Danish parliament launches impeachment trial for ex-minister

Denmark's parliament on Tuesday referred a former minister to a rarely used special court over accusations that she broke the law when ordering the separation of asylum-seeking couples while in office.

Danish parliament launches impeachment trial for ex-minister
Inger Støjberg in parliament on Tuesday. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

The accusations against Inger Støjberg relate to a decision she made in 2016 as the Minister for Immigration.

Støjberg ordered immigration authorities to separate married couples if one of them was under the age of 18 in order to combat child marriages.

But according to the preliminary indictment passed in parliament on Tuesday, the decision constituted a “violation of the European Convention on Human Rights”.

This is only the third time since 1910 that a Danish politician has had to go before the country's Court of Impeachment, which tries ministers for malfeasance or negligence in the performance of their duties.

The last case was in 1993, dubbed “Tamilgate”, and was over the illegal freezing of family reunification for Tamil refugees. 

The decisions in 1987 and 1988 by former Justice Minister Erik Ninn-Hansen landed him a four-month suspended prison sentence. 

In 2016, 23 migrant couples, most of whom had a small age difference between them, were separated without individual examination of their case following instructions from the minister.

Støjberg served as Minister for Immigration from 2015 to 2019 in a centre-right government propped up by the populist anti-immigration right Danish People's Party (DF).

She helped tighten Denmark's restrictive immigration policy and touted the adoption of more than 110 legal amendments restricting the rights of foreigners. 

As an aggravating circumstance, when questioned in the committee of enquiry, she allegedly gave “incorrect or misleading information”, the indictment noted. 

The member of parliament, who resigned her position as vice-president of the Liberal Party, has however stated that she is wrongly accused. 

“A large majority finds me guilty, but unlike you, I know that I did not order anything illegal,” she told parliament. 

“I intervened and did what I maintain was the only politically and humanely right thing to do,” she said. 

While a large majority of parliament supported the indictment, Støjberg still has supporters among some members of her party, as well as former prime minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen and the two far-right parties DF and Nye Borgerlige (New Right).

The Court of Impeachment, consisting of up to 15 Supreme Court judges and a matching number of parliamentarians designated by parliament is expected to convene on the matter after the summer.

READ ALSO: Denmark’s former immigration minister to face impeachment trial


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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.