Danish politicians react to government’s ‘ghetto plan’

Lawmakers from parties across Denmark's political spectrum have reacted to the government's announcement on Thursday of a wide-ranging plan to tackle what it calls 'parallel societies' in the country's underprivileged areas.

Danish politicians react to government's 'ghetto plan'
Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen and ministers present the government's 'ghetto plan' in Copenhagen on March 1st 2018. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Scanpix Denmark

MPs from non-government parties from both sides of the aisle gave their reactions following the announcement. The anti-immigration Danish People's Party (DF) and the opposition Social Democrats, the largest party in parliament, both expressed support for the plan, which was presented in Mjølnerparken in Copenhagen on Thursday.

Smaller opposition parties on Denmark's left wing were more critical.

DF's immigration spokesperson Martin Henriksen suggested more direct intervention was necessary than that detailed in the plan.

“It is good that [the proposal] provides for stronger punishment and increased police presence in ghettos. But the government should take care not to over-sell its plan. It cannot solve all the problems,” Henriksen said.

“I look forward to the coming negotiations over harsher punishments, faster expulsion of criminal residents, challenges with demographics and so on,” DF leader Kristian Thulesen Dahl said.


Pernille Skipper, political spokesperson with the left-wing Red-Green alliance, said that the plan lacked expert insight.

“I wish the government would call on experts, researchers, residents and others who actually know something about the problems, and start listening rather than stigmatising and making the splits in society deeper,” Skipper said.

Environmentalist party Alternative said the government was focusing on the wrong area.

“I am stunned that the government decided to send eight ministers to [underprivileged area] Mjølnerparken as though [such] residential areas are the biggest challenge.

“Even though there are always things that could be done better, this is far from our biggest problem,” party leader Uffe Elbæk said.

“So I wish the government would focus on solving more pressing problems, such as toxins in our drinking water, the out-of-control stress epidemic, unemployed people being suffocated by constant checks and lack of trust and, not least, that we are on the brink of a climate catastrophe,” Elbæk added.

Pia Olsen Dyhr of the Socialist People's Party called for balance.

“This initiative must stand on two feet. We must crack down on people who make others feel unsafe, and on high criminality.

“But we must also remember prevention and the need to lift people up and the societal aspect as a whole. The government's plan lacks focus on that,” Dyhr said.

Social Liberal (Radikale Venstre) leader Morten Østergaard suggested the plan was too concerned with sending a message to voters.

“There is too much in the government's plan that reflects an election campaign. And not reality.

“Double punishment in ghettos and prison for teachers who don't report children do more to sow division and create fear than solve real problems,” Østergaard said.

Social Democrat leader Mette Frederiksen said she agreed with some aspects of the plan – including demolishing and rebuilding housing in some underprivileged areas between 2019 and 2026.

Frederiksen also said that some parts of the plan were “not far-reaching enough”.

“The proposal does not tackle the issue of distribution of students at elementary schools. At the moment things are moving in only one direction, with children with non-Western backgrounds concentrated at fewer and fewer schools, and that's an enormous problem in our view,” the Social Democrat leader said.

She was also critical of the proposal to cut state unemployment income for people who move to areas included on the Ministry of Transport and Housing's 'ghetto list' – claiming this measure also did not go far enough.

“We think that if you are on state support and of working age, you should not be able to move into such areas at all,” she said.

Frederiksen said that her party had also prepared a proposal on 'ghettos'.

“Both proposals reflect what is most important – that Christiansborg [parliament, ed.] recognises the seriousness of parallel societies. So I am essentially pleased to see the government presenting its plan,” she said.


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Danish government reduces number of areas officially termed ‘ghetto’

The government’s list of areas it officially terms as ‘ghettos’ has been almost halved, from 28 to 15 areas, in an annual update of the list.

Danish government reduces number of areas officially termed 'ghetto'
Tåstrupgård in Høje-Taastrup is considered a 'ghetto' by the Danish government. Photo: Liselotte Sabroe/Ritzau Scanpix

The housing ministry published the latest version of the list, which is updated annually, on Tuesday.

Of the 13 areas removed from the up-to-date list, 3 are in Copenhagen. Others are located in Taastrup, Holbæk, Vejle, Kolding, Aarhus, Køge, Guldborgsund, Odense, Fredericia and Silkeborg. No new areas were added.

The 15 remaining ‘ghetto’ areas include 2 which have been on the list for 5 consecutive years, earning them the term ‘hard ghetto’. When an area is given this tag, authorities are obliged to create a redevelopment plan which must be signed off by the ministry.

Areas which previously qualified as ‘hard ghettos’ but later cease to fulfil the relevant criteria remain subject to the redevelopment plans, which in past cases have involved the rehousing of residents. A total of 17 areas in Denmark are currently encompassed by redevelopment requirements of this kind.

In a press statement, the Ministry for Housing and Transport said that the primary reasons for the reduction in ‘ghetto’ areas are decreases in unemployment and criminal convictions. Improvement in education levels amongst residents, and a drop-off in the proportion of minority ethnic residents also occurred in some areas, the ministry said.

“It’s positive that there are fewer areas on what the legislation calls the hard ghetto list. But the individual redevelopment plans continue to ensure we create mixed cities and don’t park the weakest citizens in one neighbourhood,” the housing minister, Kaare Dybvad Bek, said in the statement.

In order to be classed as a ‘ghetto’, a housing area must meet a set number of criteria. The criteria relate to factors including ethnic background, employment status and income.

Housing areas must have over 1,000 inhabitants, of which over 50 percent of residents have non-Western nationality or heritage, and fulfil two out of four criteria:

  • Over 40 percent of adults aged 18-64 not engaged in employment or education (average over two-year period)
  • Proportion of residents aged 18 or over convicted for criminal, weapons or narcotics crimes must not exceed three times national average (average over two-year period)
  • More than 60 percent of residents (aged 30-59) have basic school education or lower
  • Average pre-tax income for adults aged 18-64, not including unemployed, less than 55 percent of pre-tax income for administrative region.

People considered not of Danish heritage are categorised into two groups: ‘immigrants' and ‘descendants' of immigrants (‘efterkommere' in Danish).

A person is considered to have Danish heritage if she or he has at least one parent who is a Danish citizen and was born in Denmark. People defined as ‘immigrants' and ‘descendants' do not fulfil those criteria. The difference between the two is that an ‘immigrant' was born outside of Denmark, while a ‘descendant' was born in Denmark. 

The list is relevant because, under the 2018 ‘ghetto plan', areas on the list can be subjected to special treatment under the law, including stricter punishments for specified crimes, a requirement for small children to attend daycare and housing reforms which can force people to move.

It has been criticized in the past for stigmatising areas, thereby making it more difficult for them to improve socioeconomic conditions.

The government's use of the word ‘ghetto' for lawmaking purposes may feel jarring to those used to hearing the term in English. It is arguably less pejorative in Danish, although Dybvad Bek has previously said he'd prefer it not to be used.

The ‘ghetto list' was first introduced in 2010 under then-Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen's centre-right government, while a later coalition headed by Rasmussen introduced the ‘ghetto plan' legislation in 2018.

Both the 'ghetto' and 'hard ghetto' lists for 2020 can be viewed in the housing ministry's website.

READ ALSO: Denmark's 'ghetto plan' unlikely to solve problems faced by underprivileged areas: residents