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Far-right politician appointed chair of Danish citizenship committee

Michael Barrett
Michael Barrett - [email protected]
Far-right politician appointed chair of Danish citizenship committee
Mikkel Bjørn, the far-right MP who now heads Denmark's parliamentary citizenship committee. In the foreground is Nye Borgerlige (New Right) party leader Pernille Vermund. Photo: Emil Helms/Ritzau Scanpix

Mikkel Bjørn, a far-right politician with the Nye Borgerlige party, is the new chairperson of parliament’s citizenship committee.

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The parliamentary citizenship committee – infødsretsudvalg in Danish – is responsible for handling bills by which citizenship applications are approved.

The bills – tabled twice each year – contain the names of applicants who have applied to become naturalised Danish citizens. The final decision to approve the applications is made by voting through the bill in parliament.

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This is usually a formality for applications which meet the requirements, meaning the vote is procedural. The committee can approve applications which fail to meet criteria if it decides to grant dispensation.

In a change enacted under the previous single-party Social Democratic government, the bills are now organised according to the nationality of applicants, a notable difference from the former practice of listing them alphabetically.

As such, it is easy to see which applicants are in the categories set out in updated citizenship rules introduced in 2021: “Nordic countries”, “other Western countries”, “‘Menap’ countries [Middle East, North Africa, Pakistan ed.] plus Turkey”, and “other non-Western countries”.

READ ALSO: How to apply for citizenship in Denmark

In comments to news wire Ritzau, Bjørn said that, as a member of the committee, he would look closely at the countries applicants originate from.

“We need to have a justified assumption that the person to whom we give citizenship should benefit Denmark and the Danish public in general,” he said.

“So for me, the country people are applying from is one of the parameters I need to address when I decide whether to give a citizenship,” he said.

Bjørn is vociferously critical of Islam and has previously called the hijab or Muslim headscarf an “instrument of torture”. At the Nye Borgerlige national conference in November, he said the “freedom and the fatherland must be reconquered and given back to the Danes”, Ritzau reported.

In a tweet from September 2022, before he was elected to parliament, the far-right politician claimed that “Danishness is under threat and Danish culture is being replaced”, referencing Danish fertility rates amongst people with immigrant heritage compared to ethnic Danes.

Although Bjørn’s appointment might be perceived a hostile one to people hoping to be granted Danish citizenship, he stressed to Ritzau that, when he stated his own views or spoke for his party, he was doing so as a committee member only, not as chairperson.

“When I speak as chair of the citizenship committee, I do so on behalf of the committee and therefore [express] the opinions that are broadly represented there,” he said.

It should also be noted that the chairperson of a parliamentary committee does not have power independent of the committee, as Aarhus University professor of political science Jørgen Grønnegaard Christensen explained to Ritzau.

“But there is naturally something symbolic and communicative in it, and that’s what has caught attention. But you can’t actually apply any great significance to it,” he said.

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A key task of the committee is to decide whether to grant compensation in cases where an applicant does not fulfil one or more of the application criteria. Members vote anonymously.

Bjørn told Ritzau in comments on January 8th that “I think we’ve had markedly worse experiences with giving citizenship to people from Islamic countries than we have with other countries. That shouldn’t be any secret”.

“It is certain that if we had people in for a personal interview, the question of nationality would move much more into the background because there would then be the possibility to look into other things, which unfortunately isn’t an option with the current mass-distribution system,” he said.

Denmark’s citizenship rules are generally regarded to be among the strictest in Europe.

Bjørn noted that current rules already differentiate between applicants’ existing nationalities in some cases – more lenient criteria apply to Nordic nationals, for example.

READ ALSO: How do Denmark’s citizenship rules compare to Sweden and Norway?

The committee has other tasks including handling bills related to proposed citizenship law changes and parliamentary checks on process in which the immigration minister can be called into hearings.

There are 30 different committees in parliament, of which the citizenship committee is one. A representative number of MPs from the 11 parties in parliament sit on the committees. The citizenship committee has 17 members, with Helene Liliendahl Brydensholt of the environmentalist Alternative party the vice-chair.

In general, committees in the Danish parliament are tasked with detailed scrutiny of legislative work, remaining generally oriented on their given areas and keeping checks on the government through hearings when issues are raised.

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