The Cable

Let This Hit Danish TV Series Prepare You for the Danish Prime Minister’s Visit to the United States

The show offers a (fictionalized) picture of the politics of this happy country.


On Thursday, Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen will meet with U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House. The visit, as the White House noted in a statement, will take place “on the eve of the 100th anniversary of Denmark formally ceding the U.S. Virgin Islands to the United States,” and will feature a discussion of a the U.S.-Danish relationship and how the two countries can deepen economic and defense and security ties, “both bilaterally and through the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.”

The visit is not as hotly anticipated as that of, say, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, or British Prime Minister Theresa May, or Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, or Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, or even Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Nevertheless, it is a visit by a head of government, leader of some of the happiest people in the world, and so Americans would perhaps do well to prepare for it by reading up on Danish past policies and present politics.

Or, failing that, by watching the hit Danish television series Borgen.

Borgen, the informal name of the Copenhagen palace in which Denmark’s government works, is the story of how Birgitte Nyborg becomes the first female prime minister of Denmark, and of how she manages the role once she assumes the position. (After the show began airing, Denmark really did elect its first female prime minister.) By watching its three seasons, viewers can learn all sorts of things about Danish politics, including the following:

Danish voters reward decency. That, at least, is how Nyborg unexpectedly wins power — the men against whom she’s competing are corrupt and voters flock to her moderately left-leaning, fundamentally decent candidacy.

Danish voters do not reward corrupt spending or unnecessarily craven politicians. Just something to keep in mind.

Majority governments in Denmark need at least 90 members. The second episode of the show is literally called, “Who Can Count to 90?” As it turns out, the answer is, “Birgitte Nyborg.” The difficulty of forming a broad coalition government is a reality Rasmussen himself faced last November, when he reshuffled his cabinet to broaden his coalition. “I expect that the three of us [parties] collaborating will create a much more accommodating environment in parliament and the government is much closer to the 90 seats than we were two days ago,” Rasmussen said at the time.

Those governments are then presented to the queen for approval. There’s not much we can do with that information, but it’s a fun thing to know.

Investigative journalists are unstoppable forces. Many an episode of this show features some huge (by Danish standards) scandal that the hardworking journalists of Denmark either solve or come closer to solving. At no point does Nyborg attack them on Twitter, but, then, the show first aired in 2010, and times were different then.

Everyone’s personal life is a mess in Danish politics and media as presented by Borgen, and perhaps Danes and Americans alike can take solace in that this coming Thursday.

Photo credit: Andrew Redington/Getty Images

Emily Tamkin is a foreign affairs reporter at BuzzFeed. She was a staff writer at Foreign Policy from 2016-2018. @emilyctamkin

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