New Secretary General Karen Ellemann wants to see results

09.01.23 | News
Nordiska ministerrådets generalsekreterare Karen Ellemann.

Karen Ellemann

Mathilde Schmidt /

Secretary General of the Nordic Council of Ministers, Karen Ellemann

Effective Nordic co-operation that yields results. This is the most significant aspiration of the Nordic Council of Ministers’ new Secretary General, Karen Ellemann. Achieving it will require teamwork.

Denmark’s Karen Ellemann took over as Secretary General of the Nordic Council of Ministers at the end of the year. One can’t fail to notice that she is taking on her new role with huge enthusiasm.

It’s a dream job, as Ellemann says herself. She knew this as soon as the post was advertised as vacant.

“When I read the job listing and saw what they were looking for, I thought it had ‘Karen’ written all over it. The role is so inspiring and important, which is why I applied for it. Nordic co-operation is more important than ever. In my view, stronger co-operation is the answer to the challenges we face. We can solve so much if we work together.”

Former Minister for Nordic Co-operation

Ellemann is already very familiar with the Nordic Region. She has previously been Minister for Nordic Co-operation for Denmark and a member of the Nordic Council. However, it has been several years since she was active in the Nordic sense, so she intends to wait to announce her programme.

“During the first hundred days, I will allow myself to re-familiarise myself with the Nordic sphere, visit people, listen to them, and meet the employees at the institutions and other partners. It’s important for me to hear other people’s views on things so that I can form a better idea of Nordic co-operation.”

Co-operation is the key

Co-operation is a word Ellemann uses frequently. She often emphasises the importance of teamwork for achieving results. She stresses the importance of the Secretariat functioning well, and also emphasises how important the Nordic institutions are, as well as interaction with citizens and companies.

“I’m no expert. I’m so privileged to be able to join an organisation where there’s already an incredible amount of professional know-how and expertise,” she says.

She also refers to the benefit of having experience from other important stakeholders, such as the Nordic parliaments and governments, not to mention the Nordic Council. This is true not least in relation to efforts towards achieving the Nordic prime ministers’ vision for the Nordic Region to be the most sustainable and integrated region in the world by 2030.

“We need willingness and hard work if we’re to achieve our objectives, not just in the Nordic Council of Ministers but among all stakeholders. Fortunately, there are many of them,” says Ellemann.

Nordic Council of Ministers as a magnet for experts

Ellemann will strive to make the Nordic Council of Ministers an efficient and attractive organisation.

“It’s important to me that the Nordic Council of Ministers has the best possible reputation. It must be a place where people want to work and a magnet for the best and brightest minds who want to work with Nordic co-operation. I aspire to have a well-functioning, well-oiled organisation that attracts talented employees.”

Ellemann also makes it clear that she wants to see results that those living in the Nordic Region can see and feel in their day-to-day lives.

“Our residents already benefit greatly from the fact that we’re actually a well-integrated region. But they may not always know about it, or they may not always think about it, so a really important task is to inform people where Nordic collaboration is useful and to demonstrate the added value we create. But we must also be open to where there is potential for improvement in our work, because there is.”

Media critique (in Danish)

Ellemann is a well-known politician in Denmark, having spent 15 years as a member of the Danish parliament and in multiple ministerial posts.

Her appointment was big news in the Danish press. She faced harsh criticism, in part because she wrote a critical piece about Nordic co-operation in 2013, and in part because she applied for the job of Secretary General at the same time as she stood in this autumn’s parliamentary elections in Denmark – and was elected.

She herself says that her article is one of the reasons she got the job.

“When you read the article, you cannot miss the fact that it is a strong tribute to Nordic co-operation, and a strong call for it to yield results.”

About the fact that she stood in the election and applied for the position of Secretary General at the same time, she has this to say:

“Although the timing was obviously unfortunate, I don’t know of many people who quit their job before getting a new one. I announced my appointment as Secretary General as soon as I signed the contract.”

Karen Ellemann has a four-year contract, with the possibility of a two-year extension. She succeeds Paula Lehtomäki, who left the post this autumn.



Name: Karen Ellemann

Born: 26 August 1969 in Charlottenlund, Denmark

Lives: Taarbæk

Family: Husband, two children and two bonus children aged 23 to 27, plus a cat and a dog

Party affiliation: Venstre

Member of the Danish parliament from 13 November 2007 to 1 November 2022.

Ellemann has been minister for fisheries, minister for gender equality, and minister for Nordic co-operation, as well as minister for social affairs, minister of the interior, and minister for the environment.

She is a trained teacher and has also worked as a journalist, cinema manager, and administration manager within communications.