Profession/ Current priorities
Political Aims/ Priorities/ Assessments
© Jan 2001
Lene Espersen, MP
I wanted to take part in decision-making in our society. I wanted to leave my mark and have influence on the more general lines of development in Denmark. When I was studying at the university, I realised that I sometimes was unsatisfied with the politics in Parliament. My friends told me: Lene, if you think you have some good ideas, and that you maybe would be a better politician, then you should choose to be a candidate and try to be elected. I took this challenge and tried to be elected to the Parliament in order to set my mark on the development. I want to contribute my visions on what type of Denmark we should live in and what values are essential.
Do/did you have a role model?
No, not really. There are quite a few of politicians in the past, which I value very positively. I think many of them have been brave, visionary, and dared do something. In my speeches I use many quotations from speeches made by old, American presidents, for instance John F. Kennedy and Jefferson. Churchill is another example. Moreover, I think that many of the Conservative Prime Ministers in the 80's, for instance Helmut Kohl, Margaret Thatcher, and Poul Schlüter, had some good visions for development of society. These persons have influenced me in my political work. They are more often international personalities than Danish. I have always been very internationally oriented. It belongs to my generation. Young people think very much internationally and are open for what is coming from other countries. But I would not say that I have or have had a real political idol.
Does political involvement or policy making have a tradition in your family?
No. I am the first person in my family, who has been a Member of a political party. We have always in my family spoken about attitudes, and prioritised to think things through to see if there is logic in what you are saying. But in my family we have never had a party discipline.
Have you been engaged in political grassroots activities before your involvement in party politics?
If so, in which function? I have only been active in local policy work in my own party. When I was younger I was very much interested in Amnesty International, and for some years I was a Member of DaneAge (Ĉldresagen).
Where there disruptions in your political career path and why?
No. I was for the first time a candidate for my political party in 1991. I was elected to the Parliament in 1994 at the first election, which took place after 1991. In 1994, I was also a candidate at the election to the European Parliament. I was number four on my party's list. Unfortunately, I was not elected, but I got experience. So it has gone fast.
Where there disruptions in your biography that have/had an impact on your political career?
How and why did your objectives change during your political career?
When I started my political career in the Parliament, I was very idealistic and I had my attitudes. I think that it is usual for most of the new young politicians. If you cannot get it the way that you want, then you can choose to sit in the corner and take offence. But rather soon you find out that you will have to build on compromises. I am now more pragmatic than when I started. However, there are still cases, which make me fly into a rage, if they do not correspond to Conservative thinking. I am now getting used to the fact that if you want to influence things in Parliament, then you have to move. I have been elected to change things and show results - and not to sulk in my office.
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Which party do you belong to? Since when?
I belong to the Conservatives, and I have been a Member of the party since 1984.
Does your party have en equal opportunities regulation?
No. The Conservatives have for a long time been a party with many pinstriped men coming from business life. They have been very much respected, but at the same time the party has been very traditional. If you were a Conservative, you were expected to be a type of a wholesaler. I think that we have had many good women Conservative politicians throughout the years. That is why I think that it is a pity that we have this image of always being a very male dominated party.
It is my own experience that the party works hard to get women candidates and make them be engaged. I do not think that using quotas is a good idea. I believe in role models. Women at the top of the society can give other women the courage to stand out and say to themselves: If she can, I can also do it. That is why I think that enthusiastic women politicians who are participating in the political debate are doing equality a big favour.
Which function/offices did you hold in your party at the beginning?
Before I was a Member of Parliament, I was Vice-president of the Conservatives' Youth Organization.
From the very beginning of my career in the Parliament, I got the opportunity to be a Member of the Committee on Agriculture and Fishing. I am elected in the Northern Jutland, where exactly these two areas are very important. Moreover, I became a Member of the Committee on Education.
In 1996, I was chosen as political spokesperson on Fishing, which made me very pleased. The party group also chose me as political spokesperson on Equality, because they wanted a young woman on that post. I have had great pleasure in doing this job.
In 1999 I was appointed political spokesperson of the party in the Parliament. I have continued to be a Member of the Committee on European politics.
