Everything you need to know to plan the perfect birthday party
Flip the paper over for a special news section on Denmark’s EU presidency
6 - 12 January 2012 | Vol 15 Issue 1
Denmark’s only English-language newspaper | cphpost.dk SCANPIX
The queen and the prime minister address the nation and receive less than glowing reviews
Cycling fines take big jump Riding no-handed, cycling through a red light, or failing to signal a turn will cost dearly
Torture allegations reach top brass
In a forced cost-cutting move, there will be mass layoffs at the Royal Theatre and fewer productions
The economic storm cloud’s silver lining JENNIFER BULEY
The bricks of Billund Everyone knows Lego, but do you know the story behind the iconic building blocks?
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Indications that former defence minister was aware that prisoners were being tortured 4
Amidst gloom and doom recession worries, the last days of 2011 served up a few happy surprises
OOD ECONOMIC news was a rare find in the final months of 2011. Nevertheless, there were a few bright spots in Denmark’s economic outlook as we turned the page on the new year. Just before Christmas, Moody’s – one of the world’s top three credit rating agencies – gave Denmark a shiny present: a renewed AAA credit rating. Moody’s praised Denmark for trimming back its early-retirement programme (efterløn) and raising the retirement age (see story on page five).
“The government’s top-notch ratings reflect Denmark’s stable macro-economic and political environment and relatively healthy government balance sheet,” the credit agency wrote. But as with most economic prognoses in these uncertain times, the triple-A rating was delivered with a dose of caution. “The generous social welfare system is becoming less affordable following the global economic crisis, as debt to GDP ratios have climbed sharply,” the agency continued. Speaking of interest, foreign investors continued to turn in large numbers to Denmark as a safe spot to park their money while the Eurozone countries ride out the euro storm. Germany’s Financial Times Deutschland newspaper marvelled that Den-
mark’s central bank is currently reaping a “premium” to hold investors’ capital, writing that stable Denmark is perceived as a safe haven in the financial storm. While Italy, near the centre of the maelstrom, was selling government bonds at an interest rate of close to seven percent last month, Danish bonds were selling briskly at just 0.03 percent interest, or even at a negative interest rate, meaning that investors are, in effect, paying Denmark to safeguard their cash. In light of the record-low interest rate – and with no expectation of a reversal soon – lenders introduced a record-low 30-year fixed-rate mortgage at just 3.5 percent. Financial analysts predict that consumers could soon see 30-year fixed mortgages at three percent. A brighter, though still turbulent, picture could also be found on the Copen-
hagen Stock Exchange one day into 2012. The C20 Index, Denmark’s blue chip stocks, was at its highest level since the beginning of August 2011. Pandora and Carlsberg – companies whose share prices took hard hits in the second half of 2011 – made significant gains in the final days of the year, as did Vestas, which gained big and then lost bigger. Like Pandora last summer, Vestas now faces a reorganisation that may put it back on track. In a new Rambøll/Jyllands-Posten poll, one third of Danish export firms reported softer sales in recent months, but a majority reported no negative change. “That underscores that the crisis is a debt and finance crisis that, so far, has only had a minor effect on the real economy,” Aarhus University business
Economy continues on page 3
WEEK IN REVIEW
THE COPENHAGEN POST CPHPOST.DK
6 - 12 January 2012 SCANPIX
A star is born!
THE WEEK’S MOST READ STORIES AT CPHPOST.DK Cycling fines to increase dramatically in 2012 Prime minister tells nation that tough times are ahead Queen’s New Year’s speech strained patience New year, new taxes Government to shops: hide your cigarettes
FROM OUR ARCHIVES TEN YEARS AGO. The Supreme Court rules that aerobic classes must pay for the music they play since it qualifies as ‘public presentation’ FIVE YEARS AGO. PM Anders Fogh Rasmussen raises hopes by announcing a possible withdrawal of Danish troops from Iraq. ONE YEAR AGO. Bornholm residents get more than just a white Christmas when they are snowed in for days.
Unless you live in a cave, you’ve undoubtedly become familiar with Siku, the polar bear being raised by hand at the Scandinavian Wildlife Park in western Jutland. With a mother unable to produce enough milk for him, Siku is being raised by park employees and has become an internet star.
gen, it’s just 65 percent. Church baptisms and weddings have also fallen dramatically in the past decade. The Church of Denmark is a branch of the Nordic Lutheran Church, which still exists as a state entity in Denmark and Norway. Sweden disestablished its church in 2001, when membership fell shy of 83 percent.
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Birds and bees
WHEN teaching students about the birds and the bees, Copenhagen teachers will be required to remember that sometimes birds prefer birds. The City Council has set aside half a million kroner a year to teach students about homosexuality. The education, which will only be given to those in the higher grades, will include
President and Publisher Ejvind Sandal Chief Executive Jesper Nymark Editor-in-Chief Kevin McGwin Managing Editor Ben Hamilton News Editor Justin Cremer Journalists Jennifer Buley & Peter Stanners
advice on how to come out of the closet and information on the particulars of homosexual sex. The aim of the programme is to both help young homosexuals and to prevent the verbal and physical abuse of gays by straight students. Christine Antorini (S), the education minister, called the initiative “brilliant”.
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MEMBERSHIP of the Church of Denmark has never been as low as now, raising – once again – questions about whether a state church supported by tax kroner is an anachronism in modern, multicultural Denmark. Based on the latest tally, just under 80 percent of the population are still registered members. In Copenha-
NOTE TO READERS: Following this week’s special focus on Denmark’s EU presidency, we will return to our normal format next week.
THE NATION’S hospitals are not living up to their requirements when it comes to waiting times for cancer patients. Politiken newspaper reported that officials from the Health Ministry and the Danish Regions have known for years that patients with pancreatic cancer have had to wait much longer than the mandated
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two weeks to receive proper treatment. The health minister, Astrid Krag, has said that the long waiting times “are not good enough” and that the regions must ensure patients receive needed operations within the medically recommended seven working days. “The law must be followed, and it must be followed now,” Krag said.
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THE COPENHAGEN POST CPHPOST.DK
6 - 12 January 2012
3 PHOTOS: SCANPIX
In her New Year’s speech, Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt kept expectations low
2,361,000 viewers tuned in to watch the queen’s address to the nation
Prime minister tells nation that tough times are ahead
Queen’s New Year’s Eve speech strained her subjects’ patience
In her debut New Year’s speech, Helle Thorning-Schmidt said that problems will continue throughout 2012
GAINST a backdrop of burning candles and plummeting opinion polls, Helle ThorningSchmidt gave her first New Year’s speech to the nation as prime minister on Sunday. Also hanging over ThorningSchmidt’s head – and permeating much of what the Socialdemokrat said – was the global economic crisis and its effect on Denmark. “Our goal is to bring Denmark safely through the crisis and out on the other side with our wealth, decency and solicitude in tact,” Thorning-Schmidt said. “It won’t be easy. But we can if we will. The new year – 2012 – will not be the year when we free ourselves from our problems. We must admit that now.” Thorning-Schmidt then used her family’s history to indicate that Denmark has seen – and overcome – difficult times before. “From generation to generation – my grandmother’s, my mother’s, my own – Denmark has become a better country to live in,” she said. While not overtly political, Thorning-Schmidt’s speech
Economy continued from front page
professor Philipp Schröder told Jyllands-Posten newspaper. Schröder and various business leaders noted, however, that an actual sales downturn could still follow in the wake of the debt crisis, assuming it continues to worsen. With cautious optimism, 40 percent of the Danish com-
did cast blame for the nation’s economic situation on her predecessors in the previous VenstreKonservative (VK) government. “Many acted as if the good times would just continue and continue. Consumer spending grew beyond its means and housing prices skyrocketed. Tax breaks were given, even though we could not afford them. And Denmark was not adequately prepared for the bad times. There was no control over the economy. Therefore we have a deficit in the public finances of around 100 billion kroner, and maybe even more than that. It is a staggering amount of money. The deficit means that we pay for welfare with money we do not have.” In light of the economic difficulties, Thorning-Schmidt said that everyone must be willing to make sacrifices. “Many will experience changes. Many will be asked to pull extra weight. And yes, we will experience job cuts and scalebacks. In the near future we must make decisions that will be among the most difficult in our history.” In addition to the economy, Thorning-Schmidt also used the speech to praise the efforts of Danish troops in Afghanistan, Denmark’s support of the Arab Spring, and Denmark’s sixmonth EU presidency, which began on January 1. “Everything that happens in
Europe affects us here at home,” she said. “Therefore, we should use every opportunity to affect what happens in Europe. The next half year we have an opportunity to push Europe a small, but important, step in the right direction.” Thorning-Schmidt’s speech was largely criticised by political analysts for lacking any concrete solutions. “When Helle-Thorning Schmidt doesn’t use her New Year’s speech debut to present concrete suggestions for political initiatives, it was clearly a conscious decision,” public broadcaster DR’s political analyst Jens Ringberg said. “This [was] a speech where she paints a picture of the crisis agenda, gives expectations in relation to Danes’ behaviour – that we shouldn’t expect good times – and then just points a moral finger. It’s a gamble.” Political analyst Rasmus Nielsen of the online news source Alting agreed. “Of course the governmental common policy is only three months old. But there has been no implementation of it,” Nielsen told Politiken newspaper. “The prime minister says that many lean years are ahead and that the government in 2012 will help to provide a remedy to the crisis, but she doesn’t indicate how exactly they will do that, and that is a weak point.”
