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Convicted Danish ex-minister faces expulsion from parliament

Denmark's former immigration minister Inger Støjberg on Tuesday faces a vote that is likely to expel her from parliament, after she was convicted of violating migrants' rights by separating asylum-seeking couples.

Inger Støjberg speaking to journalists in November, during her impeachment trial.
Inger Støjberg speaking to journalists in November, during her impeachment trial. Photo: Liselotte Sabroe/Ritzau Scanpix

Støjberg was last week hit with a 60-day jail term for flouting her responsibilities as a minister following a trial in a rarely used court that oversees the conduct of ministers.

Her order to separate asylum-seeking couples when the woman was under 18 with no individual examination of the cases was found to have violated the European Convention on Human Rights.

Danish law allows for those serving short sentences to remain free, so Støjberg is likely to spend her sentence under restrictions, including the use of an electronic tag, rather than in prison.

The 48-year-old self-styled champion of “Danish values”, a hugely popular politician who served as minister from 2015 to 2019, is expected to attend debates in parliament on Tuesday.

All political parties except those on the far right have signalled they deem her “unworthy” of continuing in parliament following her conviction, meaning Tuesday’s vote is expected to lead to her exclusion.

“It is unimaginable that one could be in prison serving a sentence while being an MP,” the Liberal (Venstre) party parliamentary chairperson Karsten Lauritzen told reporters last week.

Since 1953, only four members of parliament have been excluded.

In 2016, the government separated 23 couples without examining their cases following instructions from the minister. 

The couples, most of whom had only a small age difference, were then placed in different centres while their cases were reviewed.

In seven of the cases, staff at the centres reported that the separated asylum seekers experienced suicidal thoughts or attempted to kill themselves.

The policy was found to be unlawful because the action was taken without allowing for exceptions or consideration of individual circumstances.

Støjberg, who enjoyed high approval ratings during her time in office, said the policy was designed to fight against forced marriages. 

“I think this is a defeat for Danish values today, not just for me,” she said after her trial. 

“I am being punished for trying to protect the girls. Frankly, something is very wrong,” she later said in a social media message.

However, Støjberg said she respected the verdict and accepted her sentence, adding: “My life goes on.”

READ ALSO: OPINION: Why reaction to Støjberg verdict is important for democracy in Denmark

On Friday, she chose to return an honorary order received from the queen.

As minister, Støjberg was at the forefront as Denmark’ centre-right government, propped up by the anti-immigration Danish People’s Party (DF), tightened restrictive migration policies from 2015-2019.

She passed a law allowing for migrants’ assets to be confiscated to finance their care in Denmark and boasted of having passed more than 110 amendments restricting the rights of foreigners.

She also published a picture of herself with a cake to celebrate the passing of a 50th law curbing immigrationcalled for the public to report pizzerias where staff did not speak Danish; and told a false story about a daycare banning pork from children’s lunches.

Conversely, she was the architect of an apprenticeship system which was praised by companies for helping them bring refugees onto Denmark’s labour market.

Despite the return of the left-wing Social Democrats to power two years ago, the Scandinavian country still has one of the most restrictive migration policies in Europe.

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POLITICS

How likely is Denmark to have a general election ahead of schedule?

Analysts in Denmark say Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen could announce a general election as early as next week, despite flagging poll numbers.

How likely is Denmark to have a general election ahead of schedule?

Speculation suggests that Frederiksen will announce an election, which could take place by October but possibly earlier, when the Social Democrats convene next week for their summer group meeting. 

Legally, the next general election can take place as late as June 4th, 2023. 

But despite worsening polls, a general election in Denmark this autumn now appears likely due to increasing pressure on Frederiksen from other parties and heightened criticism of her government.

“It will not be possible to make any new, broad political agreements on this side of a general election. There’s no willingness to compromise between parties. So Danish politics is already frozen by the election campaign, even though it hasn’t been formally announced yet,” TV2’s political editor Hans Redder said last week.

Redder said it was “relatively probable” that Frederiksen will announce an election in August.

“The political season begins next week. Several parties will have their summer group meetings and start calling press briefings. So it’s just a question of which date Mette Frederiksen decides on,” Redder said.

The Social Liberal (Radikale Venstre) party, which is an ally of the government, has demanded Frederiksen call a general election by October 4th.

Although a new general election is not due until next year, the Social Liberals earlier in the summer said they wanted an election by October after the government and Frederiksen were severely criticised earlier this summer in an official inquiry into the mink scandal.

The Social Liberals have the ability to bring down the government by withdrawing their support for Frederiksen and bringing an no confidence motion in parliament, although it’s not certain they would actually do this.

In addition to the mink scandal, Frederiksen’s government has been damaged by a high-profile case centred around leaks at intelligence service Forsvarets Efterretningstjeneste (FE), as well as broader criticism of her leadership style.

“(Frederiksen) really needs some wins and we have not heard much about what their election platform will be. That will come when the 2030 (political) plan is presented,” political analyst Hans Engell told news wire Ritzau.

“Bad opinion polls are not conducive to an early general election and it doesn’t seem as though there is complete clarity over their 2030 plan. They are probably keeping all their options open,” he said.

Talk of an early election comes despite poll numbers looking as bad for the government as they have at any time since they came to power in 2019.

A new opinion poll by Voxmeter for news agency Ritzau on Monday gave the Social Democrats their worst showing since 2015. 

The ‘blue bloc’ — anchored by the Liberal party (Venstre) and the Conservative party — command 50 percent of the vote according to the latest poll.

Meanwhile, the government’s ‘red bloc’ holds just 47.5 percent. 

The demands that Frederiksen hold elections by October at the latest come from the Social Liberals, also of the red bloc.

The ‘bloc’ classification commonly referred to in Danish politics broadly denotes whether parties are right or left of centre.

‘Blue bloc’ parties will usually work together in parliament and back the leader of the Liberal party to be prime minister if they can command a majority after a general election. The ‘red bloc’ will usually support the Social Democratic leader to become PM, as is currently the case with Frederiksen.

READ ALSO: Danish PM Frederiksen loses majority in ‘neck and neck’ new poll

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