Politics briefing – New rules for Uber, friction with Greenland, and refugee numbers fall

Some of the biggest politics stories from the past month, made bitesized

US base stirs tension with Greenland

Greenland’s foreign minister Vittus Qujaukitsoq thinks the Danish government is interfering too much with issues that directly affect Greenlanders

Discontent is brewing in Greenland over its relationship with the Kingdom of Denmark. Over the past 60 years the former colony has transitioned to a self-governing territory, but its parliament still doesn’t have full control over its affairs, such as defence.

In December, Greenland’s foreign minister Vittus Qujaukitsoq (left) accused Denmark of “arrogance” for blocking Greenland from having influence on issues important to the Greenlandic people.

He takes aim at the deal that allows the US to have a military base near Thule in north Greenland. Denmark retains control of Greenland’s defence, so the Greenlandic parliament has no influence over the terms of the deal and what benefits it must provide Greenland.

“For 75 years we have provided facilities for the USA, but the results of the US presence has been nothing but trouble, nothing but environmental pollution,” he told Politiken newspaper.

In other areas such as fishing policy, finding a compromise can be difficult because Denmark and Greenland’s interests can be divergent.

“We have come to a point where Greenland no longer thinks the situation is acceptable,” Qujaukitsoq said. “The arrogance is destroying our relationship in the Kingdom of Denmark.”

In an email to Politiken, foreign minister Anders Samuelsen said he didn’t find the criticism reasonable or constructive.

“I do not recognise the arrogant approach that Vittus Qujaukitsoq expresses. We have clearly said in the government platform that it is a central responsibility to the government to manage important cases such as the Thule Base.” M

Uber finds a friend in new coalition government

“Taking an Uber” has become almost synonymous with grabbing a taxi in many cities around the world. But while Uber drivers also cruise Copenhagen’s streets, the Eastern High Court ruled in November that they were doing so illegally by not following taxi regulations.

The ruling upheld the conviction of six Uber drivers in the summer, who were each fined 6000 kroner. In early January, the police presented charges against another 44 drivers.

Unions and the taxi industry oppose Uber, arguing the firm undermines collective bargaining agreements and operates at an unfair advantage. Taxis, for example, are not allowed to turn away customers, while Uber drivers can pick and choose their clients based on their individual rating.

The coalition right-wing government is a believer in the service, however. In their platform they published in November, they promised to deregulate the taxi industry to promote innovation, spur competition and bring down prices.

In December they presented their reform, which removes the cap on taxi licences, allows taxis to operate across municipal lines, deregulates pricing restrictions, and places greater demands on services such as Uber to share information with the tax authorities.

Many elements were met with criticism such as the proposal to remove the requirements for taxis to have video surveillance and seat sensors. The latter ensure that taxi drivers don’t bypass the mandated minimum prices set by the government.

But transport minister Ole Birk Olesen from Liberal Alliance argues the new regulations make it much harder to cheat the tax authorities.

“Uber must provide documentation that every single vehicle lives up to the regulations and that the taxes have been paid. If they don’t want to satisfy these regulations, they will be closed,” Olesen told Politiken. M

Refugee numbers fall

While the number of asylum seekers dropped by almost two thirds between 2016 and 2017, more than 1600 rejected asylum seekers have gone missing

Only 55 migrants sought asylum in Denmark in the last week of 2016, ending a relatively quiet year for the asylum system. According to the police, 6072 people applied for asylum in 2016, compared to around 21,000 in 2015.

Danish authorities had otherwise expected a busy year, with as many as 25,000 arrivals according to Berlingske. In preparation, they established a number of temporary tent facilities across the country to house the new arrivals.

With immigration minister Inger Støjberg admitting that the camps were designed to make Denmark a less attractive country for asylum seekers, it may be that she succeeded. The closure of the Balkan route for migrants travelling from the Middle East may also have brought down numbers. So too could the temporary border controls the government introduced in early 2015.

But while the government has lived up to their promise to control the flow of migrants, they don’t have as much control over the fate of failed asylum seekers. Police have lost contact with 1600 failed asylum seekers over the past 18 months according to a freedom of information request submitted by Politiken newspaper.

The national police, Rigspolitiet, argue that the majority have moved on from Denmark, but according to the Rockwool Fondens Forskningsenhed, around 10,000 failed asylum seekers are living in Denmark without the necessary documentation.

Citing the risk of terror, the Social Democrats (Socialdemokrater) and Danish People’s Party (DF) have both urged the government to step up their efforts to find and deport failed asylum seekers.

