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Brought to the brink by mink: Denmark’s PM faces election

Brought to the brink by mink: Denmark’s PM faces election

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The writers of “Borgen” could not have come up with a better plot line.

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen is expected to call for a general election this week after being politically blackmailed by a one-time ally over her role in the country’s botched mink cull in 2020.

Frederiksen, who leads a Social Democrat minority government, faced a deadline of Tuesday to announce a vote after the Social Liberal party, one of the government’s three supporting groups, threatened to withdraw its backing for her. 

In the end, the Social Liberal party gave the prime minister an extra day, which means that if Frederiksen chooses not to trigger an election on Wednesday, she would still have until Thursday before facing a vote of no confidence. 

“Danish politics has always been very predictable. Now it’s crazy and on speed,” said Noa Redington, a political commentator.

Once announced, the election will take place in just a few weeks, and the outlook is not good for Frederiksen or her party, with the prime minister’s approval ratings having dwindled in recent months. 

While her ruling party remains the most popular, its alliance with supporting parties could lose its majority, according to recent polls. That would mean the opposition group, which is led by the Liberals and the Conservatives, would have the advantage. Even so, the vote is likely to be close, given the difference between the two sides is within the surveys’ margins of error.

Many have attributed Frederiksen’s poor polling to her role in an unprecedented culling of the country’s 17 million mink population, which was triggered by COVID-19 contamination fears and later turned out to be illegal. 

The order to kill all infected and healthy mink devastated the country’s fur industry — the biggest in the EU. Danish farmers appeared on TV in tears over the loss of their livelihoods, as mass graves appeared in the countryside filled with the slaughtered animals. Shortly after the cull, millions of mink were dug up again after some resurfaced because they had not been buried deeply enough, prompting complaints from residents about possible health risks. 

In July, a special committee concluded that the comments she made to justify the cull were “grossly misleading.” While the policy itself broke the law, her decision was unintentional, the committee said. Although Frederiksen avoided an impeachment trial, the row damaged her standing and she has slid in the polls since.

The controversy was also heightened after it emerged that Frederiksen’s text messages during the culling decision had been automatically deleted, apparently for security reasons.

“When she entered office in 2019, she made it very clear that she was in charge of everything — from the COVID-19 lockdown to education reforms. But when it came to the mink scandal, voters were suddenly told that it was definitely not her responsibility,” said Redington. 

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen was questioned in Copenhagen last December as part of an investigation into her government’s decision to cull its 15 million farmed minks | Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty Images

Redington added, however, that the Social Democratic Party’s success had already been sliding for a few months prior to the scandal, due to its disconnect with urban voters and shifting attitudes on climate issues, among others. 

Some have criticised the Social Liberals for forcing Denmark into an election in the middle of an international crisis after last week’s attack on Nord Stream 1 and 2 off the coast of the Danish island of Bornholm. 

But Social Liberal party leader Sofie Carsten Nielsen countered criticism, saying that Denmark needs “an election so that we can move on from the campaigning.” Posters and big advertisements have been dominating Danish streets for weeks. 

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