- By Michael BerginMichael K. Bergin is a Social Media and Digital Strategy intern at Foreign Policy. He is currently studying history and political science at Georgetown University.
Denmark, like plenty of other countries, is stepping up to fill in the funding gap in global family planning as the United States backs away from such endeavors. But the Danes let slip that their motivations may not be entirely altruistic.
Speaking at a family planning summit in London on Tuesday, Danish Minister for Development Cooperation Ulla Tørnæs justified a 91-million kroner ($15 million) commitment to underwriting contraceptives in Africa.
“To limit the migration pressure on Europe, a part of the solution is to reduce the very high population growth in many African countries.” Tørnæs in a press release regarding the event. Tørnæs additionally stated that curtailing African population growth is important for Danish foreign and security policy.
Denmark, a small, homogenous country generally recognized for its social democratic values and strong welfare state, has like other European countries seen immigration become a central political issue. The far-right, nativist Danish People’s Party has grown rapidly in recent years, becoming the second-largest political party during the 2015 elections. It’s now a needed source of support for traditional political formations, like Tørnæs’ conservative-liberal party, Venstre.
Anti-immigrant and asylum-seeker sentiment has grown across the political spectrum — just as the number of asylum seekers has spiked in the tiny country. The number of asylum seekers increased from 14,792 in 2014 to 21,316 in 2015 according to statistics from the Danish Ministry of Immigration, Integration and Housing, out of a total population of 5.7 million.
In late June, the Social Democrats, Denmark’s most traditionally liberal party, proposed that migrants and refugees coming to Europe should be sent back to EU-run camps in Africa to wait and apply for asylum. The Social Democrats at the time cited ethical concerns of preventing these immigrants from living as poor laborers within Europe. Social Democrat spokesperson on European matters Peter Hummelgaard cited African population growth, as well as climate change, as reasons why mass migration will continue.
Denmark has been a consistent partner on family planning, and Tørnæs herself has championed this issue. The Danish government has easily surpassed its pledge of $13 million for family planning by 2020 made at the 2012 Family Planning Summit. Tørnæs was applauded at the Tuesday conference after stating that Denmark will next year celebrate 40 years of meeting the UN goal of dedicating 0.7 percent of GNI to international aid.
To be sure, Tørnæs stressed the traditional arguments for support for family planning at the summit, emphasizing a “developmental perspective” and economic results of family planning with a humanitarian concern for the rights of women and girls over their own bodies, underscoring the growing population of refugees and displaced peoples.
And Danes aren’t the only ones to have stepped into the minefield of African family planning lately. Newly-elected French president Emmanuel Macron last week at the G-20 summit in Germany railed against what he called Africa’s “civilizational problems,” including families with “seven to eight children per woman.” That drew a hearty rebuke from Africa specialists, who noted that the French colonial legacy — continued today by the Catholic Church — frowned on contraceptives, exacerbating birth rates and scourges like HIV/AIDS across the continent.
In Washington, the old refrain goes, a gaffe is when a politician accidentally tells the truth. While Denmark’s willingness to underwrite family planning has never been in doubt, the unprecedented influx of migrants — and Tørnæs’ frank admission about the national-security motivations behind such efforts — may make clear just what’s behind some of Europe’s apparent good will.
“I’m in the situation that I have got an increased budget line due to reduction in refugee costs back home, and I envisage that I will spend quite a lot of this on issues related to family planning….so you can count on Denmark and our support for this agenda,” Tørnæs said.
Photo credit: Kristian Juul Pedersen/AFP/Getty Images