By Gustav Hoejmark-Jensen, photos by pxhere.com, Flickr.com and Wikipedia.com
After a short break during the winter holidays, we are now back with more reviews of the Danish financial and political developments. In this recap: the Asylum-Island project is a go, the unemployment benefits get a slash, the upcoming election shows its early symptoms as politicians agree to build 70 kilometre “pig wall”, Denmark is considered the least corrupt country by survey that ignores corrupt banks, and last but not least, the Danish Financial Supervisory Authority clears itself of any wrongdoing in internal investigation.
Remember when we in November reported on the very populistic, government led project of an Island centre for rejected asylum seekers called Lindholm that was heavily backed by the nationalist Danish People’s Party (DF)? In case you forgot, the government and DF basically intends to keep up to 125 denied asylum seekers on an island previously used for viral research in the south-east waters of Denmark.
Back in November, everyone knew that it was going to be expensive, but we didn’t know exactly how expensive this project was going to be. In December, the government finally revealed the costs of their project: 759 million DKK: 210 million DKK for infrastructure and renovations on the island itself, and a whopping 225 million DKK to be spent on running the place until the year 2022 as the Danish newspaper Information writes.
The Danish Probation Service will allocate 74 million DKK to keeping the asylum seekers on the island, and the Danish Police Service will spend 77 million DKK on “safety related measures” on the mainland close to the island in 2021. These numbers are due to increase the year after. All this amounts to the Danish government spending approximately 1,8 million DKK per rejected asylum seeker in the coming years.
1,8 million DKK per person?! In comparison, the latest figures (2015) from the Danish Institute for Local and Regional Government Research shows that it costs about 70.000 DKK to send a child to primary school in Denmark per year, on average, and that’s also considering special education and tutoring.
Shocking, isn’t it? That the government and supporting parties are willing to spend this much, only to make life miserable for 125 people a year before they are sent away?
Maybe the increasing ocean levels can stop the plan dead in its tracks before this project is complete.
We stay with our precious politicians a little longer, since they were so keen on approving one controversial bill after the other in what some would call yet another example of “symbol politics”.
With the passing of a new law in December, the government (with the support of DF) is now making significant changes to the Danish unemployment benefits system administered by the so-called “A-kasser” in Denmark. The changes mean that foreigners (EU and non-EU citizens) and Danes alike will only be eligible for unemployment benefits if they have worked in Denmark or another EU/EEA country for the past seven of twelve consecutive years. This means that internationals coming from outside the EU, who had a job in Denmark for less than seven years, and individuals from EU countries (including Denmark) that have worked outside the union in the past seven years are now left without financial support, should they lose their jobs. According to DR the Ministry of Employment estimates that the application of the new law will lead to 20,350 opting out of an unemployment insurance fund.
For those who don’t know the mechanics of the Danish unemployment benefits or insurance system, also labeled “dagpenge”, it works as both a government- and self-funded insurance fund. When you find a job, you can start paying towards an “A-kasse” – a company that administers the fund. The payment that a contributor makes is then substituted by the government and so if the contributor loses his or her job, they will receive financial support while looking for a new one. It is this safety net, preventing families and individuals from financial ruin if they lose a job, that is now being reformed by the government and DF.
Earlier this year, leading figures from three of Denmark’s major A-kasser published an article saying that the politicians should stop their pursuit of symbolic immigration politics through messing with the rules regarding the unemployment funds and yet it seems to be exactly what the government and DF are doing.
According to The Local, the European Parliament may be working towards a resolution that would open the Danish unemployment benefits system significantly, but such an intervention could still be years away, and as it stands now, the new law will be fully implemented by 2021
December, with its merry-go-light atmosphere, has been all but hearty towards foreigners and Danes alike.
The time for national elections in Denmark is moving closer, and it is already showing in Danish politics as government politicians are keen to improve their ratings. The Prime Minister has to launch a national election by June 19th 2019 at the latest. But, he is free to launch the election at any time and preferably for his party (Venstre) he will do so when the ratings are favorable.
