Why Danish PM is being criticized for ‘outdated’ immigration rhetoric prior to New Year speech

Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen has said prior to her first New Year’s speech as Denmark’s premier that she will seek to apply a strict approach to immigration in 2020.

Why Danish PM is being criticized for 'outdated' immigration rhetoric prior to New Year speech
Mette Frederiksen at the Prime Minister's Office on December 20th. Photo: Liselotte Sabroe/Ritzau Scanpix

The government will therefore work for new, stricter laws in the area, notably with regard to jihadists, Frederiksen said in an interview with Ritzau.

The sentiment has been criticized by the Social Liberal (Radikale Venstre) party, a centre-left ally of Frederiksen’s minority Social Democratic government.

Danish prime ministers typically outline their plans for the coming year and review the past 12 months in a speech televized to the nation on New Year’s Day.

Two years ago, former PM Lars Løkke Rasmussen used his New Year’s speech to announce a programme intended to tackle social problems in underprivileged areas termed ‘ghettos’.


Frederiksen may or may not choose to highlight immigration in her first New Year's Day speech as PM. But discussion of immigration has moved beyond the binary view of either easing or tightening rules, and Frederiksen should update her approach, according to the Social Liberals.

“We’re now in the last few days of 2019, so I think we can forgive Mette Frederiksen for still being in the 2010s,” Social Liberal political spokesperson and deputy leader Sofie Carsten Nielsen said.

“These concepts of easing and tightening (immigration) belong to the era of symbolic policies, which we are now leaving,” Carsten Nielsen added.

The reference to ‘symbolic policies’ refers to a common criticism made by parties on Denmark’s left of immigration rules introduced for what they see as symbolic, rather than practical value.

Examples of this include the infamous ‘jewellery law’ of 2016 and the now-shelved plan to house convicted immigrants and asylum seekers on a deserted island.


The Social Liberals have called for a new approach to immigration rules including working visa rules for skilled professionals, but Frederiksen’s party was elected on a platform which promised to continue the strict approach of previous, right-wing governments.

This appears to have resulted in clashes between the two parties in recent negotiations over the budget, Ritzau reports.


In her interview with the news agency, Frederiksen said that a “balance” in Danish immigration policies had been reached in the six months that have elapsed since her election.

Recent months have seen new accommodation found for families of rejected asylum seekers housed at controversial facility Sjælsmark, as well as a law change easing the way for foreign-born children in certain circumstances to remain in Denmark.

Rules on the latter area had seen particular debate in relation to a case involving teenager Atcharapan “Mint” Yaungyai, who in October 2018 left Denmark, where she lived with her Thai mother and Danish stepfather and stepbrother. She has now been allowed to return.

But the Social Liberals said that the government should be looking to further reform rules on family reunification in 2020 – and not by making them stricter.

“If you are Danish and fall in love with a foreigner, you should be able to live in your own country. We will never give that up,” Carsten Nielsen said.

READ ALSO: EU ruling overturns 138 Danish family reunification rejections

Editors note: this article previously erroneously stated that the PM's New Year speech was given on New Year's Eve. It is, of course, customarily broadcast on January 1st.

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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.