Do you have mentors within your party?
In Parliament we all have a mentor, Henning Grove, who is the oldest Member of the party group. He keeps us on the track, if we are going in the wrong direction. He has been a Member of Parliament since the middle of the 70's and I have personally used him at several occasions as a mentor, and he has given me some good advice.
Did you ever change party affiliation?
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I use my education and my background in political economy very much in my political work. It means a lot that to understand the rather complex facts in society and to understand that Danish economy must be seen in connection with the economical situation in other countries. My profession helps me at the general level - and less in practical questions. Most of all it helps me when I have to deal with statistical questions.
What kind of vocational training, degrees or other professional qualification do you have?
I am a graduate of political economy from Aarhus University.
In what kind of jobs did you work?
1991-92, I was a market analyst at a newspaper printing-house (Aarhus Stiftsbogtrykkeri). 1992-94 I was a system constructor at the Banks' EDB Central Office (Bankernes EDB Central). Afterwards I have worked as a Consultant.
Are you linking both your professional and your political career?
In which areas do you see your special competencies?
I have especially worked with European policy. Moreover I have a special interest in the area of provisions and fishing.
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I have not the big visions for specific programme themes. But I want people to start to take on a greater responsibility for other human beings. We have developed our society in a way where we pay other people to take care of children, take care of the elderly, and pay for things we do not like to do ourselves. We even pay soldiers to take care of our country and secure us our freedom. I think that we should do more to pay attention to our human relations and be rid of the attitude, saying that I pay my tax and then it is not my business to care for those who have the most difficulties in our society.
I know that it is a long process, and that there are areas for which you cannot make laws. But I really want to do something politically to change our subsidy society and to change people's attitudes in this respect.
How and why did your objectives change during your political career?
I have not changed my objectives during my political career, but I have become more pragmatic, seeking compromises.
Do equal opportunity strategies - in your opinion - have an impact in your country to promote women in decision-making?
I am sure that role models and ideals make things move. But I think that positive discrimination and quotas will NOT make things move or do equality any good. If you get a job on the basis of quota, people will think that you have got it because of your sex and not because of your qualifications, regardless of what you are saying. I would myself feel it as a defeat and a humiliation, if I got a job, because there should be 50% women in this job category.
Legislation has meant quite a lot, but we must admit that we have a long way to go. Women are still less paid than men and I think that it has to do with women's attitudes, especially the older generation of women. Women are too nice and sometimes they have difficulty with setting their will through. They are not as good as the men to demand and to define their needs. I think that women should learn to be more shameless, if they want to be promoted and take part in decision-making.
Women also prioritise other things than men. They simply have another agenda. They give priority to their families and often refuse to become a manager or a politician, if the job demands that they should be away from home more hours, and even in the evenings. It is also very, very difficult for instance to have more women to take part in local policy, because they have bad conscious of leaving their children in the evening. Women pay attention, where men are maybe somewhat more thoughtless.
What is it that keeps women from committing themselves to politics?
Women have a more developed conscience than men have, and they prioritise in a different way. Of course, some women go into politics and make a career. But I think that we also have to be aware that it is not that bad that many women prioritise family relations and human nature. You cannot turn everything into money. If you go into a career, you might be richer, but at the same time your life might be poorer.
What are the major obstacles that women need to overcome in their endeavour to participate in political decision-making?
I think that it has to do with the way in which women think, prioritise, and how they feel well. These are some of the obstacles, which make it difficult for women to move upwards in the system and break the glass ceiling.
However they have the basic qualifications, and more and more women take a further education with very good results.
Which are the obstacles you had to fight in your own political career? I have not needed to fight any obstacles - at any rate not until now. My generation has known for a long time that we should not become mothers shortly after having finished our studies. I think that we are more or less brainwashed to think that we should use our education in a very constructive way, which means to use some years to bring about a professional career. I have not yet children myself, but I would like to have some. I am about 30 years now, so my husband and I are thinking of having a child. You should also have time to be a mother and take on a mother's role, but you should do it in different stages.
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