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Denmark’s former immigration minister to face impeachment trial

Inger Støjberg, the former immigration minister and deputy leader of the Liberal party, is to face an impeachment trial after a cross-aisle majority of political parties backed the move.

Denmark’s former immigration minister to face impeachment trial
Former immigration minister Inger Støjberg on January 14th. Photo: Emil Helms/Ritzau Scanpix

The impeachment trial, known in Danish as a rigsretssag, is a special court that tries and judges ministers charged with illegally executing their duties. Such a trial requires a majority in parliament to vote for it.

Støjberg, who recently stepped down as deputy leader of the Liberals over the case, was known for her hardline approach when in charge of the immigration ministry.

In 2016, she issued a directive to forcibly separate all married asylum seekers, without individual case assessment, if one of the couple was under the age of 18. The order was subsequently found to be illegal.

She was later found to have misled parliament over the illegal directive, and independent lawyers recently concluded there were grounds for an impeachment case.

READ ALSO: Former minister 'misled' Danish parliament in scandal over illegal asylum directive

The two largest parties, the governing Social Democrats and Støjberg's own Liberals, had yet to confirm whether or not they would back the trial, but both came out in support of it on Thursday.

All of the parties on the left wing, along with the right-wing Conservatives and Liberal Alliance, also back the impeachment trial. That leaves only the two far-right parties, the Danish People’s Party and Nye Borgerlige, opposing it. Former prime minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen, who recently announced he had left the Liberal party and is now an independent, had also said he would vote against.

The Social Democrats confirmed their decision following a party meeting on Thursday morning attended by Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen.

“Initiating an impeachment trial is a very serious decision. It has only happened five times in (Danish) history,” Frederiksen said in a statement.

“An impeachment case is – as it should be – that final and ultimate tool in parliamentary checks on the government,” she added.

The Social Democratic decision was made on the basis of “clear legal assessments”, she also said.

Later on Thursday morning, Støjberg was dealt a further blow when her own party, the Liberals (Venstre) said they would also support the trial, which now already had enough votes to ensure its approval.

“I cannot live with the accusations that the Liberal party does not hold dear to law and order. When such charges are raised they must be clarified, and there is no other way than an impeachment trial,” the party’s leader Jakob Ellemann-Jensen said according to news wire Ritzau.

The Liberal party did not whip its 41 MPs, however, resulting in 9 voting against the trial.

Støjberg lashed out at Ellemann-Jensen following the announcement. Tensions between the two had played out for weeks over the matter leading up to the former’s resignation as deputy leader.

“I am disappointed that it is my own party leader… who is inviting the rest of parliament to initiate an impeachment trial against me,” she said in comments reported by Ritzau.

“That is also why I am considering what will happen. I can only state that it is how it is,” she added. Speculation has recently suggested Støjberg is considering a party switch, with both the Danish People’s Party and Nye Borgerlige likely to court the high-profile former minister, who garners huge numbers of votes at elections.

“The biggest vote of no confidence you can give to a colleague in parliament is to initiate an impeachment trial,” she said.

Støjberg has long been a divisive figure in Danish politics, not least because of her hardline policies and often-populist image while immigration minister.

These have included publishing anti-refugee advertisements in Lebanese newspapers, posting a picture of a celebratory cake on social media after passing a 50th law curbing immigration, and a law enabling Danish authorities to confiscate valuable items from refugees.

Despite being a senior member of a centre-right, liberal party, she is also arguably the closest thing in Danish politics to a proponent of Donald Trump-like rhetoric. She recently used the phrase “drain the swamp” when addressing a demonstration against the government and has consistently sought to mischaracterise the nature of the enquiry against her by calling it the “child bride commission”.

She was, however, the architect of a successful apprenticeship scheme for refugees while immigration minister, and defended the scheme when it was attacked by the far right.

According to Danish law, she could face anything between a fine or a prison sentence of up to ten years, should the impeachment trial find her guilty.

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Denmark suspends asylum centre talks with Rwanda

Denmark now aims to work with other EU countries to transfer asylum seekers to centres outside Europe and has suspended talks with Rwanda as it no longer plans to go it alone, its migration minister said on Wednesday.

Denmark suspends asylum centre talks with Rwanda

The Scandinavian country’s plans, first announced by the previous Social Democratic government, called for people seeking asylum in Denmark to be transferred to reception centres outside the European Union while their requests were processed.

A law adopted in June 2021 did not specify which country would host the centre, but said asylum seekers should stay there even after they were granted refugee status.

Discussions were launched with Rwanda and other countries, but they have now been suspended since the installation of a new Danish left-right government in December headed by the Social Democrats.

“We are not holding any negotiations at the moment about the establishment of a Danish reception centre in Rwanda”, Migration and Integration Minister Kaare Dybvad told daily Altinget.

“This is a new government. We still have the same ambition, but we have a different process”, he added. “The new government’s programme calls for the establishment of a reception centre outside Europe “in cooperation with the EU or a number of other countries”.

The change is an about-face for the Social Democrats, which had until now rejected any European collaboration, judging it slow and thorny.

“While the wider approach also makes sense to us, [Denmark’s change of heart] is precisely because there has been movement on the issue among many European countries”, Dybvad said. “There are many now pushing for a stricter asylum policy in Europe”, he said.

READ ALSO:

Inger Støjberg, leader of the Denmark Democrats said on Facebook that she was “honestly disgusted” by the government’s decision to delay plans for a reception centre in Rwanda, pointing out that Kaare Dybvad had said during the election campaign that a deal would be done with Rwanda within a year. 

“Call us old-fashioned, but we say the same thing both before and after an election. We stand firm on a strict immigration policy. The Social Democrats, Liberals and Moderates clearly do not,” she said. 

Lars Boje Mathiesen from the New Right Party accused the government of perpetrating a “deadly fraud” on the Danish people. 

“It is said in Christiansborg that it is paused. But we all know what that means,” he wrote on Facebook, accusing Danish prime minister Mette Frederiksen of “empty words” in the run-up to the election. 

In the face of this reaction, Dybvad told the Ritzau newswire that although talks with Rwanda were not happening at present, the government had not given up on a deal with the African nation. He also said that he was confident that asylum reception centres outside of the EU would be a reality within five years.

EU interior ministers are meeting in Stockholm this week to discuss asylum reform. Those talks are expected to focus on how to speed up the process of returning undocumented migrants to their country of origin in cases where their asylum bid fails.

Denmark’s immigration policy has been influenced by the far-right for more than 20 years. Even Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, the head of the Social Democrats, has pursued a “zero refugee” policy since coming to power in 2019.

Copenhagen has over the years implemented a slew of initiatives to discourage migrants and made Danish citizenship harder to obtain. In 2020, it became the only country in Europe to withdraw residency permits from Syrians from Damascus, judging that the situation there was now safe enough for them to return.

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