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Denmark remains among the happiest countries in the world... For many people, the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve is the best week of the year.

The Danish Ambassador in Sofia impresses with his exclusiveness. We all see this in the dignified attitude and the measured demeanor of a diplomat. In his practical and wise initiatives in his work. In the courage and efficiency of his decisions and in their results. And even in his sport spirit and riding a bike on Dondukov Bulevard on his way to the Embassy... This is a real Dane!

Søren Jacobsen was born on January 25, 1969 in Aarhus. He has graduated his Master degree in Economics from Odense University; the well-known city of Odense - the hometown of Hans Christian Andersen. Mr. Jacobsen is married with three children.

He began his career in 1997 at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Denmark as Head of Section, Department for Export Promotion. In 1998, he became Head of Section in Africa Department. Since 2000, he has had several missions abroad – Royal Danish Embassy in Beijing as First Secretary, Deputy Head of Royal Danish Embassy in Ankara, Deputy Head of Royal Danish Embassy in Beijing and Danish Senior Civilian Representative, Provincial Restructuring Team, LashkarGah, Helmand, and Head of Political Affairs, Royal Danish Embassy in Kabul. Since 2017, he is appointed Ambassador of the Kingdom of Denmark to Republic of Bulgaria.

Just before Christmas, we are talking with him about the Danish holiday’s traditions, about the values, the bilateral relations and achievements…

- Your Excellency, Christmas and New Year are approaching. How is Denmark preparing to celebrate them?

- In Denmark, everybody is looking forward to celebrating Christmas, each with their own individual traditions and ways of preparing for Christmas Eve. December is a particularly beautiful time in Denmark, as our oftentimes dark and cold country is lit up by Christmas decorations everywhere you go.

For many people, the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve is the best week of the year, as it is reserved for complete relaxation and quality time with family and friends, as almost everybody is on holiday. That is, everybody besides for instance health personnel, police officers and firefighters to whom we are all very grateful. Many people celebrate New Year’s Eve by attending parties and watching the beautiful fireworks light up the dark sky.

- In late October, H. R. H. Crown Princess Mary announced the 116th Christmas Seal together with Per O. Jørgensen, the artist behind the beautiful creation. Tell us more about this tradition?

- Having a special Christmas seal is an old Danish tradition, which has since inspired other nations to follow suit. It was invented in 1904 by the postal clerk Einar Holbøll during a time when tuberculosis was the predominantly feared disease due to its high death toll. Holbøll invented the Christmas seal as a way of encouraging people to be a little more charitable and generous during Christmas time as they were already spending money on sending out their Christmas cards and holiday greetings. It was an immediate success, which made it possible to build the first Sanatorium funded by proceeds from the Christmas seal in 1911. These early charitable attempts would later develop into today’s “Christmas Seal Fund”, which yearly makes it possible for over 1.000 children to receive help and support. Although tuberculosis is no longer a threat, helping children in need continues to be an important priority for Danish society, which is also why a new Christmas Seal is announced every year.

- Solidarity is an important value for the Danish society and in the days before Christmas, everyone strives to help people in difficulty, including through the Danish Christmas Aid Initiative. How has it evolved since its inception in 2006?

- The Danish Christmas Aid Initiative comes in many shapes and sizes as there are numerous organizations and churches focusing on providing help during Christmas time. Many of which have existed for over 100 years.

As a way of showing solidarity, people living a good and stable life often share their surplus by donating to these initiatives.

- On December 1st, the premiere of the Snow Queen ballet took place in the concert hall of Tivoli Park, and the costume designer was Her Majesty Queen Margrethe ...

- Yes, H. R. H. Queen Margrethe is a very talented artist. We are very proud of her contributions to the Danish cultural scene. In fact, she has been the production and costume designer of eight Tivoli ballet productions. I believe that it is a very positive thing that she has decided to share her artistic skills with the rest of the world, using her talent to instill happiness in people and bring forth her incredible world of fantasy and imagination.

- The Danish Embassy once again participated in the annual Charity Christmas Bazaar, organized by the International Women's Club-Sofia, which was held in Inter Expo Center on December 1st. Are you satisfied with the results?

- I am very happy with our participation in the Christmas Charity Bazaar. The International Women’s Club is doing an incredible job in supporting important initiatives.

