Danish opposition unable to force Great Prayer Day referendum

Opposition parties in the Danish parliament will not be able to force through a referendum over the government’s plan to abolish the Great Prayer Day holiday after two parties declined to back the motion.

Danish opposition unable to force Great Prayer Day referendum
People protest the government plan to scrap Great Prayer Day earlier in February. The bill looks likely to pass in parliament after an opposition move to force a referendum on the issue failed. Photo: Emil Helms/Ritzau Scanpix

Two opposition parties – the Socialist People’s Party (SF) and Liberal Alliance – confirmed on Monday they will not join other opposition parties who say they want a referendum to be held on the question.

The parties who have stated they are in favour are the Red Green Alliance (Enhedslisten), Danish People’s Party, Denmark Democrats and Alternative.

The bill to abolish Great Prayer Day will be voted on in parliament on Tuesday and now looks set to be passed.

Under the rules of parliament, votes from 60 MPs – a third of the total 179 seats – could have sent the bill to a referendum. The four parties can only muster 26 seats between them and therefore needed help from larger opposition groups.

Some opposition parties have been reluctant to support the referendum because of concerns it would result in a “slippery slope” whereby government policy increasingly becomes the subject of referenda.

Red Green Alliance and Danish People’s Party on Sunday stated they would not call for a referendum on any other point in the government’s policy platform, citing this concern as a reason for the clarification.

“I don’t understand why on one hand you can stand on the front line and say it’s stupid and awful to abolish Great Prayer Day, which I agree with, and on the other hand not give the public the opportunity to stop it,” Red Green Alliance lead political spokesperson Mai Villadsen said.

“It’s incredibly disappointing. And it leaves the other parties with shared responsibility for not stopping this,” she said.

The three coalition government parties – the Social Democrats, Liberals (Venstre) and Moderates – want to abolish the springtime public holiday in a move they say will enable increased defence spending to meet Nato targets by 2030, three years ahead of the current schedule.

bill was tabled by the government in January.

The policy has met with criticism from trade unionsthe church and opposition parties, while the military has also distanced itself from the plan. Thousands of Danes took part in a demonstration against it outside parliament earlier this month.


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Lawyers criticise Danish parliament for ‘special treatment’ of party leader

Two lawyers have accused parliament of double standards for deciding not to legally pursue Alex Vanopslagh, the leader of the Liberal Alliance party, after he was found to have breached rules relating to apartments provided to MPs.

Lawyers criticise Danish parliament for ‘special treatment’ of party leader

Parliament’s decision not to take Vanopslagh’s case to the courts suggests that the public and politicians are not equal before the law, according to two lawyers who spoke to broadcaster DR.

As an elected member of parliament, Liberal Alliance leader Vanopslagh was provided with a free apartment in Copenhagen and given parliamentary subsidies for “double household” (dobbelt husførelse) because he was registered as living at an address in Struer, West Jutland.

It later emerged he did not genuinely use the Struer address as his home and had thereby broken the rules. He later paid back the subsidies in full and returned the Copenhagen apartment.

“I’m not for one second in doubt that if this had been a municipal case, the municipality would have asked for the money back and reported him to the police,” lawyer Mads Pramming, a benefit fraud specialist, told broadcaster DR.

In 2019, parliament – including Liberal Alliance – voted for stricter rules on benefit fraud, including obliging municipalities to report certain types of cases to the police.

“It looks a bit funny that parliament is enacting strict control to prevent the public being paid money they are not entitled to, and giving municipalities an obligation to report it. And when it then comes to parliament itself, things are a lot less strict,” Pramming told DR.

Struer Municipality has ruled that Vanopslagh broke CPR (central person registration) rules by not living in Struer enough between 2020 and 2022 for it to be deemed his actual residence, as he claimed at the time.

Two left-wing parties, Red Green Alliance and Alternative, have called for the Præsidium – speaker’s council – in parliament to consider whether Vanopslagh should be prosecuted over the issue.

The speaker of parliament, Søren Gade, has told DR that the case will not be taken further. A previous case from 2015 has been cited as precedent for the decision.

A second lawyer, Michael Bjørn Hansen, called that stance “absurd” in comments to the broadcaster. Hansen also has expertise in benefit fraud cases.

“Based on some kind of objective consideration, this is certainly benefit fraud. Because he has cheated on some rules and received public benefits which he is not entitled to,” he said.

Equal status before the law “is not present here” unless parliament files a report with police, he argued.

“This is different to the demands parliament is making on municipalities,” he said.

The Præsidium is responsible for managing Denmark’s 179 lawmakers. Five members of parliament sit on the council, with the speaker being the senior member.

Vanopslagh has admitted to wrongdoing in the “double home” scandal and said his knowledge of the rules had been lacking.

“It’s my fault, I made a mistake. But other people make the judgement and say what I have to pay back,” he said earlier this week.

A number of legal experts previously told newspaper Dagbladet Information that the matter should be investigated by the police.

Vanopslagh received a total of around 75,000 kroner to which he was not entitled, according to DR.