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Danes once again discuss who is a Dane

Denmark’s long-running, some might say exhausting, debate on just what it means to be ‘a Dane’ has flared up again thanks to the wording of a declaration approved by parliament.

Danes once again discuss who is a Dane
Who is a Dane? Don't ask the Danes, because they can't agree. Photo: Colourbox
The Danish People’s Party (DF) last week introduced a statement expressing formal concern over the number of residents in Copenhagen suburb Brøndby Strand who have an “immigrant background”. 
 
“Parliament notes with concern that today there are areas in Denmark where the number of immigrants from non-Western countries and their descendants is over 50 percent. It is parliament’s opinion that Danes should not be a minority in residential areas in Denmark,” the statement reads
 
The official declaration was approved by a vote of 55-54, with government coalition parties Venstre, Liberal Alliance and the Conservatives joining DF. 
 
All opposition parties voted against it, with many taking issue with the use of the word ‘Danes’ in the second sentence. Critics argued that by approving the statement, parliament essentially told Danish citizens who are immigrants or the descendants of immigrants that they aren’t really ‘Danes’. Under their reading of the statement, only someone whose parents are Danish, or at least Western, would be considered one of the Danes. 
 
Back and forth debate
 
Even before the statement was approved, opposition parties slammed the wording of the text as divisive and discriminatory. 
 
“This is one of the most extreme groupings into ’them and us’ that I’ve seen in a long time. And to pass it with votes from a so-called liberal government. That’s too much,” Pernille Skipper of the Red-Green Alliance (Enhedslisten) wrote on Facebook. 
 
Morten Østergaard, the political leader of the Social Liberals (Radikale), also took issue with the wording. 
 
“How will we ever achieve good integration if it is stated in advance that your ethnic background prohibits you from being considered Danish? This isn’t just trivial hair-splitting, this is alarming!” he wrote. 
 
As the debate over the wording took off, government coalition party Venstre seemed to express regret, or at least internal disagreement. 
 
“It’s being read as if we believe that you cannot be a Dane if you’re not born in Denmark or if your parents aren’t born in Denmark. We obviously don’t mean that. There are a lot of people who come here and embrace Denmark, and who are Danes, and that is wonderful,” party spokesman Jan Jørgensen said on Sunday morning, adding that the wording was “foolish”.  
 
However, later in the same day Jørgensen’s party colleague Marcus Knuth said that Venstre stood by the wording. 
 
Danish People's Party no stranger to this topic
 
DF’s Martin Henriksen steadfastly defended the formulation.
 
“I think that most Danes are outraged that there are places in Denmark where the Danes are obviously a minority,” he said in a heated TV2 debate with Skipper
 
“If you look at the official statistics, there are places where immigrants and the descendants of immigrants from non-Western countries are the majority. We in the Danish Peoples’ Party think that’s a problem and we need to talk about it,” Henriksen added. 
 
It was also Henriksen who spurred a previous round of national hand-wringing over who should be able to call themselves ‘Danish’ when he refused to say whether an 18-year-old man participating in a political talk show – who was born in Denmark, went to state schools and speaks fluent Danish – is “a Dane”. Henriksen said he couldn't say whether Jens Philip Yazsani, whose mother is Danish and father is Iranian, is a Dane because he “[doesn't] know him”. 
 
Yazsani said it was the first time in his life that someone had questioned his Danishness and the much-discussed televised exchange was followed by endless posts on social media on what makes one Danish. In the midst of that debate, things took another turn when Queen Margrethe told Der Spiegel that Denmark is “not […] a multicultural country”
 
'Danishness' was 2016's hot topic
 
A few weeks later, the queen caused the ‘Danishness’ debate to flare up again when she said that “it’s not a law of nature that one becomes Danish by living in Denmark”. 
 
All of this followed another protracted and heated debate over the summer as a result of DF’s ‘Our Denmark’ campaign that was criticised for lacking diversity. That controversy only intensified when DF spokesman Søren Espersen defended the ad by using a word that many in Denmark find racist
 
“Personally, I'm colour blind so I don't even know what colour they [the people featured in the campaign] are. …We could have inserted a Negro [into the campaign], and so what? What would that change?” he said in an interview with TV2. 
 
There were in fact so many debates about ‘Danishness’ in 2016 that it was selected as the word of the year.
 
Seven weeks into 2017, and it looks as if the Danes are no closer to deciding who’s a Dane. 
 
 
 
 

POLITICS

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.

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