This scrambling for better ratings may be the reason it only took the government and its ever-supportive Danish People’s Party (DF) a few weeks to agree on a massive 70-kilometer steel fence across the Danish-German border. Its declared purpose is to keep wild boars from Germany out of Denmark, since these wild beasts carry a contagious and (to pigs) very destructive disease called African Swine Fever.
The project to preserve Denmark’s export of pork, worth 11 billion DKK, sparked immediate celebrations among farmers and in the agricultural lobby and food industry organisations in Denmark, all powerful sponsors of the government party Venstre (V) and DF. The project will cost the Danish taxpayers around 30 million DKK – a cheap price to avoid an agricultural disaster if you ask the DF and Venstre (V), parties that have always been looking out for farmers’ interests in Denmark.
Poland and the Czech Republic are also following suit and are adopting similar plans to protect their pigs and pork production, and maybe 30 million DKK really is a small sacrifice to save Denmark’s main export?
Had it only been that easy…
It turns out that flies and other insects can also carry the feared African Swine Fever and can quite easily infect both Danish and European pigs if stung or otherwise subjected to these destructive bearers. Epidemiologists from the Danish Technical Institute were “baffled” by how fast the disease could spread by these winged creatures as DR reports.
Fending off the wild pigs is one thing, keeping Denmark hermetically sealed is another and it would require a very different kind of funding to keep the cherished export 100% safe. Which is why this pig-wall smells like another case of symbol politics to keep the agricultural lobby groups happy before the upcoming national election.
This may seem paradoxical judging by the massive banking and tax authority scandal that scarred Denmark last year but, nonetheless, Denmark has now been deemed the least corrupt country in the world in 2019 by Transparency International, an independent NGO.
But how can Denmark be the least corrupt country when our tax authorities threw away 12,6 billion DKK and our largest bank, used by the government, stands accused of laundering 1.500 billion DKK overseas? Well, Transparency International focuses on how a country’s legal and political institutions work and thankfully, Denmark has very clean institutions in these respects since we were able to score 88 out of a 100. But in 2015 our score was 91. Somehow our institutions have become more corrupt – which may be a different story entirely.
However, I am sure that if the survey included monetary institutions our score would be dramatically lower. Yet, I can promise you that the Danish politicians will not shy away from mentioning this report when they go on their campaigns in the spring, mainly to divert attention from the fact that our tax authority has major flaws and that our largest bank practised very creative accounting to put it lightly.
Thankfully, the survey score of 88 out of a 100 indicates that Denmark is not a perfect state when it comes to the conduct of government institutions – case in point: the acquittal of the Danish Financial Supervisory Authority.
The Danish Financial Supervisory Authority has received huge criticism for not discovering and acting upon Danske Bank’s handling of 1.500 suspect billions of DKK in its Estonian division. And now it acquits itself of any wrongdoing (?!).
The Director of the Danish Financial Supervisory Authority, Jesper Berg, said in a press briefing on January 29th that: “The Estonian-case has had a deeply disruptive effect on the people’s trust for the financial system and Denmark’s international reputation. It is crucial that corrective work continues and is increased. We have to learn from this case.”
What confuses me is that if the main objective is to re-establish the people’s trust in the financial system, why not initiate an investigation led by an outside actor? Every alarm bell should be ringing when an institution looks for flaws within itself. Also, we must not forget that the previous chairman of the Danish Financial Supervisory Authority was the leading director for due diligence in Danske Bank before he quit in May last year in the wake of the money laundering charges.
Despite this, the Financial Supervisory Authority has been allowed to lead the investigation itself and of course finds nothing wrong with their conduct, they did, however present 23 “ideas” for increasing control with money laundering and boosting the effectiveness of the authority.
I think we need more than two dozen ideas to trust the financial institutions of this country again, good anti-corruption scores or not.
Disclaimer: This column is a satirical news commentary and should be understood as such.