“It’s reasonable to believe that that some of those who are living underground are subsisting from crime, as they cannot have a legal income,” Socialdemokrater immigration spokesperson Dan Jørgensen told Politiken.

DF’s immigration spokesperson Martin Henriksen pointed out that the recent terror attack in Berlin was carried out by a failed asylum seeker.

“It would be great if they just moved on to another country. But we don’t know that, and seen through DF’s eyes it is a security risk for the Danish society,” he said, adding that failed asylum seekers should be automatically held in detention.

Jørgensen does not agree, arguing it violates international conventions and “common decency”.

“But that doesn’t mean that nothing can be done,” he said.

Michala Bendixen, chairman of Refugees Welcome, argues that rejected asylum seekers should be given another legal opportunity to remain in the country.

“They could, for example, apply for work permits, family reunification or study visas,” she told Politiken. “We are talking about refugees here, who for many different reasons don’t want to leave. Politicians have to recognise their situation.” M

Weak Europol deal looks likely

The police were dealt a major blow last year following a referendum that meant Denmark had to pull out of the EU policing agency Europol. After months of negotiations, however, Denmark has struck a deal with the European Commission that means Danish police might be able to continue to use Europol’s resources.

The referendum was over whether to replace Denmark’s opt-out from EU justice and policing cooperation with a case-by-case opt-in. In May, when Europol transitions from a supranational organisation to a full EU agency in May, the opt-out will prevent Denmark from remaining a member.

Danes were encouraged to vote ‘no’ by parties who assured them it would be possible for Denmark to secure a so-called parallel agreement with the EU to retain its membership. But these assurances were dealt a major blow when EU officials all but ruled out a deal.

In December, however, the European Commission offered Denmark partial access to Europol, that would give Danish police indirect access to Europol’s information system.

“It’s not as good as if we were a full member, but it’s an agreement that could work,” Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen told reporters after his talks with EU leaders, but added there was a risk that the deal would not be accepted by the European Parliament.

“It’s a complicated process and many decisions need to be made along the way. The EU Parliament needs to debate it twice – you can’t pass the football to yourself all the time, so you need others to pass it to you to be sure that you score.”

While the deal means that, on an operative level, police have essentially the same tools at their disposal, Denmark has no influence or control over the development of Europol cooperation.

Still, the deal is better than Norway’s and will not be made available to the UK when they leave the UK. It is contingent, however, on Denmark remaining a member of the EU and the passport free zone, Schengen.

Immigrant repatriation centre condemned

“The deportation centre Kærshovedgård by Ikast is the closest Denmark has to a concentration camp without being one.”

So wrote Stig Grenov, leader of the Christian Democrats (KD) in an op-ed for Politiken newspaper. The centre, which houses rejected asylum seekers and criminals sentenced to deportation, has few amenities and is designed to be as uncomfortable as possible.

According to Grenov, the 80 inhabitants are served measly portions of food, provided inadequate medical care, and are needlessly bullied by the staff.

“All people should be treated properly. If you make their existence intolerable – as the [immigration] minister has done, then Denmark is no longer a Christian country,” Grenov writes.

“Before the Second World War, Denmark expelled Jews to Nazi Germany. We are about to write another dark chapter in our history.”

Immigration minister Inger Støjberg responded on Facebook, calling his comparison to Nazi Germany “disrespectful to the more than six million Jews who lost their lives in concentration camps”.

She argues that the immigrants in Kærshovedgård are unwanted, and that their conditions are fitting.

“I don’t want to use a lot of tax payer funds on immigrants who are required to leave Denmark after, in many cases, committing severe crimes.”

PM defends cuts in NYE speech

While many look back on 2016 as a year to forget, prime minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen is looking forward to the future with optimism.

“We are richer. Live longer. Have more freedom to do what we want. The present is better than the past. And the future will be even better,” Rasmussen said in his live New Year address

He also presented arguments for some of the government’s more controversial reforms of the past year.

With the economic crisis over, he argued that there was a need to better reward Danes who choose to work rather than receive unemployment benefits.

And by spending less on asylum centres and student grants, it frees money for investment in infrastructure, tax cuts, foreign aid and education.

He also urged Danes to see the opportunities that international trade and technology present society.

“We cannot keep jobs in Denmark by stopping to trade with abroad. And we cannot magic away the refugee crisis or threat from terrorism by pulling out of international cooperation that is designed to solve the problems. We cannot build walls to the world, for we end up locking ourselves in.” M


By Peter Stanners

Co-founder and Editor-in-chief. Occasional photographer.

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