Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen touched a nerve on Tuesday—angering a broad swathe of Danes in a country where political consensus is the norm. Frederiksen and her centrist coalition government presented a bill to parliament that would abolish one of the country’s 11 public holidays, in order to pay for more military spending.
On the fourth Friday after Easter, Denmark typically observes a religious festival known as Store Bededag, or Great Prayer Day. The national holiday has existed for over three centuries, with stores and bars closing to mark the occasion.
But the closure of businesses hampers economic activity—and the government’s tax revenue.
“With Putin’s attack on Ukraine, there is war in Europe. The threat has moved closer,” the government reportedly wrote in a 2022 document outlining its policy goals. “To finance increased military spending in the coming years, the government will propose a law abolishing a public holiday that will come into effect in 2024. Danes must contribute to our common security.”
Denmark’s government hopes the additional tax revenue from abolishing the holiday will help it reach a longstanding NATO target of spending 2% of its GDP on defense. Few European countries hit that mark, to Washington’s ire.
An official estimate suggests that canceling the public holiday would generate as much as 3 billion kroner ($439 million) per year. In 2022, Denmark’s defense budget was 27.1 billion Danish kroner ($3.9 billion), or around 1% of its GDP. In December, the government pledged a further 300 million kroner in military aid to support Ukraine’s war efforts.
But Denmark’s 10 Lutheran bishops, who say they were not consulted beforehand, have come out against the measure. Meanwhile, trade unions have launched an online petition to abandon the proposal, with over 405,000 signatures and counting.
The proposal has also received backlash from opposition parties and some of the three-party alliance’s own ranks, which consist of Frederiksen’s center-left Social Democrats, the center-right Liberals, and the centrist Moderates.
“The government is shutting the rest of us out,” said Pia Olsen Dyhr, leader of the left-leaning Social People’s Party that was formerly an ally of the Social Democrats, according to the Associated Press. Søren Pape Poulsen, the head of the center-right Conservatives, called the proposed abolition a mistake and said: “It is important to me to protect our culture, history, and the values and deep roots our society stands on.”
But the holiday would become a thing of the past, if it makes it through parliament. The first reading of the bill is due to take place on Feb. 2, before it goes to its second and third readings.