Together with the other Nordic countries, the Danish Embassy organized the Nordic Stall, where many guests stopped by to buy warm pastries and Christmas gifts. I am also very thankful to the companies, which supported us – some of them have been supporting us for years – by either donating items for us to sell or financial contributions that will go towards the charity initiatives of the International Women’s Club. Without our sponsors, it simply would not have been possible to participate in the Charity Bazaar. 

Although the final numbers are still being counted, I hope that our stall will continue to lead by example and be one of the biggest contributors out of all the stalls like it was last year.

- Our countries maintain traditionally good diplomatic relations. At what level are they currently?

- Denmark and Bulgaria are enjoying a very good bilateral relationship. In fact, our diplomatic relationship has existed for 88 years and goes back to 1931. Not only have many Danish companies firmly established themselves in Bulgaria, but close to 70.000 Danish tourists visit Bulgaria annually. More and more, Bulgaria is also becoming a Danish political priority most recently exemplified by the visit by the former Danish Minister of Immigration and Integration, Ms. Inger Støjberg, in January 2019.  Next year, we are also expecting other high profile visitors – something that we are looking very much forward to.

- There are a lot of Danish investments in Bulgaria. What are the interests of the Danish investors and in what areas?

- There are many Danish investments here, and the Embassy assists companies, which might be interested in starting up or expanding to Bulgaria. I am happy to see that some of the biggest Danish companies are established in Bulgaria. The investments are expanding and we are looking forward to seeing more Danish companies come to Bulgaria and develop their business here. In September, the JYSK distribution centre opened in Bozhurishte Industrial zone outside of Sofia. The Bulgarian Prime Minister took part in the official opening and there can be no doubt that such a big investment means a lot for both Denmark and Bulgaria.

- Do you think that Bulgaria is an interesting tourist destination for the Danish tourists? What about Denmark for the Bulgarians?

- I absolutely do believe that Bulgaria is an interesting tourist destination for Danes. With close to 70.000 Danish tourists travelling to Bulgaria every year, there is a big Danish interest in exploring Bulgaria. The majority visit the Black Sea Coast, but I believe that there is definitely the possibility for Danish tourists to explore the other parts of Bulgaria: the mountains, the spa resorts and, when the weather is appropriate, the skiing possibilities. In my opinion, Bulgaria could easily become an all year destination with its diverse nature and climate.

On the other hand, I also think that Denmark as a travel destination has a lot to offer to the Bulgarians wanting to visit with its wonderful cities, impressive coastline and many picturesque islands.

- Earlier this month, you organized a meeting of the Danish-Bulgarian Business Society with the founder of the Bulgarian Webit organization, Plamen Russev. How did it go and what was its effect?

- It was a very successful meeting that inspired a very interesting and fruitful discussion amongst the participants. Last year, I participated in the Webit festival, and I was happy to observe the many incredible ideas and concepts presented by Mr. Russev. Therefore, I also believe that there are great possibilities for cooperation between Denmark and Bulgaria on digital matters, as we share a deep interest in technology. Earlier this year, Denmark appointed the first Tech Ambassador, Casper Klynge, and Mr. Russev is the Goodwill Digital Ambassador to Bulgaria. Likewise, Danish-Bulgarian digital leaders are fundamental to the European Commission with the appointment of the Dane Margrethe Vestager as the Executive Vice President for a Europe Fit for the Digital Age and Bulgarian Mariya Gabriel as the Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society.

- Your country is actively using green energy. What an experience our country could draw from yours for improving the environmental conditions?

- A few weeks ago, the Danish government passed a Climate Act with a legally binding target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with 70 percent by 2030 and a goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050. There can be no doubt that these are very high, but very important, ambitions. In fact, they emerged during the oil crisis of the 1970s, which paved the way for a greener agenda. In terms of green energy production, Denmark is also lucky with its geographical location, which is a pre-condition for the immense wind-driven energy production. In fact, last year’s energy use in Denmark on Christmas Eve was completely generated from green energy due to heavy winds.

In Bulgaria, I also see that the government is committed to the future of green energy by achieving climate related goals earlier than expected as well as supporting the EU Council commitment of carbon neutrality by 2050.

I also believe that Danish companies in Bulgaria will be able to support Bulgarian climate ambitions.

