic Danish refugee and immigration policy, and until the end, he was as strong voice in support of Ukraine against the Russian invasion.

Goodbye Uffe Ellemann-Jensen, thank you for everything you have done, not only for Denmark, but also for Europe and globally

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