Last week saw Denmark walk right into a veritable international political storm, when the Danish parliament passed the controversial refugee proposal better known as L87 or “The Jewellery Proposal”.
The proposal garnered lots of media attention and criticism from humanitarian organisations as well as UN Chief Ban-Ki-Moon, because it allows the police to confiscate valuables from refugees and extend the period allowed for reunification with families to three years upon entry to Denmark. These two particular points in the 34-point bill are now under renegotiation.
However, the damage to Denmark’s image as a welcoming and tolerant society has already been done. Proposal L87 has drawn comparisons with similar laws in Nazi Germany, where Jews had their jewellery and other property confiscated as well. Foreign Affairs Minister Kristian Jensen and Minister for Foreigners, Integration and Housing Inger Støjberg, were summoned to a hearing in front of the EU Parliament human rights committee , explaining in Danish what the proposal was about, so as to avoid any misunderstandings occurring from their presentation.
Eyebrows have been raised internationally not only because of the nature of the proposal itself, of which Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said he was ‘worried’. Many think this proposal is very unlike Denmark, which in modern history has always had a welcoming image towards refugees.
However, Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen has called L87 ‘perhaps the most misunderstood law proposal in Danish history’, bringing the treatment of refugees into line with that of Danish and other claimants but at the same time several high profile and ordinary members of both the Liberal and Social Democrats have left their respective parties in protest..
Why, then, could such a proposal see the light of day in the first place, and what kind of effect will it have on other EU member states?
Parliamentary checks and balances
The current Danish government consists of just one party – the Liberal party, which in a multi-party parliamentary system is unusual. It is even more unusual because the Liberals according to Denmark’s Radio only received 19.5 per cent of the votes in last year’s general election, thereby not getting anywhere near having a majority of seats in parliament. How could this come about?
The answer lies with Danish People’s Party’s (DPP) backing of the Liberal Party chairman Rasmussen for Prime Minister in the general election. Although the Liberals had a rather disappointing election, the DPP with its blend of social democracy and nationalism enjoyed an almost meteoric rise in popularity in the election campaign, effectively becoming the second largest party in parliament with 21.1 per cent of the votes, only surpassed by the Social Democrats’ 26.3 per cent.
But the DPP refused to go into a coalition government with the Liberals, preferring to stay out of government, and instead influence Danish politics from the backbenches. Because none of the other centre or liberal parties wanted to enter into government under these circumstances, it left the Liberal Party governing alone, but with a majority secured by the (interim) backing of the DPP.
This has resulted in a checks and balances system, where the Liberals must get their every move approved by the DPP – otherwise it will withdraw its support and a fresh general election must take place.
In what looks suspiciously like a cynical quest for votes, the Social Democrats tagged along with proposal L87 in order to win votes from both Liberals and the DPP, creating chaos within the party. Members are leaving the party in protest from the local to the parliamentary levels and the party’s support is plummeting in opinion polls.
Denmark and Sweden: alliance in tatters
As if this whole debacle was not already a Gordian Knot for Prime Minister Ramsussen to untie, he also has to deal with neighbouring Sweden, which has installed temporary border checks from January 4 this year, after receiving almost 160,000 asylum seekers last year.
The closure of the Swedish border has left refugees wanting to settle in Denmark as well, as Norway is also underway with new proposals to tighten the rules for asylum seekers. This in turn has meant that Denmark has wanted to limit the number of refugees scouting Denmark as their favoured destination.
A European ripple-effect
Critics would say that Denmark through its Proposal L87 has effectively been trying to run a scare campaign: spreading the word that it is fundamentally an unattractive country for refugees to settle in. Although this has already proven more than harmful to Denmark’s otherwise good reputation, Europe has already seen similar tendencies in other heavyweight European countries. Most notable is Germany where the coalition government has decided to tighten the rules and send back asylum seekers from Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia because these countries are deemed relatively safe. It already seizes refugee assets – even more so than Denmark. So does non-EU Switzerland.
Who makes the next move?
These tactics could have been avoided if the EU had been more successful in its endeavour to cooperate on the refugee crisis last year: just 273 of the planned 160,000 transfers have taken place while as many as 135,000 refugees arrive monthly on the island of Lesbos from Turkey alone.
From proposal L87 we have certainly learned that it is unpopular among voters and party members, as well as in the international political community. On the other hand, it is difficult for the EU to impose sanctions, unless it or human rights organisations take legal action against Denmark for breach of human rights.
One thing is certain though: it will be even harder for the 28 EU member states to find common ground on a uniform refugee policy if more countries follow suit and employ measures such as the “Jewellery Proposal”. The Schengen passport-free zone is being shredded daily, refugees are coming in their thousands and dying by the score, razor-wire barriers are being erected along the EU’s internal borders, even Angela Merkel’s tenure as German chancellor may no longer be safe: it’s not Denmark alone wrecking Europe; it’s the failure of the 28 to show solidarity with each other and with the refugees.