- Denmark appointed the first Climate Ambassador, Tomas Anker Christensen. What will be his activities and priorities?

- In appointing the first Climate Ambassador, the Danish government is sending a strong signal of working actively towards finding sustainable solutions for a better future and it is part of the Danish MFA’s ambitions of accelerating a green agenda worldwide.

Although his official duties will not begin until February, his first job was to participate in the COP25 earlier this month, where he received the honorary award "Ray of the Day" on behalf of Denmark due to the government’s new climate law.

- Now, everybody talks about the polluted air in Sofia. And for cycling as a way of traveling in Denmark. Your embassy supports initiatives that encourage cycling. Do you think it has a future in Sofia?

- In Denmark, nine out of ten children and adults have a bike. Bicycling is good for many reasons including reducing pollution and improving health. In fact, I have read that for every km travelled by bike instead of by car, health costs are reduced by 1 euro.

Our annual bike event is organized in collaboration with Sofia Municipality, the Urban Mobility Centre and Novo Nordisk, and our main goal is to try to instill biking as the first transportation choice in people. Therefore, I am also happy to see the small improvements happening around Sofia with the construction of more and more bike lanes.

- You were a patron of the annual 5km run in South Park on the occasion of World Diabetes Day. Why did you support it?

- As a way of raising awareness about the health implications of diabetes and increasing the general health of people, I am happy to support the run as a way of expressing the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Personally, I am not a good runner, but I think that it is important to highlight the fact that it is not about possessing a talent for running, but inviting everybody – no matter their level of fitness – to join.

- There was a meeting in Sofia University with the Scandinavian studies students and the Scandinavian companies in Bulgaria. Do you think that after this meeting it will be established a long-term cooperation for searching of professionals?

- I am happy that the Sofia University offers a Scandinavian Studies Programme. Actually, the Embassy has benefitted from this progamme, as the Deputy at the Embassy studied Scandinavian languages and speaks both Danish and Swedish. I think that linking the students and the Nordic companies is a very good idea as they will be able to benefit from each other in numerous ways and I believe that there is potential for a long-term cooperation.

- Euro 2020 is approaching, football games will be played in 12 different countries to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the European Championship. Denmark is one of the 12 host countries, are you ready? What are your expectations for the Danish team?

- I am extremely pleased that the Danish National Team qualified in the Euro2020, and I am happy that Denmark will play the three initial group matches in Copenhagen. I still remember 1992 when Denmark won the European Football Championship and it would be nice if Denmark could secure good results in 2020 as well.

On a personal note, I am looking forward to experiencing the atmosphere on the stadium myself, as I have recently bought tickets to the round of sixteen tournaments!

I am sure that it will be a great party watching the three games! I also hope that the Bulgarian National Team will achieve good results.

- The Danes keep the charts for the happiest people in the world. What is your formula for happiness?

- Although I think the first place this year has gone to Finland, Denmark remains among the happiest countries in the world and continues to be an example of a well-developed society. I think that this position is closely tied to the Danish welfare state, which seeks to support the Danish population by offering quality education and healthcare among other important things, instilling in the population a general sense of trust in society. In part, this is also why Danes are able to focus on "hygge" – a term which describes a general sense of coziness. 

- What makes you happy in Bulgaria?

- I have been in Bulgaria for 2.5 years now, and find it a wonderful country with beautiful nature, nice people and good wine. I think that there are many things to do here from travelling around and exploring the many interesting cities, the Black Sea coast and the mountains. This summer, I also had my old Vespa from 1960 restored, so I have been driving around Sofia on that as well.

- The end of the year is a time for reckoning. What was 2019 for you, professionally and personally? What do you wish for 2020?

- First and foremost, it has been a good year at the Embassy with many interesting visits, activities and investments in Bulgaria. In general, the bilateral relationship between Denmark and Bulgaria is great.

On a more personal note, I look back on 2019 with happiness as all my three children are doing well with two of them studying at university in Denmark, and my youngest enjoying her school here in Bulgaria. My wife and I are also still very pleased to be here in Bulgaria, and we enjoy it very much.

Looking forward, I hope to further develop the bilateral relationship between Denmark and Bulgaria and I hope that in 2020, the Embassy will continue to be viewed as an active partner in fostering this relationship.

The photo is provided by the Embassy of Denmark in the Republic of Bulgaria.