panies questioned in the poll were expecting growth and the need for new hires in 2012 – although some of those hires will be at their overseas outposts. Just ten percent of the Danish companies surveyed foresaw layoffs in the next 12 months, JyllandsPosten reported. However, despite these bright spots – and a 19 billion kroner ‘kickstart’ that the government is investing over two years into infrastructure
projects as part of its 20122013 budget – a majority of Danes remained pessimistic about the country’s economic outlook, according to another recent Rambøll survey. “There isn’t a lot of optimism left out there,” Steen Bocian, a chief financial analyst at Danske Bank, told Jyllands-Posten. And that leaves economic analysts hoping that these economic worries won’t become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Her Majesty’s advice about jobhunting and sacrifice was not well-received by all
O-ONE – not even the queen – was immune to worries about the economy and the EU this year. In her annual televised New Year’s Eve speech, Queen Margrethe mused about the tough times so many Danes and foreigners are facing in these days of renewed recession. She encouraged listeners – an estimated 75 percent of the Danish public tune in each New Year’s Eve at 6pm to hear her annual speech – to “look at the problems straight on and do something about them”, “to pull oneself together”, and to be open-minded enough to consider changing careers or moving to a new town to pursue job opportunities. “We cannot expect others or circumstances to carry us through the crisis. We ourselves must find that place from which we can act – both mentally and concretely,” the queen said. In addition to soldiers, police and professional caregivers,
whom she traditionally thanks each year for their efforts and sacrifices, the queen gave special praise to volunteers for the work they do and encouraged all citizens to volunteer in the coming year. Volunteers provide “a help that counts for more than we often realise,” Queen Margrethe said. “I thank them and send them a New Year’s greeting.” While the queen’s practical comments about the global economic crisis, unemployment and pitching in were praised by some, those very comments struck a sour note with several Jyllands-Posten readers, who remarked that she is the person least likely to understand the plight of the common man and woman. “I think it’s lovely that we should stand shoulder to shoulder and work ourselves out of this crisis, but god knows what the queen’s contribution actually is,” wrote Viktor Berg from Aarhus. Rolf Larsen from Borup remarked on the irony that Queen Margrethe was telling unemployed people how to pull themselves up by the bootstraps. “Easy for her to say. She has a job that she can’t be fired from
She has a job that she can’t be fired from at present, and it’s a little tiring to hear her go on about how we should pull ourselves together and sacrifice, when all of us must pay for her upkeep at present, and it’s a little tiring to hear her go on about how we should pull ourselves together and sacrifice, when all of us must pay for her upkeep. Honestly!��� he wrote. Another reader, Børge Jensen from Copenhagen, took the opportunity to congratulate Queen Margrethe on the one million kroner pay raise she’s getting in the 2012 budget. “It must be nice to get a pay raise, while the rest of us must ‘move to another town’ to be able to work for you and the rest of welfare-Denmark. Congratulations and Happy New Year!”
4 COVER STORY Former defence minister to be New year, new taxes T questioned in torture trial THE COPENHAGEN POST CPHPOST.DK
Declassified information proves military commanders and defence minister concealed evidence of torture in Iraqi prisons, says lawyer
6 - 12 January 2012
ORMER defence minister Søren Gade (Venstre) will be called to witness next year in a trial involving six Iraqis who claim that Danish soldiers turned them over to Iraqi authorities, who the Danes allegedly knew were guilty of torturing prisoners. Gade was defence minister in the winter of 2004, when the six Iraqis and dozens of others were detained by Danish soldiers in Iraq during Operation Green Desert and delivered to Iraqi authorities who, the plaintiffs claim, indeed tortured them. According to international law, soldiers may not deliver prisoners of war to another authority they suspect of mistreating or torturing prisoners. The Iraqis’ lawyer, Christian Harlang, announced two weeks ago on Friday that Gade would be called to testify, along with soldiers, officers, civil servants and the plaintiffs themselves. “Søren Gade will testify about how much he, as the most senior responsible figure, knew about torture and to what extent the rules were followed,” Harlang told Berlingske newspaper. How much Gade actually knew about torture in Iraqi prisons came under closer inspection two weeks ago on Thursday, when Information newspaper reported that in the summer of 2004 – four months prior to Operation Green Desert – both the Defence Ministry and the military’s uniformed commanders received a report from one of the military’s lawyer outlining, in stark detail accompanied by photos, evidence of prisoners having been tortured in Iraqi prisons. The report was written by Kurt Borgkvist, who had visited Iraqi prisons to investigate allegations of torture. In it, Borgkvist documented that prisoners in Iraqi prisons had been burned with cigarettes, had their molars crushed and their genitals beaten. Some were even missing fingers, Borgkvist reported. The Defence Ministry shared parts of Borgkvist’s report with parliament’s Defence Committee in the summer of 2004. However, the paragraphs concerning the evidence of torture in Iraqi prisons were deleted, Information reported. Two years later, Gade admitted in a parliamentary debate that the Defence Ministry was aware of some cases of the
Recent information indicates that former defence minister Søren Gade and the military brass were aware that Iraqi prisoners would be mistreated
“rough treatment of Iraqi prisoners”. Adding to Gade’s troubles, one week ago, the new defence chief, General Knud Bartels, sent a letter to the current defence minister, Nick Hækkerup (Socialdemokraterne), claiming that the defence command under Gade and his successor Gitte Lillelund Bech (Venstre) arrested some 500 Iraqis, not 200, as Gade and Bech had claimed. Bartels also wrote that the military then had a systematic policy of allowing the British and Iraqi forces on joint missions to carry out the actual arrests, in order to avoid incurring responsibility under international law for ensuring the wellbeing of the prisoners.
