The latest political row to hit Denmark concerns a suggestion by a government politician to halve the national minimum wage to make it easier for immigrants (an estimated 12% of the population, around 450,000) to enter the workforce.
Karsten Lauritzen, immigration spokesman for prime minister Lars Rasmussen’s liberal Venstre party (47 seats in the 179 seat Folketinget), which rules in a coalition with the Conservative People’s Party (KF – 17 seats), told the Berlingske Tidene newspaper:
“Denmark's high minimum wage acts as a barrier which prevents immigrants from getting jobs. If we want to get them out of the ghettos we will have to pay them less.”
His idea is to allow immigrant workers to be paid 50 Danish krone (equivalent to about 6.5 Euros) an hour for the first six months of their employment, arguing that this would permit them to ease into regular jobs.
The suggestion has been greeted with outrage by leftwing parties, who believe correctly that it will undercut the Danish social model, which is one of the world’s most generous. Also opposed is Lauritzen’s boss, the immigration minister Birthe Hornbech, who was right for the wrong reasons when she said she disliked the idea “because it stigmatizes immigrants.” Also lining up against Laurizten was the Danish People’s Party (24 seats), which said the idea would amount to “discrimination” because it would take jobs away from Danish citizens.
Lauritzen however won support from the Employment Minister, Inger Støjlberg, and the KF’s immigration spokesman, Naser Khader, who here contrives to be wrong for the wrong reasons. Khader insisted the policy should only apply to immigrants who could not speak Danish or whose qualifications (if any) were not recognized in Denmark It seems not to have occurred to this strategic genius that any such scheme would lead to an inrush of unskilled immigrants.
Or perhaps it stirred tender family memories. Khader is half-Palestinian and half-Syrian, and his Syrian father was unskilled when he emigrated to Europe in the 1960s. Khader fils has done spectacularly well for himself, representing not just the KF in parliament, but previously the Social Liberal Party (nine seats), his own party called the Liberal Alliance (three seats) and then a brief stint as an independent, before finding this a little lonely. He then apparently prevaricated between Venstre and the KF, both of whom wanted him for some reason, before finally plumping for the latter. This is not bad going for someone who is still only in his mid-40s, and who has been besides plagued by allegations of tax evasion.
The rise of such an obvious flibbertigibbet must be partly because, according to Wikipedia, “he is well connected among political commentators and journalists.” But what must also be helpful is that he is not just a Muslim but a ‘safe’ one. Khader founded a group called Moderate Muslims in the wake of the Danish cartoons controversy, which has subsequently campaigned (rather half-heartedly) against the burqa and in favour of free speech. This makes him the perfect blend of diversity and dependability for a modern European neo-conservative party, allowing them (they hope) to appeal to ethnic minority voters without frightening the indigenous horses.
This particular scheme is unlikely to be adopted, especially at a time when jobs are short. But it serves to demonstrate that in Denmark, as elsewhere, sometimes the loudest voices calling for increasing immigration emanate from political parties whose voters have elected them in the belief they will do exactly the opposite.