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How an accidental email has put Denmark’s government in a spot of bother

How an accidental email has put Denmark's government in a spot of bother
Senior Liberal politicians Sophie Løhde (L) and Troels Lund Poulsen (C) have criticized the government over the leaked strategy. Photo: Martin Sylvest/Ritzau Scanpix
An internal Social Democrat email, ostensibly planning a media attack on the opposition Liberals as a negotiation strategy, has caused a stir after being accidentally sent to a journalist.

What exactly is going on here?

Have you ever written a furious email about your boss and then accidentally sent it to your boss? Or a text to your friend in which you say you’re going to break things off with a date, before unintentionally sending it as a reply to a text from the date? Then you’ll know the feeling of horror probably experienced by a Social Democrat staffer this weekend. It goes right to the depths of your stomach.

So what did they send?

An email about negotiating strategy in government talks with the opposition Liberals over a proposal to recalibrate state spending across municipalities, known in Danish as udligningsreformen.

According to reports, an email outlining strategy for the talks over the coming week – including a planned attack on the Liberals in the media – was not only sent to the ministers, spin doctors and party staff for whom it was intended, but also (accidentally) to a journalist at Jyllands-Posten. Seemingly, this was an innocent mistake. Oops.

Why is it a big deal?

The cloak-and-dagger tone of the email has riled politicians from other parties, not least the Liberals. It outlines instructions for “attacks” on the opposition party ad encourages the press advisor to finance minister Nicolai Wammen to find “stories on” the Liberals based on answers given during the negotiations, according to Politiken’s report of the fall-out.

The email outlines a “daily effort on Twitter, offensively and defensively” during the talks. The finance ministry, interior ministry and the prime minister's office are all reported to have been involved in coordination of the strategy.

And the fallout?

This is Denmark, so any political outrage against the government will probably feel measured and proportionate, depending on your basis for comparison. But the Liberals have had some choice words for their counterparts in the municipal spending negotiations.

According to Ritzau, the Liberals have accused the government of making the talks “completely toxic”, in a strongly-worded statement. They have also demanded an explanation from Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen.

“You must at least expect the prime minister to face up and distance herself from the way some government ministers are negotiating,” finance spokesperson Troels Lund Poulsen said. Political spokesperson Sophie Løhde called the government’s tactics a “double-play in disguise”.

Is that it?

Despite its apparently clumsy origins, the matter could be a damaging one for the government, which is negotiating with the Liberals, a traditional political rival, over a key domestic policy for the first time since being elected last year. Being able to land agreements across the aisle is key for Mette Frederiksen’s minority government, which does not want to solely rely on left-wing parties to pass laws.

Social Democrat finance spokesperson Christian Rabjerg, in comments to Jyllands-Posten, denied a breakdown in trust between the parties after the leaked mail.

“There is no reason to be concerned that we could compromise confidentiality, which must of course be kept,” Rabjerg told the newspaper.

“The internal mail is written in direct language and expresses itself in a different way than you normally would. If anyone feels offended, I’ll be the first to apologise,” he said.

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