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Why has a Danish MP with a 15-year-old girlfriend not been forced to quit?

Michael Barrett
Michael Barrett - [email protected]
Why has a Danish MP with a 15-year-old girlfriend not been forced to quit?
Danish MP Mike Fonseca has defended his relationship with a 15-year-old girl. Photo: Ida Marie Odgaard/Ritzau Scanpix

Danish politician Mike Fonseca says his relationship with a 15-year-old girl “works well for us and we love each other”. He returned to work in parliament on Thursday after taking sick leave when the relationship was made public.

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Fonseca, 28, was reported to police in November after he admitted having a relationship with a 15-year-old. He claimed in comments to Danish media at the time that the relationship was “true love”.

He was subsequently thrown out of his party, the Moderates, whose leader Lars Løkke Rasmussen said that he had been "speechless" when he learned of Fonseca's relationship. Fonseca told broadcaster TV2 that he had broken the Moderate Party's code of conduct by dating someone under the age of 18. 

While reports at the time claimed he began the relationship when the girl was in Year 8 at school, he has always held that the relationship only began once she passed the age of consent. In January, police in Central and West Zealand confirmed that a grooming report had been received, and that the case had now been closed. They did not confirm the case related to Fonseca specifically.

A police spokesperson told news wire Ritzau that there was "no reasonable suspicion that the law has been broken”.

Fonseca returned to parliament as an independent on Thursday after two and a half months of sick leave, after originally announcing he would be off for three weeks when his relationship was first made public.

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His return as an independent came after he said he could see himself joining the Social Democrats, Liberal (Venstre) or the Liberal Alliance. All three parties responded by saying he would not be welcome.

In comments to news wire Ritzau, he said he could understand if his relationship was perceived as “strange”.

“But I can tell you that my girlfriend and I are doing well, it works for us and we love each other,” he said.

He also wrote a column for media Altinget ahead of his return to parliament, in which he said his sick leave had actually begun before the relationship was reported by the media and that he had “not done anything against the law”.

“I will continue to be true to myself, not least my girlfriend, my loved ones and my mandate – now as an independent member of parliament,” he wrote.

“The rules become strangely irrelevant when a couple loves each other. Maybe it’s crazy. But love doesn’t follow the rules. Love has a plan for every one of us and love makes you blind,” he wrote.

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The lawmaker’s relationship has seen him ostracized by his former party and several others and would conceivably cost him his job entirely in countries where the age of consent is 16, such as the UK. In the United States, the age of consent is 16 in most states and 17 or 18 in a smaller number.

In Denmark, where the age of consent is 15, Fonseca is not breaking the law by being having a relationship with a person of that age and police have stated they do not “reasonably suspect” grooming laws have been broken.

Denmark is not the only European country to set its age of consent at 15 or even lower.

Nordic neighbours Norway and Sweden place it at 16 and 15 respectively, though in Sweden this rises to 18 if there’s a position of trust on one side.

In Spain it is 16, while in France it is 15 although until recently, France did not have a specific age of consent at all.

Denmark’s age of consent applies to all forms of sexual situations, but this is not the case in all European countries.

In Austria, for example, the age of consent is 14 but this does not apply to “sexual contact” if the age difference between two adolescents is not more than four years and the younger partner is over the age of 12. If the contact is in the form of sexual intercourse, the permitted age difference is three years and the minimum age 13, according to Austrian law.

Similarly, Italy’s rules state the age of consent in Italy is 14, but it rises to 16 when one participant is in a position of authority (such as a teacher, clergyman, etc). Italy also has a “close-in-age rule” where 13-year-olds can legally consent to partners who are less than three years older than them.

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