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Denmark wants to abolish national holiday to boost defense and meet NATO goal


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There is something curious about the kingdom of Denmark. The fault this time is a Lutheran holiday, called Store Bededag or, in Portuguese, Great Day of Prayer.

Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen wants to abolish the commemorative date so that the day’s extra wealth generation can boost the country’s defense spending amid the Ukraine War.

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Messing with holidays, however, is a sore point for everyone, and Frederiksen is facing a firefight from all sides. Criticism came from the political opposition, workers’ unions, the country’s bishops and even members of the parties that make up the government coalition.

The proposal to repeal the Great Day of Prayer was put forward last week. This Thursday (2), the law will be scrutinized for the first time in Congress and, if it passes, there will be two other discussions on dates to be defined. Denmark now has 11 national holidays, the same number as Brazil.

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According to official calculations, the cancellation of the holiday, putting industry, commerce and services into activity, would generate up to €400 million (R$2.2 billion) more for the government. Most of those millions would come in the form of taxes.

And this, according to the government, would be used to increase the country’s defense funding. The case is that, at the Riga Conference of 2006, NATO (Western military alliance) established that member countries should reserve 2% of their GDP for military spending.

The goal, despite being long-standing, is rarely achieved, and has never been followed by all of the 30 member countries of the group. In 2014, only three nations spent 2% of GDP on defense. The biggest number was in 2020, when ten got there.

After the invasion of Ukraine, many countries declared that they would reach 2%, including Denmark. But in their case, the goal would only be reached in 2033. With the holiday less, the government estimates that it would reach 2% in 2030.

Last year, Denmark’s defense budget was around €3.5 billion, which is 1% of the country’s GDP (a number also very close to that of Brazil). So the extra €400m targeted from the canceled holiday would help, but not nearly enough, to bring military spending to the €7bn that NATO would like.

“With Putin’s attack on Ukraine, there is war in Europe. The threat has approached,” said a statement from Frederiksen’s government late last year. “To finance increased military spending in the coming years, the government will propose a law that will abolish a public holiday that will take effect in 2024. Danes must contribute to our common security.”

This means that this year’s holiday is guaranteed (it will fall on May 5th), but next year’s break is in jeopardy. The Day of the Great Prayer is a moveable holiday, that is to say, it always falls on the fourth Friday after Easter. Because it’s a Friday, the Danes are bald to know that this holiday is synonymous with a long weekend.

For Christians, the day is of great importance, as it is a popular choice for marking wedding dates in the country. And that’s not to mention tradition: Store Bededag has been a public holiday in Denmark since 1686.

Among critics of the holiday’s cancellation are the 10 Lutheran bishops who lead the National Evangelical-Lutheran Church, to which 73% of Danes say they belong, although only 3% attend Mass regularly. The bishops complain that they were not consulted. Meanwhile, unions have launched a virtual petition to drop the proposal, with nearly half a million signatures.

In Denmark, where political consensus is the norm, the opposition — to the right and left of the centrist coalition — has united in a rare movement to criticize the administration. “The government is kicking us out [da coalizão]”, said Pia Olsen Dyhr, leader of the left-wing Social People’s Party, according to reports by the Associated Press news agency.

On the right, same thing: Søren Pape Poulsen, leader of the Conservatives, said “it is important to protect the culture, history and values ​​and deep roots on which Danish society is based” and called abolition “a mistake”.

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