With the evidence that has now come to light from 2004, no-one can now say that they didn’t know what was happening Politiken newspaper then published evidence last week on Wednesday confirming that the policy was explicit and came from the highest levels of the military, as outlined in a recently declassified memo written by the Defence Command in August 2004, entitled ‘Directive for Use of Force’. In one excerpt from the memo, the Defence Command wrote that Danish soldiers were to allow Iraqi and British soldiers to carry out arrests and that “in that way it is not a transfer of detainees from the Danish forces to Iraqi authorities.” Peter Viggo Jakobsen, a military
expert from the Defence Academy, told Politiken that the wording of the memo left no doubt that the military’s top brass were aware in August 2004 that Iraqi authorities were torturing prisoners. “You create just such a procedure with an eye to avoiding responsibility for something that you know full well stinks. That’s the whole point,” Jakobsen said. Harlang, the lawyer for the six Iraqis who are suing the Defence Command, said that the new revelations were damning for the military. “With the evidence that has now come to light from 2004, no-one can now say that they didn’t know what was happening,” Harlang told Information. “At the very least, it shows extreme negligence, and that they didn’t care whether the rules were being followed or what was happening to the Iraqi prisoners.” In the wake of the new disclosures, MPs from the governing party Radikale and the government’s far-left ally Enhedslisten hinted that Gade could also face an impeachment hearing for failing to inform parliament of what he knew about torture in Iraqi prisons and for allowing the military to continue a policy of turning detainees over to them or turning a blind eye to their mistreatment. Gade stepped down as defence minister in February 2010, after it was learned that military staff had fabricated a fraudulent Arabic translation of the book ‘Jæger – I krig med eliten’ (‘Special forces soldier – At war with the elite’) and leaked it to the tabloid B.T. Gade and the Defence Command had been fighting to block the publication of the book, which was critical of the military’s actions in Afghanistan. They claimed the book contained material that threatened national security. The courts, however, disagreed and allowed its publication. Shortly afterwards, Gade and military commanders announced that an Arabic translation of the book had been discovered on the internet – a supposed proof that hostile countries were interested in using the information against Denmark. However, the translation was so shoddy that it quickly raised suspicions that it was a fraud. It soon emerged that two Defence Command officers were behind the fraud – a Google translation that did not even make sense in Arabic – as well as its leaking to the press. Gade stepped down as defence minister shortly afterwards. The torture trial is expected to begin in the autumn. Harling said that more such cases against Denmark were on the way.
he new year ushered in a myriad of new tax rules. But whether those rules will put pluses or minuses in your budget all depends on who you are. Check out our overview below of the coming changes to Denmark’s tax rules and see where you’ll stand in 2012. Tax breaks • The unpopular ‘multimedia tax’ – the 3,000kr per year tax on workrelated telephones and computers – has been eliminated. Work computers used at home will no longer be taxed, but employer-provided mobile phones will still be hit with a 2,500kr tax. • The ‘household help’ tax deduction of up to 15,000kr per year per adult per household has been extended until the end of 2012, lowering the cost of professional household improvements and maintenance by up to one-third. • Higher ‘green checks’: the state’s energy tax refund to all tax-paying adults and their children will increase slightly to compensate for increased fuel and water taxes (see below). • The 35,136kr maximum child benefit per family is eliminated, allowing families with several young children to receive higher state child support handouts. • Business deduction for research and development costs: companies recording losses in 2012 due to research and development investments will now be allowed to take a deduction of up to 1.25 million kroner. Tax hikes • Cigarettes, alcohol, chocolate, sweets: all of the ‘sins’ will cost a little more in 2012. A pack of ciga-
• • • •
rettes, for example, will cost three kroner more. (Increases come into effect in April 2012.) Coffee and tea: higher excise taxes on imported coffee and tea as well as coffee and tea extracts mean that a caffeine-fix will also probably be costlier. Also, tap water: price increasing from 5.23 to 5.90 kr per cubic meter – a 13 percent rate rise. The maximum tax-exempt pension deposit will be lowered from 100,000 to 50,000 kr per year. Analysts expect that as a result Danes will shift some four billion kroner into other retirement savings accounts and up to five billion kroner into private savings, reports Jyllands-Posten. Employee stock ownership schemes will no longer be tax exempt. Stocks-for-salary payments will no longer be exempt from payroll taxes. Employer-provided supplemental health insurance plans will no longer be tax deductible. Taxes on business ownership transfers between family members will increase. Before 2012, as much as 75 percent of a family-owned company’s liquid assets were exempt from the transfer tax. Now, just 50 percent will be. Powerful business families, including the owners of retail giant Jysk, put an end to the left-leaning government’s initial plan to lower the exemption to 25 percent of assets, reports Jyllands-Posten. Increased duties on nitrogen oxide (NOx), a harmful chemical additive used in fuels, which is released into the atmosphere during combustion. (Increase comes into effect in July 2012) Multinational corporations will have fewer tax loopholes and more oversight from the tax authority Skat. (JB)
Transplant donor’s cancer kills two
WO PEOPLE have died after receiving organs from a donor who died from an aggressive form of cancer. A 48-year-old died last month after having a lung transplant, a second patient died shortly after receiving a liver, and a third received cancerous kidneys but is still alive. A total of five individuals have received organs from the donor who unknowingly had cancer. “It’s terrible what happened,” Jannik Hilsted, the hospital medical director at Rigshospitalet, told the media. “It’s also very unusual. Our transplant programme is 20 years old and we have never before had an incident of transferring cancer via a transplant.” The organs came from an individual
who was declared braindead after having a stroke and who, according to Rigshospitalet, showed no signs of having cancer. Hanne Agerholm, 48, who suffered from a hereditary lung disease, received lungs from the donor in August and initially everything went according to plan. But after several weeks she fell ill and was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called angiosarcoma, which the doctors initially believed Agerholm must have had before the lung transplant. When another patient who received organs from the donor also developed the cancer, doctors realised the donor must be the source and immediately informed the other recipients. (PS)
ONLINE THIS WEEK Traffic deaths fall to record low
“Quiet” New Year’s Eve saw fewer serious accidents
Danish company implicated in banned Israel-Iran trade
WITH A projected 212 traffic deaths, 2011 was a historically good year for road safety. Official figures are not yet available, but according to Politiken newspaper and the Danish Road Directorate (Vejdirektoratet), 212 people died in traffic accidents in 2011, beating the previous record of 255 set last year. This year’s projected total is nearly half that of 2008, when 406 traffic deaths were re-
EMERGENCY rooms around the country treated 82 New Year’s revellers with eye injuries caused by fireworks accidents. However, just nine of those cases were deemed “serious”. In comparison, on New Year’s Eve 2010, 15 people suffered serious eye injuries. New quality control regulations from the Danish safety authority Sikkerhedsstyrelsen were partly responsible for the reduction in accidents, ac-
AN ISRAELI communications company stands accused of illegally trading with Israel’s sworn enemy, Iran, using a Danish distributor as its middleman. For years, the Israeli company Allott Communications sold NetEnforcer a “deep packet inspection” software program to Danish IT company RanTek in Randers. RanTek then removed the labels
corded. According to the traffic safety council Rådet for Sikker Trafik, the harsh winter conditions of the past few years are a primary reason for the decrease, presumably because of the extra precautions taken by drivers during extreme winter weather. Also credited for the drop in fatalities were newer and safer automobile models as well as the increased media coverage of traffic accidents.
cording to some. Out of the nine serious eye accidents this year, five of the victims were under 18 years old. The youngest victim was a five-year-old girl. The merrymakers themselves were relatively peaceful this year, the police reported. “There weren’t any reports of serious conflicts at Rådhuspladsen [Town Hall Square],” said police supervisor John Hansen, “It was a really quiet evening.”
and packaging, repackaged it, and resold it to a customer in Iran, all with the foreknowledge of the Israeli company, reports the news agency Bloomberg. Israeli law prohibits Israeli companies from trading with Iran, which is seen as its enemy. Iranian leaders have previously called for the annihilation of Israel.
