One – or rather: Two – of the essential Danish New Year’s traditions is listening to the Queen’s and the Prime Minister’s New Year’s Messages. As readers of this blog will know – and if you don’t: Feel free to check my resumé – I lived in Sweden for nine years and neither the King’s nor the Prime Minister’s speech was the subject of much attention. It’s not that Swedish media doesn’t cover the King and the prime minister, it’s just that the New Year’s Speeches are seen as empty rituals which are not really worthy of any major public attention.
Denmark is very different. The Queen’s speech which generally IS an empty, if cozy, ritual has become the centre of a media frenzy which is worthy of the North Korea or any country in the former Eastern Bloc rather than a modern democracy. The question is how we can interpret the explosion of deferential coverage of the Royal Family in general and the New Year’s Speech in particular. I have an uneasy feeling that Danes are creating an alternative universe where 1864 and 1940 never happened and Denmark is in fact a major, militarily respected European power and the Court which generally uses 19th Century symbolism fits nicely into this delusion.
But on a pragmatic note, the brouhaha surrounding the Queen’s Speech is rarely matched by the actual content of the speech. The EU? Fine. Facebook? Boilerplate.
The Prime Minister’s Speech is another curious tradition. Very Serious People are spending endless amounts of time on TV discussing possible initiatives which the prime minister could announce without considering the cycle of the parliamentary year. Yes, Lars Løkke Rasmussen pulled off the Early Retirement Benefit reform but otherwise October and the opening of Parliament is the time to announce major initiatives. So, more often than not, we should expect blandness.
And so, judging from the written text – I was travelling and didn’t watch this year’s speech – was the 2013 edition. We might note that the 40th anniversary of Denmark’s membership of the EU was mentioned towards the end of the speech while Ms. Thorning Schmidt tried to make something positive out of the economic crisis which is doing major damage to the government’s reputation.
But the question remains: If the Prime Minister cancelled her 2014 speech, would anybody – except the Very Serious Commentators – miss it?