x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Danish envoy's diplomatic circles

Denmark's embassy in Abu Dhabi was Poul Hoiness's last post as his country's charge d'affaires, and will be his last as ambassador.

The Danish ambassador, Poul Hoiness, says that in his 36 years as a diplomat, he has never seen as fine a balance of tolerance, modernisation and culture as that practised by Sheikh Zayed.
The Danish ambassador, Poul Hoiness, says that in his 36 years as a diplomat, he has never seen as fine a balance of tolerance, modernisation and culture as that practised by Sheikh Zayed.

ABU DHABI //The UAE has played a unique role in the diplomatic career of Poul Hoiness, the Danish ambassador to the country.

At the start of his career, his final post as a charge d'affaires was in the UAE, between 1986 and 1989.

Twenty-one years later, he returned to the UAE on the final mission of his career: to reopen the Danish Embassy in Abu Dhabi.

"I joined the service in 1976 in my late 20s and was posted in Washington during the Carter to Reagan transition," Mr Hoiness said.

"From there I was appointed as charge d'affaires in Kuwait from 1984 to '86, and then on to Abu Dhabi."

When he first arrived in the UAE, he said, the basic kindness and friendliness of Emiratis stood out.

Back then security was a major concern because of the Iran-Iraq War. It was during his time in the UAE that his oldest son was born.

"During the war, the security situation in Kuwait was very tense," Mr Hoiness said.

"I remember the windows were rattling and you could hear bombs dropping as the battlefront was only 60 or 70 kilometres away."

Between 1986 and 1988, the Tanker War unfolded in Arabian Gulf waters and Denmark was heavily affected, because it had several tanker ships using the waterway.

"There was a lot of trade as Denmark was a major food and poultry supplier to the Gulf, and some of the Danish tankers were attacked during the war, which was unfortunate.

"I remember dealing with many members of the UAE's foreign service who were very skilful and talented. It was a smaller service, obviously, as it was a smaller country, population and economy then."

In 36 years of diplomacy, the Danish statesman said he had never witnessed as fine a balance of tolerance, modernisation and culture as that practised by Sheikh Zayed, the Founding President.

"He was a man of considerable wisdom and kindness, with a keen interest in developing his country in a wise way," Mr Hoiness said.

"He was capable of that and somehow finding this balance between the culture, the society and modernisation.

"That is something very difficult to do, but he did it creating a society that, in my opinion, is a very successful experiment in multinational co-existence.

"There was a mutual tolerance and understanding at the time, and many of the people who came here were inspired by the challenge of participating in building a new nation.

"One of the points I have to make is that it did not have to be done the way it was done. Here, it was done with greater wisdom and tolerance than almost anywhere else."

In the 1990s, the Danish Embassy was closed because of government spending cuts.

But after 21 years away, Mr Hoiness said not much had changed on the UAE diplomatic front because the core laid down by Sheikh Zayed still existed.

" … things such as the importance of personal relations, which is key here and a very nice feature of the culture, still remain," he said.

The Danish envoy has been able to offer considerable insight as the GCC investigates the viability of a bloc similar to the EU.

"It's not for me to pass judgment on whether the GCC should go further, but you have to carefully consider the consequences, the advantages and disadvantages of this and the likelihood that this will be a success," Mr Hoiness said.

Drawing from the EU experience, he said economic, security and political issues must all be considered.

"My reading is that there is a clear interest all round in studying this before embarking on something very ambitious, or even irreversible," Mr Hoiness said.

"I don't see something major happening around the corner."

Denmark, which holds the EU presidency until June, has also been key in cementing UAE and GCC relations with the EU.

"The European Union External Action Service is studying the introduction of a mission in the UAE," Mr Hoiness said.

At present, the EU mission to the region is based in Riyadh, but Mr Hoiness said that the UAE was of great importance to the EU - politically, commercially and culturally - and that warranted a mission.

amustafa@thenational.ae