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Prime Minister faces critical students at Faculty of Law

Danish PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt, faced a critical crowd at the Faculty of Law, where she debated with students on hot political topics, such as a recent turnaround in paternity leave policy

Armed with critical questions about 135 people gathered at the Faculty of Law to debate with the Danish Prime Minister – most of them young party members of the PM’s own party, the Social Democrats.

Earlier this week, the government announced plans to cancel a controversial government bill suggested by themselves right after coming into office.

“It is true that the Social Democrats for a while have been of the opinion that we need earmarked paternity leave, but as we got closer to the realization process, we got more uncertain whether or not it was the right thing to do, because the truth is that in a time where we do not have the opportunity to extend parental leave, we would be earmarking paternity leave for men in a way that would reduce women’s maternity leave,” Helle Thorning-Schmidt says.

Uncertain government

The bill required that of the 52 weeks of leave new parents in Denmark get, 12 weeks should be earmarked for the father. In case the father did not wish to make use of his earmarked paternity leave, the parents’ leave in total would be reduced.

One of the intentions with the bill was to secure a more equal labor market where an employer could expect both male and female employees to take paternity/maternity leave, securing equal treatment in the hiring process.

In Sweden, Norway and Finland earmarked paternity leave is already a reality, but in Denmark the government lets the parents decide among themselves. The decision to cancel the bill influences the University of Copenhagen, which is attempting raise the number of women it employs.

“Female institutes” lose

Parental leave can be a big, economic burden for the university institutes that have many young, female researchers, as women in general tend to be on leave longer and more often than men.

Eventually the economy of some institutes could cause the letting go of employees. An earmarked paternity leave could therefore have been an opportunity to rectify the imbalance, but the Prime Minister dismisses the argument.

“Male and female university employees are there on the same terms, and I wonder why the men do not take more paternity leave because the experience is in general that when men have the opportunity to get a salary while on paternity leave, they take it. So the thing is that we need better collective agreements.”

Do not wish to meddle

The government’s change of attitude has, according to Helle Thorning-Schmidt, to do with the fact that it does not wish to force families into something:

“I cannot defend going out to the families and telling them how to live their lives,” she finishes.

After debating the parental leave, the subject of whether or not the government is staying true to its center-left, Social Democratic background was raised as well as health care, the public school system and Syria, on which Helle Thorning-Schmidt declared that Denmark supports the United States while at the same time emphasizing that Denmark has not been asked to contribute militarily.

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