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THE COPENHAGEN POST CPHPOST.DK
6 - 12 January 2012
Government to put brakes on deporting children Justice minister and government parties rule that deportations can be put on hold as early as next month
HERE MAY be renewed hope for Ripa, Sirapat, Phatteera, Sahro, and the many other children that have been deported or face the prospect of deportation. In light of the many recent high-profile cases of children who have been threatened with being separated from their families and kicked out of Denmark, the government has now decided to speed up the process of relaxing the rules for family reunification regarding children. According to Berlingske newspaper, following a late December meeting between the immigration spokespersons from the Socialdemokraterne-Radikale-Socialistisk Folkeparti (SRSF) coalition parties and justice minister Morten Bødskov (S), children facing deportation will no longer have to wait until parliament passes changes to the family reunification law. Instead, they can see their deportations being put on hold as early as February. “I’m glad that we can probably suspend deportations as early
as February, before the new legislation is adopted,” Zenia Stampe, R’s immigration spokesperson, told Berlingske. “This is a significant improvement compared to the old legislation, which we have been so frustrated with.” SRSF, along with government support party Enhedslisten and the right-of-centre opposition party Liberal Alliance (LA), have agreed to soften the immigration rules – particularly the ones regarding family reunification for children. The government has indicated that its reform of the immigration rules – which it hyped as one of the tenets of its new governing policy – will be formulated by March. While that’s sure to be welcome news for those who have been waiting for SRSF’s “new era, new politics, a new majority, and a new will” – as incoming social and immigration minister Karen Hækkerup (S) characterised the new government’s approach to immigration – to begin, any change will come too late for the nearly 800 children who were denied residency in Denmark under the tightened immigration policies of the previous Venstre-Konservative (VK) government and its far-right ally, Dansk Folkeparti (DF). The Copenhagen Post has reported on many of these cases, including that of eight-year-old
JUSTIN CREMER & JENNIFER BULEY
Ripa Ahmed, eight, is still waiting to hear if she will be taken from her father, Jamal, and sent to Bangladesh
Ripa Ahmed, who faces deportation to Bangladesh despite having no-one there to care for her, and that of 13-year-old Sirapat Kamminsen, who was deported to Thailand in March 2011, leaving his mother, step-father and half-brother behind in Denmark. Both were deemed to be “incapable of integrating”. An appeal in Sirapat’s case was denied in November and the boy remains in Thailand, living with a school teacher who took him in. Ahmed’s father appealed
A leaner, meaner early retirement JENNIFER BULEY Cushy national early retirement programme scaled back, ending six years of political wrangling
EARS OF public debate ended last month when parliament passed a bill that will gradually raise the retirement age to 69 and pare down the once commodious early retirement programme called efterløn. Efterløn has been Denmark’s white elephant, the expensive state-subsidised early retirement goodie that would-be reformers only handled at their own peril. The political right, the then government, made eliminating efterløn its project, while the opposition political left based their election challenge on protecting efterløn. In the end, the centrist Radikale (R) party broke with their bloc to negotiate with the Venstre-Konservative (VK) government and its right-wing ally Dansk Folkeparti to trim the efterløn programme, raise the retirement age, and save the state an estimated 16 billion kroner per year. The early retirement programme was introduced in 1979 with little controversy. The reasoning at the time was that people working very physically or psychologically-demanding jobs should have the opportunity to retire
early, even if they were not so ill or ‘worn out’ that they could qualify for disability. The programme was also intended to free up jobs for the younger generations. It was assumed that some 17,000 people would receive early retirement benefits at any given time. But by 2009, 135,503 Danes were on efterløn at an estimated annual cost to the state of some 37 billion kroner. Although efterløn is partly financed by personal contributions, the state also makes a sizeable contribution. As the population aged, the political will to reform efterløn began to germinate – at least among the rightof-centre parties. A study of the efterløn programme was undertaken in 2006, which revealed that people who went on efterløn tended to be just as healthy and vigorous as those who continued to work until the retirement age. Although, that conclusion was challenged by the trade union confederation LO, which claimed that the people who took efterløn had two to three times as many sick days before they took early retirement as others did. The study also revealed that a majority of people on efterløn did it to have more time for hobbies, family and friends, rather than due to any physical or mental exhaustion that prevented them from continuing to work. Proponents of reform thus ar-
gued that the programme, in essence, financed voluntary early retirements at the public’s expense. Now that the reforms have been ratified, workers who were making contributions to personal efterløn accounts will have the opportunity to withdraw their money in one tax-free lump sum, if they do it between 2 April and 1 October 2012. Those who leave their money in the trimmed-down programme will have the option of taking the smaller early retirement package, or a tax-free bonus of up to 143,400 kroner if they decide to continue working until the retirement age, reports Jyllands-Posten. The payout for taking early retirement will now be much smaller, especially for those born after 1955. For example a teacher born in 1955 who decides to take the new threeyear-long early retirement will receive 196,860 kroner per year (in 2011 figures). A teacher born in 1975, on the other hand, will now receive just 80,100 kroner per year for three years, according to the DREAM economic simulation model. Under the reforms, someone born before 1954 can still take early retirement at the age of 60 and full retirement, with pension benefits, at the age of 65. But someone born after 1967 will first be allowed to take early retirement at the age of 66 and full retirement at the age of 69.
her deportation and the family is still awaiting a final judgement. “I’m very sorry that some children have fallen into the gap that was created between when we came to power and when we will have changed the law,” Stampe told Berlingske. “But now we are making that gap substantially smaller.” Enhedslisten’s Johanne Schmidt-Nielsen said that while the latest agreement is a sign of progress, the party disagrees with SRSF’s conclusion that deporta-
tion cases can’t be suspended immediately. “As the rules stand today, deportations are not based on a real assessment of the children and their situations,” SchmidtNielsen told Berlingske. “I doubt that this practice lives up to the UN convention on children’s rights.” Indeed, Denmark’s approach to children’s immigration has frequently run afoul of international law. In 2009, in direct violation
of UN convention, the Immigration Service denied citizenship to hundreds of eligible stateless youth born to refugees in Denmark. That scandal cost Birthe Rønn Hornbech (Venstre) her job as immigration minister. Last year, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that in 2005 Denmark infringed the human rights of Sahro Osman, a young Somali woman raised in Denmark who spent two years of her early teens in Somalia. When she was ready to return to Denmark, the authorities refused to let her come back, saying she was no longer capable of integrating into Danish society. The court ruled that the Immigration Service had infringed on Osman’s human rights and the state was forced to pay her 150,000 kroner in compensation and reinstate her residency. Seventy-five cases similar to Osman’s were identified, but the then-immigration minister Søren Pind (Venstre) argued that it was unfeasible to reopen them. Bødskov suggested earlier this month that reopening the cases would be a Pandora’s Box, while SF’s civil rights spokesperson, Anne Baastrup, added that the government did not dare open them “because of the risk that there are many more cases where wrong judgments were made”.
THE COPENHAGEN POST CPHPOST.DK
6 - 12 January 2012
Cycling fines increase dramatically COLOURBOX
JUSTIN CREMER Penalties for a variety of offences will cost as much as 1,000 kroner
S OF JANUARY 1, riding no-handed, cycling through a red light, or forgetting to signal a turn can cost bicyclists dearly. The traffic law changes will result in fines for a variety of bicycling infractions jumping from 500 to 700 kroner, and in some cases to 1,000 kroner. It is the first increase in biking fines in 12 years. Cycling on the pavement, riding without lights, and cycling through a pedestrian crossing are among the acts that will net a 700 kroner fine, while cycling against the traffic, running a red light and using a mobile phone will result in a 1,000 kroner fine. According to a Konservative MP, Tom Behnke, the fine increases are meant to discourage cyclists from breaking traffic laws. “A 1,000 kroner fine will hurt more, so that most people will think: ‘Oh, that sucked,’” Behnke told Politiken newspaper. But a 100 percent jump in the cost of cycling infractions overshoots the mark, argued the
Fines for many biking infractions doubled as of January 1
It cannot be right that it should cost [the equivalent of] one fourth of the cost of a bicycle to talk on a mobile phone while on a deserted bicycle path cyclists’ union, Cyklistforbundet. “Parliament is using a bazooka to shoot a butterfly in this
case,” the union’s head, Jens Loft Rasmussen, said in a statement. “It cannot be right that it should cost [the equivalent of ] one fourth of the cost of a bicycle to talk on a mobile phone while on a deserted bicycle path.” Rasmussen, however, was not against the notion of fining cyclists. “We don’t think cyclists should have free rein,” he told Politiken. “But we know that it is primarily motorists who cause the serious accidents – it’s not cyclists who kill others. Cyclists can be irritating, but I believe
that smaller fines would be more appropriate.” A Copenhagen Police spokesperson, John Sckaletz, told Politiken that while he hoped the fines would help to decrease traffic chaos, he questioned the higher fines’ preventative effect. “Adding 200 kroner to a fine isn’t that much, so I don’t think that will have a huge effect, but 1,000 kroner is a lot of money so I think that will have something of an effect,” he said. Sckaletz said police had no plans to increase their enforcement of bicycling laws in concert with the higher fees. “We have an effective control system as it is, and we don’t have any plans to increase it in 2012,” he said. “But we’re still out there, and last year we wrote thousands of tickets.” The traffic laws not only affect cyclists, but motorists as well. Registered traffic infractions that used to cost between 500 and 1,500 kroner have since January 1 cost 2,000 kroner, while speeding tickets have increased by between 500 and 1,000 kroner. The new traffic fines passed parliament by a wide margin in March, with only Enhedslisten opposing the changes.
