From his home in the small rural town of Klang in Ubon Rachatani, Kurt Rasmussen is fighting the Danish pension system. He is the chairman and founder of “Pension supplement outside of EU”, an organization whose single objective is to change the law that prohibits Danish pensioners living outside of EU to get the supplement money that under normal circumstances are provided for pensioners without personal savings. According to Kurt’s own calculations a change as such would actually save the Danish state money, but as Kurt explains he is not only fighting the pension law he is just as much up against the famous Danish “Jante law”.
The Jante law is a social belief that dictates Danes to condemn fellow Danes if they do not behave “like everybody else” or seem to think of themselves as a special case for any reason.
Kurt at 71 is himself a pensioner from Denmark who grew up in Frederecia. Kurt stumbled onto the pension issue after he and his Thai wife Bunsong tried to file for family reunification in Denmark in 2015. Their case was rejected by Denmark, according to Kurt with the explanation that “there was nothing to stop them from living as married in Thailand”. Kurt and Bunsong followed the advice of the Danish authorities but after three years living in Thailand Kurt received a message from the Danish Public Benefits Administration. Kurt had to pay back roughly 300.000 DKR worth of pension supplement that he had unlawfully received during his stay in Thailand.
Kurt had never registered that he was living in Thailand at the Danish authorities and since you are required to have your residency inside EU and to stay inside the union for at least six month a year to be eligible for the pension supplement Kurt didn’t fit the description. Kurt’s home municipal saw Kurt was really in Thailand on his Facebook profile and demanded the money be paid back.
“I didn’t know about the pension supplement rule. So, when I suddenly got an invoice saying that I had to pay back 300.000 DKR it was a big surprise!” Kurt says.
As Kurt explains this rule effectively makes it impossible for him or any other state pensioner without personal savings to live in Thailand since the basic pension amount is too small to apply for residence permit in Thailand.
Ever since Kurt became aware of the rule, a long battle to change this law has occupied him for much of his time and the battle is taking place on many fronts.
The political battle
In the last two years of Covid pandemic Kurt has spent around 6-8 hours a day working for his cause. Much of that time goes with mailing politicians and administrations in an attempt to get them to reconsider this part of the pension law. But the lobbying work has proven to be very difficult. Kurt has especially appealed to the politicians with a homemade cost-benefit calculation of a new pension supplement model that includes the world outside of EU.
In this Kurt aligns the cost for the Danish states when he is living half the year in Denmark and the other half in Thailand, in accordance with the current rules if you want pension supplement and compares it to what it would cost if you allowed for pensioners to get the supplement outside of EU.
“When I have my residency in Denmark and stay there half the year, I am entitled to a long list of other supplements than just the pension supplement. I get a supplement for my medicine, I get a supplement for my glasses, I get housing benefits and so on. This accounts for a lot of money”
What Kurt instead suggests is that pensioners outside of EU should be eligible for the 7335 DKR the pension supplement pays at the max, before Danish state tax, in addition to the basic amount (6518 DKR) that they already get. This additional supplement would make it possible for Danish state pensioners to obtain a visa to reside permanently in for example Thailand and the Danish state would therefore save all the additional supplements leading to a total cost reduction.
All of these numbers are of course only a product of Kurt’s own “Chinese abacus”, as he puts it. But regardless of how much he has appealed to politicians to try and crunch the numbers in hope of a legislative change of wind, he has been denied by the ruling parties. A smaller breakthrough came when one of the few politicians who showed compassion for the cause asked the Danish work minister Peter Hummelgaard during a parliament gathering to give Kurt’s calculation a look and see if there were in fact a possible cost reduction for Denmark to gain.
The minister in written response explained that it was impossible to do a calculation that would be accurate and instead he calculated what the extra expense would be to pay pension supplement for the 9000 state pensioners living outside of Europe at the moment.
Kurt believes that it isn’t just the money issue keeping the politicians from proposing a new change. It is just as much the people’s notion of a Danish pensioner in Thailand, that Kurt represents, that makes them oppose the idea. This has become apparent to Kurt when he has tried to raise his case through the media.
“There is a lot of Danish people, especially other pensioners, who are against our proposal just because it can benefit pensioners in Thailand. There is a strong preconceived idea that we only want the money for all kinds of crazy things,” Kurt explains and adds.
“I don’t want to pay for your sex vacation, one person wrote in the comment section to an articles where we explained our case,” he says.
These Danish people are important to connect with in order to achieve results. The group of pensioners who wants to live outside of EU are too small to apply any kind of political pressure and they therefore have to rely on getting the publics sympathy. For the same reason Kurt is very active in Facebook comment threads where he tries to answer every person who questions the legitimacy of the groups purpose.
“I try to answer people and show them why we believe that It would actually be a win-win situation, where the people who wants to retire outside of Europe can do so while the Danish state makes money from it at the same time. Most of the time people don’t really care whatever I tell them, but a few times people will actually come around and recognize what we are fighting for, and that’s a little step in the right direction,” Kurt says.
A legal way in
Recognizing that it will be difficult to win over the powers that be, the organization has now also filed a lawsuit against the Ministry of Employment parallel with their political influence campaign. The organization claims that the decision from the Danish state to not grant the pension supplement for pensioners outside of EU is a violation of two articles in the European Human Rights Declaration.
The one claim is that the Danish state is robbing private property by refusing them the pension supplement that they were otherwise entitled to. The other claim is that it is unrightful discrimination when the Danish state pay the pension supplement for countries outside of Denmark in the EU and not to a place like Thailand even though some countries in the EU have the same living costs.
The case will now be processed in the City Court of Copenhagen. Also, in this instance it is questionable whether the organization will have any luck with its effort.
Ayo Næsborg-Andersen – who is an associate-professor at the Department of Law at Syddansk University, Denmark – has looked at the organizations lawsuit to give an assessment of the case. In an email response she writes.
“The short answer is that “Pension supplement outside of Europe” could be right in their claims. The right to ones earned pension is recognized as private property in the European Convention on Human Rights(ECHR) based on the understanding that once you been given the right to something the state can’t take It away without a good reason. Likewise, the discrimination claim is also justified,” Ayo Writes, and stresses that her assessment is only based on what is written in the lawsuit.
Despite that the organization could be right in their claims Ayo doubts that any Danish court will rule in favor of the organization.
“The Danish courts does not have a tradition of ruling against Danish law. As far as I know it has only happened once before, and it will most likely require rock solid argumentation for the courts to overrule the Danish law in this case. They can take the case to European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and if they find that a breach on human rights have occurred the state of Denmark will have to fix it and prevent it from happening again. It is Denmark who decides how it’s best fixed so they will also decide whether law needs changing. This depends a lot on what the ECtHR ruling explicitly says,” Ayo writes.
Kurt himself is aware that he probably won’t have any luck in any Danish court. The objective instead is to try and scramble enough money together to take the case all the way to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg where they could have a change of winning.
The irony of fate
At the moment Kurt is living permanently in Klang in the Ubon Rachatani District of Thailand with Bunsong. He got dispensation from having to travel home to meet the “six months at home”-requirement at the start of the covid pandemic but now the situation has changed, and Kurt knows that he is going to get called home and that he will probably be required to pay a lot money back once again. This is not something Kurt is at all worried about, however. Kurt has been insolvent ever since he went bankrupt 2002 with a chain of bars and slot machine venues he owned.
On the flipside this circumstance means that Kurt is unable to own any assets. So, the irony of fate is that in the event that Kurt and the organization are successful with acquiring the pension supplement Kurt himself would have to pay it back to the Danish state.