Danish lawmakers voted Tuesday in favor of abolish a public spring holiday to use the savings and increase defense spending, despite harsh criticism from the opposition, unions and the country’s bishops.
The left-right coalition led by Social Democratic Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, in power since December, had announced its intention to abolish the holiday.
In a 95-68 vote, the 179-seat Folketing approved the centrist coalition government’s bill to scrap Store Bededag, or Great Day of Prayer, which falls on the fourth Friday after Easter. Some 16 legislators were absent.
Savings from scrapping vacations are estimated at around 3 billion crowns (426 million dollars) per year. The ruling coalition of social democrats, center-right liberals and center moderates seeks to achieve the NATO target to spend 2% of gross domestic product on defense by 2030, partly in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“I don’t think it’s a problem having to work another day,” explained Mette Frederiksen. “We have to face enormous expenses in defense and security, health, psychiatry and green transformation,” she detailed in her general policy speech.
“There is no financial room for maneuver,” he stressed.
In Denmark, where political consensus is the norm, both the left and right opposition joined in despising the government’s move.
Opposition lawmakers called the bill “silly”, “crazy” and “absolutely wrong”, but did not agree to call a referendum on the issue. In Denmark, 60 legislators can demand a plebiscite.
“Stop the thief,” Karsten Hønge, a member of the Socialist People’s Party, said during a three-hour parliamentary debate. “The government is ordering people to work one more day.”
Several lawmakers have expressed concern that getting rid of the holiday will complicate negotiations later this year between employers and unions over wages and working conditions. In Denmark, the government traditionally stays out of these matters.
Workers in Denmark currently have up to 11 holidays; the figure is lower in years when Christmas and New Years fall on a weekend.
The loss of the holiday, created more than 300 years ago when a Danish bishop merged several lesser holidays, has sparked a Nationwide backlash of nearly 6 millionwhere more than 73% of the population belongs to the State Lutheran Church, although less than 3% of the people are regular parishioners.
Unions launched an online petition that gathered nearly 500,000 signatures, while Denmark’s 10 Lutheran bishops spoke of a “breach of trust.”
The government controls 89 seats in parliament and is supported by four lawmakers representing the semi-independent Danish territories of Greenland and the Faroe Islands.
(With information from AFP and AP)
Controversy in Denmark because the Government proposed to eliminate a traditional holiday