Factfile | Biking fines • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
Cycling without lights in the dark: 700kr Using a hand-held phone while cycling: 1,000kr Missing or defective brakes/reflectors: 700kr Cycling through a red light: 1,000kr Cycling against traffic: 1,000kr Cycling across a pedestrian crossing: 700kr Cycling on the cycle path on the left side of the street: 700kr Not respecting traffic signs or arrows: 700kr Violating the right of way: 1,000kr Failure to signal a turn or stop: 700kr Cycling no-handed: 700kr Cycling on the pavement: 700kr Holding onto a vehicle: 700kr Carrying two or more people on a regular bicycle: 700kr per person Wrong position while/ before turning: 700kr Non-functional bell: Warning
Citing Norwegian precedent that reduced teenage smoking, left-of-centre parties push to put cigarettes under cover
N THE NEAR future, when you are standing at the checkout at Netto, you may no longer see a wall of cigarette brands staring you in the face. Members of the governing parties want to make grocery stores hide cigarette packets from customers, instead of the current practice of displaying them front and centre, at eyeball height, right behind the cashier, reports Berlingske newspaper. The politicians say that displaying cigarettes at the cash registers, right where the customers reach for their wallets, is as good as advertising them. “When the cigarettes are visible, it’s an advertisement. They should be hidden away, behind
a curtain, for example, so that they won’t tempt consumers,” the Radikale’s health spokesperson Camilla Hersom told Berlingske. Radikale, along with its governing partners, Socialdemokraterne and Socialistisk Folkeparti, intend to present a bill in parliament in the spring to ban the visible display of cigarettes. The measure has the support of government ally Enhedslisten, giving it an apparent majority to pass. That’s unlikely to happen without a fight, however. The opposition and business organisations are already rallying to block it. A spokesman from Dansk Erhverv, the Danish chamber of commerce, predicted that the bill would end up hurting grocers by forcing them to spend money to buy cabinets for the cigarettes. “We don’t want to see shops hit with those expenses. Anyway,
it’s a little bizarre that we should be forced to hide legal goods,” said Lotte Engbæk Larsen, the food policy manager for Dansk Erhverv. Sophie Løhde, the health spokesperson from the opposition party Venstre, said that hiding cigarettes would not help to decrease smoking and that legislating what customers could and could not see in a grocery store was a “nannying mindset”. The government parties noted, however, that when Norway introduced a similar law in 2009, banning the visible display of cigarettes in supermarkets, it saw a 4.8 percent drop in smoking. That ban was accompanied by other strong deterrents, including a sharp hike in cigarette prices, a tactic that Denmark introduced on January 1 – albeit to a lesser degree than Norway did. The Danish Cancer Society, Kræftens Bekæmpelse, was criti-
Government to shops: hide your cigarettes
The proposed bill would do away with the open display of cigarettes
cal of the government’s modest three-kroner per pack price hike on cigarettes. They noted that an even heftier ‘sin tax’ would be more effective. But the health organisation was extremely positive about the latest proposal to hide cigarettes. Experts who studied the effects of Norway’s law change noted that hiding cigarettes had
no effect on smoking among adult smokers with entrenched habits. Teenagers, however, who are just becoming curious about smoking and are especially receptive to advertisements and peer pressure, are far less likely to pick up smoking if they cannot see the cigarettes and have to ask for them, researchers noted. (JB)
City: stop ‘job activation’ Councillor says volunteer work more effective than compulsory classes
OPENHAGEN city councillors are challenging the controversial ‘job activation’ scheme’s treatment of the long-term unemployed. Instead of forcing them to show up at the local job centre every day, make toy castles out of bottle caps and pipe cleaners in ‘team building’ exercises, and take whatever menial job is thrown at them by a case worker – as the current unemployment rules require – the city’s deputy mayor for employment and integration, Anna Mee Allerslev (Radikale), proposes allowing the most marginalised unemployed people to do volunteer work instead. “I’m certain that volunteerrun organisations and social enterprises will bring these people closer to the job market or an ordinary job than we ever can,” she told Berlingske newspaper. In Copenhagen there are an estimated 7,000 people – primarily immigrant women – who are considered so unemployable that they are on the verge of being granted a type of incapacity benefit (førtidspension), reports Berlingske. Yet under the current rules they are still subject to ‘activation’. These people would gain more by doing volunteer work, said Allerslev. To qualify as a substitute for activation, the volunteer assignment would still need to be approved by a case manager from the council, but Allerslev suggested that volunteer work as a mentor or tutor in a marginalised neighbourhood could count. Erik Thorsted, who manages Fonden for Socialt Ansvar, a social enterprise that works on community building initiatives, said the proposal had potential. “Regardless of how much you pressure these people, they will never come into the job market with the unemployment levels we have now,” Thorsted told Berlingske. “But if they are allowed to experience a new environment and build a network, they will gain a brand new attitude and access to the job market.” Politicians from the Socialistisk Folkeparti (SF) and the opposition Dansk Folkeparti also expressed cautious approval for the initiative. (JB)
ONLINE THIS WEEK Alleged teen rapist charged again
Konservatives change tune on citizenship rules
Arrest made in Christmas Eve car bombing
A MALE TEEN who is accused of raping a ten-year-old girl in November is now being charged with another rape after DNA evidence linked him to the scene. The suspect allegedly threatened an 18-year-old woman in the Jutland town of Herning on the night of October 22 before raping her in a stairwell. He was charged after his DNA was found on a cigarette butt near the scene of the crime.
DESPITE being jointly responsible for the tightening of citizenship rules, the Konservative (K) party is now in favour of making citizenship easier to obtain, Politiken newspaper reports. The party’s citizenship spokesperson, Tom Behnke, told the newspaper that some of the citizenship regulations put in place during the ten-year alliance of the Venstre-Konservative (VK) government and Dansk
A 41-YEAR-OLD is being jailed until January 23 on a charge of attempted manslaughter stemming from a Christmas Eve car bomb. The explosion took place in the early evening of Christmas Eve while the vehicle was parked in Vilhelm Thomsen’s Square in the Jutland town of Randers. A man and his three-year-old
The 16-year-old was previously charged with raping a ten-yearold on November 19. That case set off fears that residents of the town of Gullestrup would take vigilante justice against the suspect, who is of Somali descent. The teen has denied any involvement in the rape of the ten-yearold, and although he admits being with the 18-year-old in the stairwell, he maintains that the encounter was consensual.
Folkeparti (DF) “don’t make any sense”. “Even if you’ve gone to high school [in Denmark] and you are old enough to apply for citizenship, the current rules say you still need to pass a citizenship test,” he told the paper. “I just think ... come on! That doesn’t make any sense.” According to Behnke, the new political climate makes it easier for him to speak out about immigration and citizenship policies.
daughter were in the vehicle at the time, but managed to escape unharmed. It has also emerged in press reports that the arrested man is the cousin of the targeted male victim. Police, however, would not confirm that relationship. The accused pleaded not guilty to the charge.
