The Danish government is facing backlash after the Folketing, the country’s lawmaking body, proposed legislation seeking to expand its state coffers—to meet its NATO financial commitments three years ahead of schedule—by doing away with a Christian public holiday.
The legislation, which has the support of Denmark’s two largest parties—the ruling, center-left Social Democrats and the liberal-conservative Venstre party—will, once it’s adopted by lawmakers, work to stimulate economic activity and productivity, helping the government to achieve its coalition pledge to allocate 2% of their national GDP to defense spending by 2030, EUobserver reports.
The newly formed government’s scrapping the public holiday—known as Store Bededag, or Great Prayer Day—which has existed for more than 300 years, is expected to fill the state’s coffers with an extra €430m each year. The move comes as the issue of defense has been thrust to the forefront of Denmark’s political debate in the wake of the onset of the Russo-Ukrainian war.
“There is a war in Europe, and we need to strengthen our defenses… and that will require everyone to contribute a little bit more,” Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said last month, following the formation of the country’s first left-right coalition since the 1970s.
“I personally think it is a relatively cheap escape as a country, with the war on its own continent, that we can do more of what we must in our defense alliance and for the security of the Danes by abolishing a public holiday,” Frederiksen added while making the announcement.
Meanwhile, a broad sector of Denmark’s society—including the Lutheran bishops, business communities, Rightist and Leftist opposition parties, trade unions, and others—remain vehemently opposed, for varying reasons, to the government’s scrapping of the public holiday.
The Green Left (SF), the Danish Democrats, the Liberal Alliance, the Red-Green Alliance, the Danish People’s Party, Nye Borgerlige, the Alternative, and the Conservative People’s Party all oppose the legislation.
While the Nye Borgerlige (New Right) party argued that the public holiday was “associated with important traditions,” and floated the possibility of triggering a referendum, the Red-Green Alliance called the decision “really odd,” saying that it would cause working-class Danes to have to “pay with their well-earned holiday so that those who have the most can get high-bracket income and corporation tax cuts.”
Danish bishops from the Evangelical Lutheran Church, for their part, called the government’s move “a significant encroachment on the tradition of the church.”
At the same time, Lizette Risgaard, the chairwoman of the Danish Trade Union Confederation (FH), who has initiated a large signature collection campaign against the abolition of large prayer days, had this to say about the legislation:
The proposal to abolish major days of prayer is an assault on wage earners, taking time off from some and public holiday pay from others. It is a clear deterioration of the conditions and a blatant break with the way we regulate working hours in this country. This is the most blatant and terrifying attack on our labor market that I have experienced in my time in a trade union movement. And if we don’t quit now, what will they take next? Maundy Thursday? Or a holiday? It is impossible to say where the politicians will stop. If they ever want to stop.
The parliament’s initial reading of the new legislation is set to take place on February 2nd, 2023 before it goes on to its second and third readings.
The Great Prayer Day, first introduced as a public holiday in 1686, comes on the fourth Friday after Easter.