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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

Danish economists say abolition of Great Prayer Day is ‘not necessary’

Leading economists in Denmark say that scrapping the Great Prayer Day holiday is not a necessary measure and that the potential economic benefits for the state are dubious.

Danish economists say abolition of Great Prayer Day is ‘not necessary’

Three economists writing in a column in political media Altinget said there was “nothing necessary” about the plan to scrap Great prayer Day.

“Is it better, then, to cancel the government’s planned tax cuts, to cut public spending or to use the opposition’s alternative proposal?”, write the three economists: Ulrik Beck, senior economist with thinktank Kraka; and Michael Svarer and Hans Jørgen Whitta-Jacobsen, professors in economics at Aarhus and Aalborg universities respectively and both former members of the Danish Economic Councils.

The three economists go on to write that the answer to the question comes down to preferences and priorities.

They state that an opposition plan to raise an annual three billion kroner, the amount the government says the Finance Ministry will raise by scrapping Great Prayer Day, is “a fraction better”.

The three governing parties – the Social Democrats, Liberals (Venstre) and Moderates – want to abolish springtime public holiday Great Prayer Day in a move they say will enable increased defence spending to meet Nato targets by 2030, three years ahead of the current schedule. A bill was tabled by the government earlier in January.

The policy has met with criticism from trade unionsthe church and opposition parties, while the military itself has also distanced itself from the plan.

READ ALSO: 

In an alternative proposal, the nine opposition parties say they can raise the money by diverting 1.25 billion kroner from the public investment budget, 1 billion kroner from a winter assistance programme which the parties say was over-financed, and savings on business support spending of 0.75 billion kroner.

The three economists write that the opposition proposal could hold back the welfare system in future, however. Additionally, a reduction in business support could harm companies.

Regarding the economic effect of scrapping Great Prayer Day, they state that although this has a potential monetary benefit, it is uncertain.

That is because people working in Denmark could choose to adjust their working hours by taking less overtime or “hours of interest” (interessetimer), they state.

In addition, collective bargaining agreements between trade unions and employers could eventually provide for an extra day off in response to emerging demand for this.

That would negate the effect of scrapping the holiday, the experts said.

READ ALSO: What is a Danish collective bargaining agreement?

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