The son of Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen has been tripped up by the country’s strict immigration laws, which will force his Harvard-educated American girlfriend to leave Denmark by the end of this month.
The development thrusts immigration policy into the spotlight as Danes prepare to vote in national elections on June 5. Rasmussen, 55, leads a center-right minority coalition that rules with the support of the anti-immigration Danish People’s Party. Last week, he stunned the country’s political establishment by announcing he would rather abandon some of his traditional supporters on the far right than let their “extreme opinions” influence his politics.
In a debate broadcast by TV2 on Sunday evening, Rasmussen said that his 29-year-old son, Bergur, is being forced to split temporarily with his girlfriend, because she’s too young to seek residence under Danish immigration laws.
The young woman, whose name and precise age weren’t revealed, is under 24 and therefore not eligible to remain in Denmark following the 2002 passage of a law that was intended to stop residents, particularly from non-Western countries, from bringing in child brides. It’s since become a key plank in the country’s broader efforts to stem immigration. A student at Harvard University, she’s been in Denmark as part of her studies, Rasmussen said.
The prime minister said he stands behind the rule and tougher immigration generally. But he also criticized the lack of flexibility in the current immigration laws, particularly as Danish businesses face a labor shortage and are desperate for highly educated immigrants. “It’s to wonder at, that we live in a country that has no place for her,” Rasmussen said.
In response, Mette Frederiksen, head of the opposition Social Democrats, said the rule carries “a price” and rejected efforts to soften it. Most polls show Frederiksen, who has embraced tough immigration policies since taking over her party, will win next month’s election.
Meanwhile, the prime minister said he backs a revision of the Schengen agreement, so that the current arrangement enabling passport-free travel across Europe is tightened. Rasmussen told TV2 that Denmark “needs to look after our borders, and that’s why we need to develop a new Schengen regime that gives us more political autonomy over our own borders.”
After 2015, when the Syrian refugee crisis hit, Denmark introduced a series of temporary border controls. Rasmussen’s Liberal Party now wants Europe to consider allowing member states to make such controls permanent.