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Handshakes high on the agenda as Denmark’s immigration minister awards nine citizenships

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Handshakes high on the agenda as Denmark’s immigration minister awards nine citizenships
Photo: Liselotte Sabroe/Scanpix 2019
10:12 CET+01:00
Minister for Immigration and Integration Inger Støjberg awarded Danish citizenship to nine nationalised Danes on Thursday as a newly-introduced form of ceremony was held for the first time.

The constitutional ceremony (grundlovsceremoni) will normally take place in local municipalities, but Thursday’s occasion involved nine new Danes who travelled to Copenhagen from across Denmark.

As part of new rules on citizenship which came into effect on January 1st, participants at citizenship ceremonies are required to shake hands with their local official. The new ceremony is provided for by a citizenship bill agreed by the government, the Danish People’s Party and the Social Democrats on June 29th last year.

The law requires applicants for Danish citizenship to shake hands palm-to-palm. Gloves may not be worn. The new rule is largely seen as targeting Muslims who refuse to shake hands with members of the opposite sex.

Støjberg left no doubt as to her view on the importance of the gesture in her speech at Thursday’s ceremony by saying the handshake itself represented the moment applicants became citizens of Denmark.

“It’s in exactly that moment [of the handshake] that you become citizens,” she said according to Ritzau’s report of the occasion.

Thomas Andresen, mayor of South Jutland town Aabenraa and a representative of the same Liberal party as Støjberg, criticised the handshake aspect of the ceremony on Thursday, calling it “over the top” and a demonstration of “supremacy”.

“It’s a gift to be given a citizenship, but to conclude (the procedure) with a handshake required by law is over the top,” Andresen said in comments given to broadcaster DR.

“If you don’t shake hands, you don’t get citizenship, and risk not being able to go on living in the country. For me, that’s a way of demonstrating supremacy,” he said.

Taking place at Eigtveds Pakhus in Copenhagen, there were more cameras present than participants in the ceremony and journalists from Sweden and Germany were amongst those on hand to observe proceedings, Ritzau writes.

“There is something quite outstanding about being awarded Danish citizenship,” Støjberg said.

Celebratory drinks and canapés were offered after formalities were completed.

“Now we can enjoy some hygge together. That’s also a part of being a Dane,” Støjberg said.

As municipalities will be responsible for future ceremonies, refusal by applicants to shake hands could theoretically require mayors to report them to immigration authorities.

“I would find it difficult to report an applicant. It’s a little bit informant-like. We have not asked to have to do this, so I have appealed for the state to take on this task,” Andresen said to DR.

Several Danish mayors have expressed their dissatisfaction with the demand on municipalities to carry out the handshake-compulsory ceremonies. Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen told DR in the autumn that he would accept local municipalities declining to provide for the final step in naturalisation.

“Then we will have to see it through in another way. We believe the right place to do this is in local democracy,” Rasmussen said.

READ ALSO: I took the Danish citizenship test today. What was it like, and why did I do it?

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