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CULTURE & SPORT THE COPENHAGEN POST CPHPOST.DK
6 - 12 January 2012
Mass layoffs at Royal Theatre will mean fewer performances With the loss of 100 positions artistic output will suffer, theatre boss says
reater Copenhagen’s arts scene is about to suffer a heavy blow in the form of mass layoffs at the Royal Theatre, Politiken newspaper reports. According to the paper, 100 employees of the Royal Theatre will lose their jobs during the course of January. That accounts for ten percent of the theatre’s total staff. The layoffs follow a November agreement made with the government that forces the Royal Theatre to make cost-cutting measures to the tune of nearly 100 million kroner over the next four years. The cuts will eliminate 60 administrative and technical positions, 35 artistic positions, and five leadership positions. According to Byron Mildwater, a ballet dancer and a spokesperson for the Royal Theatre, the job losses will affect the theatre’s artistic output. “It will mean, for example, that we can no longer perform the large ballets like ‘The Nutcracker’ or ‘Swan Lake’,” Mild-
water told Politiken. “There will simply not be enough swans to dance in the large ballets that we are world-renowned for. It will markedly reduce the quality of our company.” In addition to having fewer dancers, the theatre will also have fewer productions for them to dance in, as the job cuts are being accompanied by a reduction in the number of performances the Royal Theatre will offer. In 2012, at least three large productions will be cut from the line-up. Lars Pallesen, a member of the Royal Theatre’s board of directors, confirmed the coming layoffs to Politiken, saying they were the only way to make the necessary spending cuts. “If we could have found the money from other places besides layoffs, we would have done it,” he told the paper. Erik Jacobsen, the CEO of the Royal Theatre, acknowledged that the theatre’s art would suffer as a result of the cuts. “You can’t remove so much money from a theatre’s budget without having it affect the artistic value,” Jacobsen told Politiken. The Royal Theatre signed a political agreement on November 16 with the SocialdemokraterneRadikale-Socialistisk Folkeparti (SRSF) government and the other five parties in parliament that laid out the terms of a four-year
The cuts will mean not having enough dancers to perform large ballet productions like ‘Swan Lake’, a theatre spokesperson said
savings plan. Following the news of the looming theatre layoffs, the spokesperson for the Royal Opera also said it would be clear that opera performances would also be scaled back. “The Opera’s activity level will clearly be affected by the negotiations we are in now,” spokesperson Michael Kristensen told Politken. “From next season, we will be down to doing eight to nine productions. That’s fewer titles than when we were at
You can’t remove so much money from a theatre’s budget without having it affect the artistic value Gamle Scene.” Since the opera house, known in Danish simply as Operaen (The Opera), opened
Betting changes cause headaches for sports punters COLOURBOX
BEN HAMILTON Betting with the bookies will change forever in 2012, but will the end of the state monopoly actually mean less choice?
EW BETTING regulations that came into force in the New Year bring a mixed bag of fortune for the nation’s gambling sector. While its liberalisation will see a significant increase in the number of gaming companies with a presence in Denmark, the country’s online punters will be barred from betting with companies that do not hold a licence to operate here. For years the state has enjoyed a betting monopoly, offering fixed odds and other gaming options from outlets (mostly found in kiosks) under the name Oddset. In search of better value – the state will typically pocket a 20 percent margin on a game of football, compared to the more typical eight percent in a competitive market like the UK – Danish punters have increasingly favoured online betting with operators based overseas. While the state’s decision to open the door to foreign competitors is expected to hit its earnings from Oddset, it will more than make this back through a 20 percent tax on
In light of the law changes, some overseas betting companies have shut down the accounts of their Denmark-based clients
gross income from the 38 companies that have so far been granted a total of 55 licences. Some 19 of the companies will offer sports betting – of the remainder, 13 are exclusively online casinos. In the build-up to the law change, some overseas bookmakers have been closing the accounts of their Danish-based clients because they are no longer able to offer them a service. One of them, British bookmaker Coral, advised its Danish-based customers that it had decided “with immediate effect to cease taking any further business through its websites from residents of Denmark due to a review of the group’s legal position”, and that it would be closing down all accounts “with immediate effect”.
The move is bad news for punters who value choice, particularly in the area of betting typically known as ‘specials’. Only a handful of the 19 operators are large-scale and longestablished – Stanleybet and Ladbrokes are the best known. Curiously, while many will be relieved to know that Betfair - the world’s largest online betting exchange, at which punters can offer as well as take bets - has obtained a licence, it is locked in a legal dispute with the Danish government over how it can operate. For the time being, Danish residents cannot sign up as new customers, and already existing clients can only continue to use the site once they have provided Betfair with their CPR number. Furthermore, its customers will, for the foreseeable future, be un-
able to exchange bets on horse or dog racing. The Danish tax minister, Thor Möger Pedersen, has warned international operators with plans to continue serving Danish customers that his government will follow the US example and block them. “The orderly market means, among other things, that all gambling operators without a licence from 1 January 2012 risk that their website or payments will be blocked,” he stated. However, since his statement, the Danish Gambling Authority has confirmed that while the new market officially opened on January 1, it will be delaying the full implementation of its new gambling framework until February 1, blaming technical issues associated with user verification. The 19 companies that have obtained licences to provide sports betting are: Betfair, Betsson, Bonnier Gaming, Cashpoint, DanBook, Danske Licens, ElectraWorks, Entraction Operations, Hillside, iGame, Interactive Sports, InTouch Casino, Ladbrokes International, Nordic Betting, Nordic Odds, PKR Technologies, Scandic Bookmakers, Stanleybet International and Unibet. Leading British online bookmaker Bet 365 also claimed to have a licence at the time of going to press.
in 2005, it has been plagued by financial problems. The opera house, located at Holmen in the city district of Amager, was a gift to the city and the Royal Theatre from shipping mogul Maersk McKinney Møller in 2000. After opening in 2005, the number of performances temporarily shot up, but over the course of the last several years, maintenance costs on the building have exploded, increasing from 45 million kroner in 2000
to around 145 million in 2011. With the new round of cuts, Kristensen worried about the future of the Opera. “It’s remarkable that we have a great opera house, but also that we must now do fewer productions than we did when we were at Gamle Scene in 2004 and made 14 productions,” Kristensen said, referring to the theatre at Kongens Nytorv. “It’s unbelievable that there is not the political will to understand that it costs money to make theatre.”
The Copenhagen Post Quick Crossword No 378
THE COPENHAGEN POST CPHPOST.DK
Two wrongs don’t make a right in torture allegations
IF TRUTH is the first casualty of war, good judgement runs a close second. But while violations of the rules of war committed by individual soldiers are often the consequence of battlefield chaos or adrenaline-induced conflicts with civilians, ordering soldiers to turn a blind eye to the likely mistreatment of detainees amounts to a cold-blooded disregard for the well-being of others. It would be naive to think that warfare is without transgressions of good conduct – if such a thing exists in war – but the problem for the military right now is not that soldiers may have engaged in a few instances of bad conduct. Its problem is far graver: the military as an institution appears to have had a policy that allowed mistreatment or even torture to occur. As heinous as individual lapses of good judgement are, the apparent existence of guidelines telling battlefield soldiers to allow other countries’ forces to detain suspects, and in so doing possibly exposing them to mistreatment in Iraqi prisons, is far worse – both because it makes the military a ‘bad guy’ in the eyes of those it was sent to help, and because it opens up Danish soldiers to reprisals or mistreatment at the hands of potential captors. Making matters worse for the military is that this is not the first time it has faced allegations that its soldiers – whether by simply following orders or acting on their own initiative – either passively allowed detainees to be mistreated (in Afghanistan in 2002) or actively engaged in it (in Iraq in 2005). Whether the military or its soldiers are guilty of wrongdoing in any of these cases or not, the allegations place it in a bad light. The first step in efforts to clean up its image is to be as open as possible and to co-operate with any investigation into possible misdoing – even if that means allowing top brass, former ministers or senior statesmen to be felled in the process. Refusing to divulge information by claiming oaths of secrecy or a sudden inability to recall the facts, not only denies justice to the individuals who may have been affected, it also casts doubt on whether these allegations, if proven, were isolated incidents or part of a wider culture of disregard. With the situation in Afghanistan still far from settled, the military’s leadership should be looking for ways to instil confidence in the country’s people that they are on their side. Showing that it does not protect its own soldiers at their expense would certainly be a good start.
