6th Jun 2023

Denmark to ditch Christian holiday to hit Nato spending

  • 'We can do more of what we must in our defence alliance and for the security of the Danes by abolishing a public holiday,' insisted Danish PM Mette Frederiksen (Photo: Magnus Fröderberg/norden.org)
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Denmark wants to reach its Nato financial commitments three years ahead of schedule, and has introduced a parliamentary bill to boost state coffers — by ditching a centuries-old Christian public holiday.

The Danish government's proposal, a coalition between centre-left and centre-right parties, has found a way to bring forward the two percent of their GDP to defence spending agreed for 2030.

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How? By removing a public holiday from the workers' calendar, which, according to its federal ministry of finance, will result in DKK 3.2bn (€430m) a year.

"I personally think it is a relatively cheap escape as a country, with war on its own continent, that we can do more of what we must in our defence alliance and for the security of the Danes by abolishing a public holiday," stressed the Danish prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, in December.

Back then, Frederiksen said workers would not receive any financial compensation, although as of now the measure does provide for a 0.45 percent pay rise in exchange for scrapping one of the 11 public holidays the Danish workers have each year by 2024.

"The government proposes that an increase in working time will be compensated accordingly. This means that both employees with a fixed salary and employees payed hourly will be paid by the employer for extra time worked," the minister of labour, Ane Halsboe-Jørgensen, said to EUobserver.

She added: "If we want to safeguard our national security in the light of Putin's invasion of Ukraine with all its wider implications, we all have to contribute".

The scrapped public holiday in question, the Great Prayer Day [Store Bededag] is a Christian holiday dating back to the 17th century and is celebrated on the fourth Friday after Easter.

Christian background

Since 1770, hardly any changes have been made to the Evangelical Lutheran Church's holidays, which is why the country's bishops consider this proposal "a significant encroachment on the tradition of the church". Tying the abolition of a public holiday to the increase in defence budgets is a source of surprise, they said in a joint statement of the Danish bishops.

Criticism also came from the Confederation of Danish Trade Unions (FH), which met last week to discuss the proposal, which it described as a "blatant attack on the Danish (labour) model", according to chairperson Lizette Risgaard quoted by news wire Ritzau.

Not so the confederation for employer organisations Dansk Arbejdsgiverforening (DA), who already backed the government proposal, claiming it will increase the workforce by 8,500 full-time workers.

If the bill complies with parliamentary rules, it could be passed within a month, which would reduce the time for raising objections in parliament, reports daily The Local.

This fact is of particular concern to trade unions, who vote on their collective agreements in the spring.

Nevertheless, the minister of labour insists all voices will be heard. "The bill is currently in public consultation. Relevant organisations are consulted — including the bishops and the trade unions in Denmark".

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