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POLITICS

Denmark finalises 2022 budget agreement

A one-off investment in the health service, free dental services for young people and the end of a tax subsidy for home improvement are among prominent details of Denmark’s 2022 budget.

Government and party representatives present Denmark's 2022 budget agreement in Copenhagen on December 6th.
Government and party representatives present Denmark's 2022 budget agreement in Copenhagen on December 6th. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

Denmark’s 2022 budget agreement was presented on Monday morning after a short delay on finalising next year’s finance law.

The government, along with its left wing allies Red Green Alliance, Social Liberals and Socialist People’s Party; and minor parties Alternative and the Christian Democrats, presented the budget on Monday.

“We are protecting our welfare. Money has been set aside for our schools, children and elderly,” Finance Minister Nicolai Wammen said according to broadcaster DR.

Young people aged 18-21 years will receive free dental care under the new budget, while a popular tax subsidy for home improvements, the håndværkerfradrag, is to be scrapped.

Red Green Alliance (Enhedslisten) lead political spokesperson Mai Villadsen called free dental care for young people “a strong right of welfare”.

Sofie Carsten Nielsen, leader of the Social Liberals, said “we are dropping the building subsidy that has ignited the already overheated housing and construction market”.

Meanwhile, a limit is to be set on the number of children per class in grades 0-2 at state elementary schools.

No more than 26 children will be allowed in a class.

Following weekend negotiations, the parties behind the deal earlier revealed that it would include a significant one-off investment in the public health service, which has come under increasing strain due to factors including the Covid-19 pandemic and industrial disputes, notably between nurses and the government.

The deal means a billion kroner has been set aside for additional spending in extraordinary circumstances, and will be used to retain health sector staff and boost hospital capacity.

The money is to be distributed to the regional authorities who can decide how to spend it, DR writes. As such, it is currently unclear how the spending will resolve issues such as treatment backlogs and staff shortages.

In the budget, the parties also pledge to double energy production from wind farms by 2030, compared to current levels.

Parliament usually votes through the next year’s budget in December, but proposals are normally tabled in early autumn – the original proposal for 2022 was presented at the end of August

This is because Denmark is ruled by minority governments or coalitions, which must seek and negotiate support from other parties to pass laws.

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POLITICS

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.

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