Few Danes are as loved and hated as former Minister of Immigration and Integration Inger Støjberg. Every Dane has an opinion about the woman who has to defend herself in the Copenhagen courtroom from this Thursday in the first impeachment trial decades in Denmark. Who is this politician and what awaits her in the coming months?
48-year-old Støjberg is a farmer’s daughter and grew up in the village of Hjerk, between the meadows of the Jutland peninsula. Already during her school days and studies communication she was active in school boards and the local council and since 2001 she has been a member of the Danish Parliament (de Folketing). From 2009 she held various ministerial posts in the cabinets of former Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen; the longest she was Minister of Immigration and Integration (2015-2019). Until recently, Støjberg was a member of Rasmussen’s centre-right Venstre party. But she cannot be called centre-right.
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Especially in her period as Minister of Immigration and Integration, Støjberg showed herself to be a hardliner in the field of asylum and integration policy. More than a hundred tightening of immigration rules have been implemented under her reign – in 2017 she caused public outrage for the fiftieth tightening to celebrate with a cake – and several times she made the international media with controversial bills and comments.
For example, Støjberg was the brain behind the advertisements in Lebanese newspapers in 2015 mainly aimed at discouraging Syrian refugees from coming to Denmark during the refugee crisis. She also devised the ‘jewelry law’ which enables the Danish government to confiscate valuable assets from asylum seekers to pay for their stay in Denmark and was heavily involved in the controversial ‘ghetto policy’ under which residents of Danish neighborhoods with many immigrants live under stricter rules. She also wanted convicted or exhausted asylum seekers pin to the uninhabited island of Lindholm (this plan failed eventually) and in 2018 even her own government distanced itself from her when she appeared in an op-ed in the tabloid BT wrote that Muslims should stay at home during Ramadan to avoid “negative effects on the rest of Danish society.”
But the most discussed and criticized is Støjberg’s decision in 2016 to separate young refugee couples in Danish shelters – this is also what the impeachment process is all about. In total, over a period of several months, 23 couples who applied for asylum in Denmark and whose women were minors were separated for months without trial. Støjberg defends this policy because it would protect “child brides”, but critics point to the small age difference between the partners: the girls were between 15 and 17 years old (and all said they agreed to the marriage) and the boys and men between the 15 and 32. Many couples also had children or the girl was pregnant when she was separated from her partner.
The policy was labeled illegal in 2017 by the ombudsman and several lawyers because it did not involve an ‘individual case assessment’ and the affected asylum seekers were not consulted. In addition, an investigation into the formulation of the policy revealed that Støjberg had misled parliamentary committees of inquiry on four separate occasions.
All this led to 141 of the 179 parliamentarians voting for an impeachment trial last February. This means that the Supreme Court will rule on Støjberg’s actions as minister. This has happened five times in Danish history; the last time was 26 years ago. She can be sentenced to a fine or a prison sentence of up to two years.
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Støjberg’s political future is also hanging by a thread: if she is convicted, she can lose parliamentary seat. If she remains politically active, the question is for which party. After it was announced that she would be prosecuted, her position within Venstre seemed untenable and Støjberg verliet left that party. A new home will do the trick: the parties on the right-wing of the political spectrum, from the Conservatives to the far-right Danish People’s Party, have been tempting Støjberg to join them for months. Controversial or not, Støjberg and its millions of voters remain a political asset.