Denmark defies critics, nixes holiday to boost army spending

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Danish lawmakers on Tuesday voted to abolish a springtime public holiday in order to use the savings and boost defense spending, despite harsh criticism from the opposition, trade unions and the country’s bishops.

In a 95-68 vote, the 179-seat Folketing approved the centrist coalition government’s bill to scrap Store Bededag, or Great Prayer Day, that falls on the fourth Friday after Easter. Some 16 lawmakers were absent.

Savings from the holiday’s scrapping are estimated at around 3 billion kroner ($426 million) annually. The ruling coalition of the Social Democrats, the center-right Liberals and the center Moderates is seeking to achieve the NATO target of spending 2% of gross domestic product on defense by 2030, in part as a response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In Denmark where political consensus is the norm, both the left and right-wing opposition united to heap scorn on the government’s move.

Opposition lawmakers called the bill “foolish,” “crazy” and “totally wrong” but failed to agree on calling a referendum on the issue. In Denmark, 60 lawmakers 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 day more.”

Several lawmakers expressed concern that getting rid of the holiday will complicate negotiations later this year between employers and trade unions about wages and working conditions. In Denmark, the government traditionally stays away from these matters.

Workers in Denmark currently have up to 11 public holidays; the figure is lower in years where Christmas and New Year fall on weekends.

The loss of the holiday — created more than 300 years ago when a Danish bishop merged several minor holidays — has triggered a backlash throughout the country of nearly 6 million where more than 73% of the population belong to the State Lutheran Church, although fewer than 3% of people are regular churchgoers.

Trade 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 Faeroe Islands.

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