6 - 12 January 2012
Fat tax cannot fight the ‘fat’ JIWON YEOM
BESITY has become a serious issue in many Western countries, and the obesity rate is consistently growing worldwide. From 1 October 2011, Denmark began imposing a levy on fatty foods aimed at reducing their consumption. Denmark is the first country in the world to introduce a ‘fat tax’ in order to protect public health. Butter, oils and high-fat dairy products have seen the biggest price increases; products with more than 2.3 percent saturated fat will be taxed 16 kroner per kilogram of saturated fat. Many countries, including the US with one of the highest obesity rate in the world, are paying attention to the effects of the fat tax in Denmark. This tax policy, however, cannot lower obesity rates because it will reduce the quality of life of obese people who are mostly low income earners. Tax policy does not always produce good results. People usually try to avoid taxes, and as a consequence, the policy often ends up with an unexpected result. In 1696, William III in England collected taxes from people who owned a house with more than six windows. As a result, people started to block windows to get a tax
exemption. The tax policy lasted over 150 years, and there are still some old buildings with virtually no windows remaining in England. There are lots of precedents of tax policy failure, and the fat tax in Denmark will also inevitably produce unexpected results. When the Danish government imposes a levy on foods containing saturated fat, foods that are high in calories but low in cost such as fast food will likely be a target. Obese people who can afford healthier foods might turn to fruits and vegetables, but the problem is that a considerable number of obese people are in the low income class. “Socioeconomic status plays a significant role in obesity. Low income minority populations tend to experience obesity at a higher rate and are more likely to be overweight,” according to the Obesity Action Coalition. These people originally had little access to healthy foods because a head of lettuce is more expensive than a burger. Low income families have fewer food choices, so it is hard to expect them to buy healthier foods. People in the low income class now feel a heavier financial burden since the cost of their staple foods has risen. It appears that they will reduce the frequency of meals or look for cheaper food that is not a
target of fat tax. Low price foods are likely to be high in sugar or carbohydrates, such as soft drinks. Scientists talking to the BBC expressed their scepticism of the fat tax, saying that salt, sugar and refined carbohydrates are more detrimental to health and should be tackled instead. As low income families
Low income minority populations tend to experience obesity at higher rate and are more likely to be overweight consume sweetened products as an alternative, they could gain more weight or experience malnutrition and deteriorating health. The Danish government has missed a fundamental point. The policy which was intended to improve people’s health can instead worsen it. The government should formulate a policy that reduces poverty before imposing taxes on foods. It seems that a fat tax is not
the best solution at this point. Then how can we stop people from eating too much fattening food? First, saturated fat is not the right target. There are dairy products or olive oil which contain saturated fat but do not solely causes obesity. There needs to be a clear standard of fattening food before a tax is imposed. The government is trying to encourage overweight people to avoid junk food and to eat vegetables and fruits, but the low income group cannot usually afford to go to buy these types of food. The government could set up a subsidy for low income families so that they can afford healthier foods. It seems that the Danish government has imposed a heavy burden on its people. The tax policy has even been called “a bureaucratic nightmare”, according to the BBC. The fat tax appears to be a hasty conclusion, telling people that fat makes fat, saturated fat is not the main cause of obesity. Socioeconomic status has driven people to become overweight. If the government wants to give low income families access to a nutritional diet it should control poverty before initiating tax policy. This was provided in the form of a letter to the editor from a Korean university student
READER COMMENTS Over-qualified immigrants Xenophobia and racism is on the rise all over the Europe. I have never encountered such racist and xenophobic attitudes in my life as I did here. Even in job interviews they asked me about the disadvantages of my nationality. Well I am going back soon and warning people that this Greencard scheme is a POLITICAL LIE! They just want to show off how open a country Denmark is in the political arena, but the truth is they are just hiding the facts. The global crisis plus the racist media and culture in such a small rich country are the reasons for such hatred and indifference to foreigners. Hej Danes! Try to learn that other countries have also made contributions to human civilisation. You are not the centre of the universe. ‘Name’ By website Seems to me you are just resentful you didn’t make it in the “small rich country” as you put it. Have a good trip back and maybe work to make your country better instead of wanting to milk someone else’s cow. If a country of only 5 million is “fighting” to protect its own interests and its own natives, I say good for them! pc11 By website Having been on both sides of this – i.e., as a manager in Danish companies and as a foreign job candidate in Denmark – I can state unequivocally that discrimination against foreigners is rampant and a major factor in the Danish job market. It goes far beyond language skills and into areas
such as racial background, sex, and age. Despite pious claims to the contrary, Denmark has a Danishcentric youthful-male-oriented business culture and there are virtually no anti-discrimination laws. The country is 30-some years behind the times with respect to job candidates’ rights and protections, and women’s rights in the workplace. I am quite literally reminded of the USA in the 1950s. Many Danish companies advertise that the English language is their corporate language, yet the Danish employees make every attempt they can to subvert that, including the “du skal blive DANSK!” mantra even when it is totally inappropriate. I once had to fire a Dane because he used the Danish language as a way to withhold critical information from his non-Danish work colleagues, making himself “more valuable” in the process and having a detrimental effect on customer service. If he wanted to be that patriotic he could have joined the Danish Army instead of an international company with a language policy. Tom By website Minister’s smoking box Sheesh, couldn’t we just hook her up to an intravenous nicotine delivery drip or something? HeidiakaMissJibba By website A nicotine patch ... to cover her face Grumpsical By website The walk to the back door every half an hour would have done her some good, methinks.
This story is just another example of the political elite’s contempt for the people they are supposed to represent. I saw this woman on TV first ignoring the journalist’s questions and then, after realising the story would not die, trying to debate this smoke box with the ridiculous “The voters knew I was a smoker, it’s not my fault. They put me in this situation!” But it’s just a smokescreen to cover the bigger story of the Danish National Bank paying 40 billion kroner to the IMF’s ECB rescue fund – that’s 15 percent of the bank’s assets! Strangely this news story seems to have slipped through the net. Tony Ball By website Classic Danish behaviour. The rules are good rules but are for everyone else. I am special with special circumstances and don’t have to follow those rules. Had this episode been an American politician, I think they would have been physically thrown out of office within 15 minutes. Tom By website Nothing of the sort – it’s the behaviour of politicians worldwide. I could list dozens of British examples: our politicians are infamous for this sort of thing. I bet even American politicians do this. Greed, just greed. Jeg er By website Don’t be so ridiculous. American politics is riddled with corruption and hypocrisy and is certainly no model for the rest of the world
to follow. It doesn’t matter what country you are in though: power corrupts. Period. Grumpsical By website Would not using public funds for her own use be classed as misuse of funds? Rugratzz By website Clinton praises Denmark I can’t believe they deleted the quote where Hillary informed the press that Søvndal is a great ass-kisser. Thorvaldsen By website Let’s hope they also work on Denmark’s dismal adherence to the Hague Convention regarding half-Danish, half-American children, Denmark’s deportation of American parents who lost custody of their kids in Danish courts, Denmark’s respect for court decisions in other countries with respect to divorce and child custody, and Danish enforcement of spousal abuse laws with respect to Danish men beating the hell out of foreign spouses and being rewarded custody of the halfDanish children for their efforts. Tom By website Sports Personality of the Year Ahead of Anders Hansen, I would have chosen either ice hockey’s Jannik Hansen or handball’s Mikkel Hansen. The ever improving Andreas Bube may stand a chance of making the 800m final at the 2012 Olympics, being the fourth best European this year. GeorgeoftheJungle By website
THE COPENHAGEN POST CPHPOST.DK
6 - 12 January 2012
‘MacCarthy’s World’ BY CLARE MACCARTHY Clare MacCarthy is Nordic correspondent for The Economist and a frequent contributor to The Financial Times and The Irish Times. She’ll go anywhere from the Gobi Desert to the Arctic in search of a story. The most fascinating thing about Denmark, she says, is its contradictions.
