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Danish immigration minister Tesfaye switches jobs in government reshuffle

Minister for Immigration and Integration Mattias Tesfaye was on Monday named as the new Justice Minister in Denmark in a government reshuffle.

New Danish immigration minister Kaare Dybvad Bek (L) takes over from Mattias Tesfaye
New Danish immigration minister Kaare Dybvad Bek (L) takes over from Mattias Tesfaye on May 2nd 2022. Photo: Martin Sylvest/Ritzau Scanpix

Three ministerial portfolios changed hands on Monday following the unexpected resignation on Sunday of the erstwhile Minister of Justice Nick Hækkerup.

In the headline move, Tesfaye was given Hækkerup’s job at the Ministry of Justice by Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen.

Kaare Dybvad Bek, who was Interior and Housing Minister, moves over to take Tesfaye’s job as immigration minister. Bek is meanwhile replaced at the housing ministry by political spokesperson Christian Rabjerg Madsen.

The movements following Hækkerup’s surpise announcement on Sunday that he was quitting his post at the Ministry of Justice, perhaps the most high-profile position in the Danish government after the Prime Minister, to become chairperson at the Danish Brewers’ Association (Bryggeriforeningen).

Tesfaye has occupied the post of immigration minister since 2019, when he took over from Inger Støjberg as government changed hands following the Social Democrats’ general election.

Despite coming from the opposite side of the political aisle to Støjberg, he sought to cultivate for himself his predecessor’s image as a hardliner against immigration and pursued strict policies on asylum and refugees.

READ ALSO: Minister praises ‘low’ number of Denmark asylum applications in 2021

He was at the forefront of Denmark’s pursuit of an offshore asylum centre in Rwanda, a plan criticised by the UN and rights groups, and was criticised at the EU parliament over Denmark’s policy of repatriating some of its Syrian refugees from the Damascus area.

His stance on asylum softened markedly following the Russian invasion of Ukraine as he pushed through a new law to assist displaced Ukrainians arriving in Denmark.

He faces a number of new challenges in his new job at the Ministry of Justice, including a high-profile case centred around leaks at intelligence service Forsvarets Efterretningstjeneste (FE), in which the former intelligence chief Lars Findsen and former defence minister Claus Hjort Frederiksen have both been accused of leaking sensitive information.

READ ALSO: Denmark frees ex-spy boss accused of leaks

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POLITICS

KEY POINTS: What is Denmark proposing to change in its latest reform package?

Denmark’s government on Monday proposed a new reform package which could see major changes introduced at universities and public sector workplaces.

KEY POINTS: What is Denmark proposing to change in its latest reform package?

A new proposal for reforms in Denmark, presented by the government on Monday, could see a significant number of Master’s degree programmes shortened from two years to one and red tape in public services trimmed back.

The proposal is titles Danmark kan mere III (“Denmark can do more part III). It follows earlier reform packages tabled in September 2021 and April 2022, which focused on social welfare and energy, among other areas, respectively.

Higher education 

The headline element of Monday’s proposal is arguably the plan to shorten a large number of Master’s degrees at Danish universities from two years to one.

The proposal was first reported in Danish media last week and has now been formalised with Monday’s announcement.

READ ALSO: Denmark plans to shorten university courses to save money 

Currently, it takes two years to complete any Master’s degree in Denmark (after completing the three-year Bachelor’s degree).

While it is common in some countries – including the United States and United Kingdom – to enter the labour market after completing a Bachelor’s degree, this is not the case in Denmark, where most university students go on to do a Master’s programme.

The government is proposing to shorten around half of all Master’s degrees by a year. This means that the Master’s programme will take one year, rather than two, and that the total time these students spend at university will be around four years, not five.

Under the proposal, around 35 percent of existing MA or MSc degrees will become one-year programmes. 15 percent will become so-called erhvervskandidater “professional Master’s degrees”. These can be structured over anything from one to four years but will require students to work at least 25 hours per week while studying. The total hours of studying add up to a one-year course.

The remaining 50 percent of Master’s degrees will continue as two-year courses.

The government has not specified which programmes will be shortened but has confirmed that humanities and social science subjects will be the primary targets. Scientific degrees are less likely to be cut back.

“The educations in which you need an actual authorisation, for example in the health sector, or where you need to take a specialisation early, these need to remain at two years,” the Minister for Higher Education and Research, Jesper Petersen, said at Monday’s briefing.

The move will release two billion kroner of funding that can be reinvested in education, the government said.

Universities have shown opposition to the proposal. The rector of Aarhus University, Brian Bech Nielsen, told broadcaster DR that the changes would degrade the quality of university educations.

“This is very, very drastic because it is a very, very large proportion of university degrees that would be shortened. How do we know that this helps? [University] requires immersion in study, and that takes time. You can’t learn everything in half the time,” he said.

“It would mean that some Master’s graduates would have a lower level of qualification. That would damage Danish businesses our society and the students,” he said.

Public sector

The government wants to save money by cutting back on bureaucracy, particularly at the municipal level.

Around 2.5 billion kroner of spending will be diverted to other areas under the reform plan by cutting back on administrative labour and spending additional resources on “core welfare” (kernevelfærd), the government said.

“The human side of welfare has been given less time and documentation and cold numbers have been given more time,” Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said at the briefing.

One example of reduced administration is a plan to scrap half of all daily registration tasks in the elderly care sector, DR reports.

According to the government, the plan does not mean fewer public sector workers, but a higher proportion in sectors such as childcare and elderly care.

As such, the plan does not mean people will lose jobs, Finance Minister Nicolai Wammen argues at the briefing.

“Some people will have to be re-trained. Others will spend less time in front of the computer and more in front of the public. It’s not something that can be done with a snap of the fingers but we want to set a very clear direction here,” Wammen said.

The government also wants to apply a “rule stop” (regelstop) meaning that every time a new rule is introduced in the public sector which could divert time from into administration, an existing rule must be scrapped. As such, the total number of rules does not increase.

The national organisation for municipalities, KL (Kommunernes Landsforening) expressed skepticism over the plan in comments to DR.

”There are no shortcut solutions in relation to reducing administration and releasing resources for welfare,” KL’s chairperson Martin Damm told the broadcaster.

The proposal would need backing from a majority of parties to be passed in parliament and implemented.

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