The new export and trade minister, Pia Olsen Dyhr, has dismissed the five elder statesmen appointed by the previous government to be Denmark’s “export ambassadors” to emerging markets simply becaus she could save 18 million Danish kroner.
“We don’t have limitless means,” Dyhr told the media earlier this week. “You have to realise that the export ambassador project is really expensive – they are being paid nearly the same salaries as cabinet members. We would rather use that money for some real, concrete initiatives.”
Dyhr remarked that eliminating the five highly-paid export ambassador posts would save 18 million kroner – money that could be put to better uses.
“What we really need, if you talk to businesses, are efforts out in those countries. They say they need people on the ground who actually know the conditions – that means people from those countries who can link Danish businesses to the countries,” Dyhr added.
The five export ambassadors – Uffe Ellemann-Jensen, Ritt Bjerregaard, Mariann Fischer Boel, Anne Birgitte Lundholt, and Henning Dyremose – are all retired ministers and members of parliament. They all have long CVs and years of political experience – but mostly in domestic politics.
The chairman of the Danish Export Association, Ulrich Ritsing, said it was a shame that Dyhr dropped the programme and fired the ambassadors before seeing what they could do – as the programme was only set to begin in the spring.
“We wish that they would have waited to see the results of the work. That would have been only fair to these people who agreed to do a whole lot of work,” Ritsing told Politiken newspaper.
But while Ritsing was critical, an international economics professor from Aarhus University, Philipp Schröder, commended Dyhr’s decision to cut the ambassadors loose and use the money for something better.
“We have not seen that initiatives like export ambassadors create any export growth whatsoever. The same amount of kroner would be much better used in sending Danish businesses to trade shows in China, for example, or in giving them legal advice to help them set themselves up in a new market,” Schröder said.
He added that if the goal was to build the Danish brand in other markets, there were better ways to go about it than sending five retired politicians on tour.
“If we want to raise awareness of Danish businesses, we should send the crown prince or host the Olympics,” Schröder suggested. “But we’re nowhere close to that category with these export ambassadors. Ritt Bjerregaard and Uffe Ellemann are known in Denmark, but they aren’t in China.”
By contrast, Ritsing suggested that the elder statesmen’s advanced years and long CVs bristling with important-sounding former titles, like ‘mayor’ and ‘minister’, would open doors in cultures, like China, where age and wisdom are esteemed over youth and flash.
But the 39-year-old Dyhr countered that as the current trade and export minister, she herself would have more ability to open doors and build effective trade relationships than the retired politicians would.
As former long-term members of parliament, all five of the export ambassadors already receive significant pensions – estimated at more than 28,000 kroner per month, according to Penge&Privatøkonomi financial magazine.
Dyhr proposed that if the five would like to continue as export ambassadors, “con amore” – as a gift to the state – they were more than welcome to do so, and their efforts would be appreciated.