Getting the accent right SCREENSHOT FROM TWITTER
HAT’S WRONG with a Dane having a Danish accent? Nothing whatsoever is the sensible response. It’s a rather silly question and one that wouldn’t be worth the paper it’s printed on were it not for the tizzy that politicians, commentators and the hoi polloi have worked themselves into these past several weeks over Villy Søvndal’s English language skills. One cannot help but have a certain sympathy for the beleaguered foreign minister. They’ve really had him in the stocks. The Twittersphere has been buzzing; he’s been satirised on YouTube and ridiculed on newspaper chatboards for his perceived shortcomings in speaking the queen of languages. Opposition politicians have pitched in with caustic little sideswipes and patronising suggestions that he should sharpen up his English act – pronto. In public, at least, Søvndal is laughing the whole thing off, saying that the mocking videos are quite funny. But he must have taken the flak to heart at some level because he has signed himself up for lessons at the Folketing’s language lab. So – just another skirmish in a teacup then? Just another wave of harmless flap that we will all have forgotten about by this time next week? Well, no actually. This little ballyhoo is important for two reasons. First, it’s obscuring the real political issues that should be focusing the minds of politicians and public alike. While everybody is busily sniggering at the foreign minister for his halting delivery and arcane vocabulary, serious political issues are popping up like mushrooms and going un-noticed. Or if not entirely un-noticed, at least given short shrift on the front pag-
Poor Villy has been getting a hard time of it in the news and online, like in this spoof Twitter account
es before making room for yet another dig at the foreign minister. Across the Danish mediascape at the moment, the persistent recurrence of Villy-engelsk stories is matched only by Helle Thorning-Schmidt tax tales. Just like her foreign minister, the prime minister is being put through the blender with an unremitting stream of innuendo about her tax status – despite the fact that the tax authorities have long since cleared both herself and her husband of any misbehaviour. What’s even more surprising is the scant attention (aside from the initial media frenzy
as the news broke) being paid to the forthcoming judicial tribunal that is investigating at least one former minister and his spin doctor over the suspected leaking of Thorning-Schmidt’s file to the tabloids. Should this suspicion be confirmed, the eventual upshot could be an impeachment of the former Venstre minister. And this, says political commentator Hans Engell, would be the biggest political scandal to hit Denmark in decades, as it could reach the very heart of power. Meanwhile, new evidence has emerged that Danish troops in Iraq
might have acted illegally by handing over captured Iraqis to their own national authorities, thereby exposing them to the risk of torture – something that is explicitly forbidden under Danish law. Then there’s the old case of the possibility that the former defence minister (also Venstre) carelessly leaked operational military secrets to the press. This, too, is being probed. These are all serious matters. Deadly serious in some cases, and they deserve our attention. For the Danish press and the hordes of ‘civilian journalists’ blog-
ging away in cyberspace, it’s all about getting the news ‘accent’ right. Here, I’m not referring to enunciation or idiom but to news priorities and emphasis. How we set the news accent. This must be solid and we must get it right. Which brings us neatly back to the hoo-ha over Villy Søvndal’s English skills and the second reason why it is important: because it’s fake. It’s a trailer-load of filibuster about nothing – pure and simple. Because I don’t give a hoot about how well or otherwise the foreign minister speaks my language. If I understand what he’s trying to convey, I’m more than happy. It’s the message not the medium that is important. There are around 400 million native speakers of English in the world and the variations in accent and vocabulary between various countries and even between internal regions can be extreme. But I’ve yet to meet an educated native English speaker of any nationality using a non-native’s beginner-level English as a weapon with which to beat him. And yes, Søvndal’s English is halting and could use a dollop of polish, but this is no barrier to communication. In the 26 years I’ve been in Denmark, I have heard numerous politicians and public speakers mangle my language in a multitude of ways. But this doesn’t matter a jot as long as I grasp their purpose. So for any Danish politicians out there who might be reading this, here’s a message: take my language and abuse it. Crunch it and mulch it and do new things with it. Invent new words if you will – I really won’t be bothered. But if you don’t drop the nonsense about pronunciation and get down to real politics, I shall be very cross indeed. And so will your voters.
CPH POST VOICES
‘SO SAYS CELIA’
‘TO BE PERFECTLY FRANK’
Celia Thaysen is a British love refugee who landed on these shores six years ago. With below-par Danish, a tendency to tardiness, and a fondness for Marmite, she spends her time fumbling her way through unfamiliar territory as a working mother-of-two with a house in the ‘burbs.
English by nature – Danish at heart. Freelance journalist Richard Steed has lived in Copenhagen for nearly five years now. “I love this city and want Copenhagen to be a shining example to the rest of the world.”
A proud native of the American state of Iowa, Justin Cremer has been living in Copenhagen since June 2010. In addition to working at the CPH Post, he balances fatherhood, the Danish language and the ever-changing immigration rules. Follow him at twitter.com/justincph
Born in 1942 on the Isle of Wight, Englishman Frank Theakston has been in Copenhagen 32 years and is on his second marriage, this time to a Dane. Frank comes from a different time and a different culture – which values are the right ones today?
10 DENMARK THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS THE COPENHAGEN POST CPHPOST.DK
6 - 12 January 2012
Toy story! How children have come to ‘play well’ with the bricks of Billund ANDY RUGG Founded by a carpenter from Jutland, Lego is one of the most successful toy companies in the world
ITH CHRISTMAS been and gone, there are bound to be plenty of households around the country that have experienced a growth in their Lego collection. Always a favourite of parents and children everywhere, Lego is a Danish success story, as synonymous with the country as the Little Mermaid. Lego is testament to what good, simple ideas can do. Now in its 80th year, Lego’s history is one of dynamism and innovation – a story about how one creative family has changed the world. Lego is the brainchild of Olek Kirk Christiansen, a carpenter from Billund in the west of Denmark. Christiansen began operating as a regular carpenter in 1916, building furniture and other wooden products for households and businesses. When the Great Depression hit, Christiansen’s work began to dry up, forcing him to concentrate on smaller projects, including miniature houses. Pleased with his little creations, Christiansen began to see the appeal in making toys and, after expanding his workshop, dedicated himself to this new direction in 1932. The name Lego was decided after a competition between Christiansen’s employees. A loose combination of the Danish words ‘leg godt’ meaning ‘play well’, the name Lego was also found to translate as ‘put together’ in Latin, a concept that would drive Christiansen’s future ideas. During the 1930s, worldwide plastic production soared, and following the Second World War it became easily available in Denmark. In 1947, Christiansen purchased a plastic injection moulding machine and, after gaining inspiration from a British ‘self-locking building brick’, began making ‘automat-
ic binding bricks’ in 1949, a design that the company later perfected in 1958, the year of Christiansen’s death. It is one of history’s ironies that Lego’s initial bricks were unpopular. Indeed, so few people preferred the plastic blocks over wooden ones that entire shipments were returned to the company unsold – a situation that nearly saw the business collapse. Seeing the situation as untenable, Christiansen’s son Godtfred began thinking outside the square and came up with the idea of selling Lego in sets consisting of interlocking parts that could be assembled to create an entire design. The first ever set, the ‘Town Plan’, was released in 1955. By the 1960s, Gotfred Christiansen could see that plastic Lego was the future of the company and discarded all wooden lines. As the product’s popularity grew in Europe, Gotdfred began to think about America, hungry for a slice of the burgeoning toy market there. Without adequate logistics, Lego was forced to make a deal with US com-
pany ‘Samsonite’, and Lego began to be produced i n the States. In 1964, Lego began to issue instructions with their Lego sets and by 1966 Lego had progressed to its famous train set collections – a series of designs that included small motors. The ‘Duplo’ range was launched in 1969. Meaning ‘double’ in Latin, the Duplo bricks were twice the
size of the regular Lego bricks, making them more accessible to younger children. Despite the difference in size, regular bricks could still be joined with Duplo ones, allowing children to grow and expand their Lego collections without needing to throw the old bricks away. It soon became common for children to amass sizeable collections of Lego, further enabling them to be the builders and designers the company hoped they’d be. By the early 1970s Lego had become one of the most successful toy companies in the world. The first Lego person made its first appearance in 1974; however, it wasn’t until 1978 that the figurines began to adopt the smiling faces and mov-
able arms and legs that we know today. As the Space Race continued, Lego released a space range, including suitably grey ‘lunar bricks’ and corresponding lunar rovers. By the 1980s Lego was a phenomenon. As the world becomes increasingly more wireless and internet-driven, it’s comforting to know that
Lego is still with us. With entire family generations brought up on it, the act of giving Lego to young children has become a kind of family ritual - a way for different age groups to connect and reminisce. It is this wholesomeness that makes it very unlikely it will go away anytime soon.
PHOTOS: WWW.KULTURKANON.KUM.DK AND LEGO.DK