Denmark: New government, new opportunities for free software

Denmark had a general election on September 15th, and this led to the ouster of the right-of-centre coalition which has governed our country for ten years now. The next government will be a coalition between social democrats, a moderate leftist party (SF) and a centrist liberal parti (Det Radikale Venstre, which actually means “the Radical Left” – historical reasons, for they are traditionally a very moderate bunch). From a political perspective, this will hopefully mean the end of ten years of catering to the extreme, xenophobic right in the guise of the Danish People’s Party, whose leader Pia Kjærsgaard has easily (and alas!) and by far been the most powerful political figure in Denmark for these ten years. Denmark has passed legislation which is so unbelievably unpleasant and racist in its intent, that you would not believe it unless you’ve heard about it or been unfortunate enough to experience it.

But all that’s really off-topic for this blog. If you want, you can read all about it on Adventures and Japes, a brilliant blog written by an English school-teacher in a small town in Jutland. So, let’s continue where we left off: New government, new opportunities.

Denmark has not traditionally been a free software country. Rather, it has traditionally been solid Microsoft territory. Penetration of free software solutions is very low compared to many other countries, and under the present government, this has been supported by lobbyism from the larger vendors coupled with the government’s very “business-friendly” approach. There has been some debate about the possibility of saving money by going “open source”, and some (few) local authorities have been rolling out OpenOffice.org/LibreOffice and GNU/Linux. The values behind free software, which in my opinion is what makes the real difference, have been completely absent from the public debate.

But now, we have a new government, and in my opinion this represents a very interesting new opportunity for free software. The politicians behind the new government can’t be expected to act very differently in the realm of IT politics than their predecessors. The reason for this is that really understanding the issue requires either a level of technical insight or at least an interest in the subject which many politicians simply don’t have. One very important reason for this is that frankly, they have other very important subjects to think about. Like foreign policy, wars and a sinking economy. The only political party which has shown a real understanding of the issues behind free software is the leftist “Enhedslisten” (the “United List”, comparable e.g. to Izquerda Unida in Spain), and they will not be part of the new goverment.

The opportunity is that the new government consists of parties which are ostensibly progressive. Whereas the old government was simply set in their ways and completely out of reach on this subject, the new government can be expected to be genuinely interested in hearing new things. If we start telling their politicians about free software there is a real possibility this could lead to, not wholesale adoption (that is way too optimistic), but a real change in their attitude.

Maybe we should do something similar to what the French organization APRIL has done and send letters of education and pledges for politicians to sign to indicate they understand the issue of free software and will work for it. Like I wrote in my first post, I am currently working on a manuscript on free software which will hopefully be published as a book in 2012. I am thinking of sending an excerpt of this book to all relevant politicians and offer to send them the actual book free of charge. Another possibility might be to offer to give free talks to politicians from the new government parties, and from Enhedslisten, who will also be important. And to the opposition, for that matter, as they may be more interested in real issues now that they have lost their posts in government.

Does anyone have experience doing this kind of advocacy they would like to share? If so, feel free to add your opinion or advice in the comments section.

2 thoughts on “Denmark: New government, new opportunities for free software

  1. Carsten, we will probably never agree on Danish politics and this is neither the topic of your blog, I guess :-)

    But your assertion that “The only political party which has shown a real understanding of the issues behind free software is the leftist “Enhedslisten” is not correct. Probably, much to the disappointment of most Danish left wingers, it is actually Morten Messerschmidt of the Danish People’s Party who has been (one of the) most influential in promoting open standards and open source in the Danish Parliament.

    Taking into consideration that the previous director of communication at Microsoft has been hired as spin doctor for one of the new social-democratic ministers, I would not be able to share your, if it wasn’t because the “the Radical Left” traditionally has been supporting open standards and open source.

  2. A belated thank you for your comment, Martin.

    Well, suffice it to say that the present government has also proved lobbyable and things haven’t been going as well for the free software camp as I had hoped. That said, we still get to work with a lot of interesting things, so things are going in the right direction, albeit slowly.

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