EXPLAINED: Why Danish ex-minister faces rare impeachment trial

Former Danish immigration minister Inger Støjberg goes on trial on Thursday in a rarely used impeachment court, accused of illegally separating couples who arrived in the country to claim asylum.

EXPLAINED: Why Danish ex-minister faces rare impeachment trial
Inger Støjberg arrives for her impeachment trial in Copenhagen on Thursday. Photo: Martin Sylvest/Ritzau Scanpix

The 26 judges of the special court, which only convenes to try former or current members of government, will determine whether Støjberg violated the European Convention on Human Rights.

Law professor Frederik Waage pointed out that it was only the third such case in more than a century, calling it “historic”.

Støjberg ordered the separation of 23 couples in 2016 where the woman was under 18 — though the age differences were mostly small — without examining the cases individually.

She is also accused of “lying to or misleading” parliamentary committees when informing them of her decision.

The 48-year-old ex-minister denies any wrongdoing.

Støjberg repeatedly made headlines in the international media for her handling of immigration issues during her 2015-2019 tenure as minister in the previous Liberal-led government.

She has since quit her party but remains a lawmaker.


Addressing parliament in February when lawmakers voted to try her, Støjberg said she did “the only political and humane thing” to combat forced child marriages.

“Imagine arriving in a country like Denmark, a country of equality, as a young girl victim of a forced marriage, and you discover that instead of giving you the possibility to break free of your forced marriage, the state forces you to stay together in an asylum reception centre,” she said.

Of Denmark’s 179 members of parliament, 139 voted in favour of the impeachment trial. Thirty were opposed and 10 were absent.

As minister in a centre-right government backed by the populist anti-immigration Danish People’s Party, Støjberg was responsible for Denmark’s ultra-restrictive immigration policy. 

She boasted of having passed more than 110 amendments curbing immigrants’ rights, sparking controversy in 2017 when she posted a picture of herself on social media celebrating her 50th amendment cracking down on immigration. 

During her mandate, she also passed a law allowing Denmark to confiscate migrants’ valuables to finance their stay in Denmark.

This is only the third time since 1910 that a member of government has been tried by the Court of Impeachment.

The last case dates back to 1993, when former justice minister Erik Ninn-Hansen was found guilty of illegally suspending family reunifications for Sri Lankan refugees in 1987 and 1988. He was handed a suspended four-month prison sentence. 

If impeached, Støjberg will likely be ordered to pay a fine, said Waage of the University of Southern Denmark.

“In the case of Erik Ninn-Hansen, people probably died as a result of his decisions. In the case of Inger Støjberg, it’s not as serious,” he said.

He said he believed Støjberg’s actions may have violated the European convention, which stipulates that families must not be separated.
The Social Democratic government that took over in 2019 has not rolled back immigration restrictions — rather it has introduced some even tougher initiatives.

But Waage noted that the current government was keen to show that it does not violate the law.

The Court of Impeachment has scheduled 46 days of hearings.

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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.