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(Jan 08, 2014) Two major pieces of controversial legislation that were passed in 2013 became effective in Denmark on January 1, 2014: the reform of unemployment benefits and a law on freedom of information. (Andreas Jakobsen, New Year, New Rules, THE COPENHAGEN POST (Jan. 3, 2014).)

Unemployment Benefits

The provision of unemployment benefits (kontanthjælp) has been newly restricted in various ways that particularly impacts recipients under the age of 30. The reform of the benefits system, adopted in April 2013, was supported by every parliamentary group except Enhedslisten, a far-left political party. All young people who receive the benefit will now be strongly encouraged to either find employment or enroll in an educational institution. The support unemployed persons under 30 years old will receive has been reduced to DKK5,753 (about US$1,057) each month, an amount comparable to that received by Danish students. For approximately 17,000 individuals, this amounts to a 50% reduction in benefits. (Id.)

A limit on the benefits received that previously applied only to married couples now will be imposed on all couples who live together, if both are older than 25. If the monthly income of one party in the relationship is over DKK23,500 (about US$4,300), the other party will no longer receive a benefit. For couples with children, the limit goes up to DKK30,400. (Id.; Christian Wenande, Kontanthjælp Reform: The Central Points, THE COPENHAGEN POST (Apr. 19, 2013).)

In addition to encouraging all those under the age of 30 without an education to enroll in a school, the reform makes provision for those not considered ready to start an education. Those individuals will be able to receive payments known as "activity initiatives" (aktivitetstillæg) ifthey are participating in some program that can help them get ready for an education. The most vulnerable of this group of young people will be able to receive the benefit immediately, together with mentoring to help them overcome mental, physical, or social problems that stand in the way of their acquiring employment or education. Special aid is available for young people who are sole providers for children. (Wenande,supra.)

For those not pursuing education, the first three months in which they receive aid are to be devoted to support their job-seeking activities. After three months, those who are able to work but who have not started employment will have to work in government-run workplaces in order to continue receiving benefits. (Id.)

Freedom of Information

The new law on freedom of information updates the procedures for requests for government information, but cuts back the number of types of government documents that are available for public access. While increasing openness in connection with most state-owned businesses and city and regional governments, the law's list of which documents can be accessed does not include some papers used by national government Ministers and civil servants. In addition, 58 partly or fully state-run businesses, including a rail service and the national lottery, will not be subject to freedom of information requests. (Jakobsen, supra.)

The exempted government documents include correspondence between Ministers and civil service officials, as well as the official calendars of the Ministers. (Peter Stanners, Freedom of Information Law Passes; Opponents Pledge Recall Vote, THE COPENHAGEN POST (June 4, 2013).) The legislation provoked protests from some politicians and academics; there was also an online petition with85,631 signatures, the biggest online petition ever held in Denmark. The concern expressed was that the law is vague and that it might be interpreted broadly. (Id.) In addition, on December 30, 2013, just days before the law came into effect, about 1,500 protestors with torches gathered outside the parliament to express their objections to the new measure. (Jakobsen, supra.)

Transparency International Denmark (the Danish branch of an international anticorruption organization) also opposed the legislation, suggesting that the law would "weaken the media's role as the fourth estate and watchdog, which would be a very unfortunate consequence." (Id.; Who We Are, TRANSPARENCY (last visited Jan. 6, 2014).)

The country's Minister of Justice, Morten Bødskov, argued in favor of the new freedom of information legislation, stating its purpose was to generally improve access to official documents and provide Ministers with the chance to communicate privately with civil servants. He stated, "[w]e are not covering up abuses of power. We are expanding openness in public institutions." (Stanners, supra.)

Author: Constance Johnson More by this author
Topic: Freedom of information More on this topic
 Unemployment benefits More on this topic
Jurisdiction: Denmark More about this jurisdiction

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Last updated: 01/08/2014