Explained: What are the fraud accusations against the Danish People’s Party’s vice chair?

Morten Messerschmidt, the vice-chair of the Danish People's Party went on trial on Monday for forging documents and misusing EU funds when he was an MEP in Brussels. We explain what the case is about.

Explained: What are the fraud accusations against the Danish People's Party's vice chair?
Danish People's Party Vice Chair arrives at the court on Monday. Photo: Philip Davali/Ritzau Scanpix

Who is Morten Messerschmidt? 

Morten Messerschmidt is the deputy chair and so-called Crown Prince of the Danish People’s Party, long seen the most likely successor to the populist party’s co-founder and current leader Kristian Thulesen Dahl. 

What is he supposed to have done? 

When he was an MEP in 2015, Messerschmidt served as chairman of Movement for a Europe of Liberties and Democracy (Meld), a group of Eurosceptic MEPs. 

Through Meld, and its linked fund Feld, he applied for funding of 98,325 Danish kroner to hold a conference for party members at the Color Hotel in Skagen. Although the party received the money, the conference Messerschmidt had promised the EU was never held, with the party instead using the money to hold a summer meeting, with football matches and museum visits. 

Messerschmidt is also accused of forgery, as he presented a contract purporting to be between the Color Hotel and the party. The contract was signed by Jeannie Nørhave, who purported to represent the hotel but who is instead the Danish People’s Party’s administrative chief. 

What could happen if he is found guilty? 

The prosecutor has charged Messerschmidt under three different sections of the Penal Code, the first of which deals with the misuse of EU funds and has a maximum punishment of one-and-a-half years in jail. The other two, which cover forgery, come with a maximum sentence of two years in prison. 

If Messerschmidt is found guilty, and particularly if he is jailed, it will quite likely mark the end of his political career. 

It also risks damaging the Danish People’s Party’s standing in the run-up to local elections on November 16th. 

What happened on Monday? 

In court on Monday, Messerschmidt pleaded not guilty, saying that he had been so busy with his political career that he had not had time to check the applications for grants that his staff sent to Meld, and had therefore not realised that the agenda sent to Meld did not end of matching the actual conference which took place.

Brussels he said was a “paper circus”, with huge numbers of documents required to be signed off on. 

“I have never signed so many papers as I did there,” he said. “About every other month I got a folder submitted. It can be thank you letters, minutes, and everything else that needs to be signed.”

How did the supposed fraud come to light? 

Messerschmidt’s MEP colleague Rikke Karlsson left the party in 2015, citing misuse of the Meld and Feld funds.  The European Anti-Fraud Office (Olaf) then began investigating the issue, in 2019 passing the investigation over to Denmark’s State Prosecutor for Serious Economic and International Crime (Søik). The prosecutor finally charged Messerschmidt in April.

Why has it taken so long to get to court? 

Partly because of the length of time it took both Olaf and Søik to carry out their investigations.  

How long will the court case last? 

The case will be in court for seven days, with the court’s judgement and also possibly Messerschmidt’s sentence handed down on August 13th. 

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How likely is Denmark to have a general election ahead of schedule?

Analysts in Denmark say Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen could announce a general election as early as next week, despite flagging poll numbers.

How likely is Denmark to have a general election ahead of schedule?

Speculation suggests that Frederiksen will announce an election, which could take place by October but possibly earlier, when the Social Democrats convene next week for their summer group meeting. 

Legally, the next general election can take place as late as June 4th, 2023. 

But despite worsening polls, a general election in Denmark this autumn now appears likely due to increasing pressure on Frederiksen from other parties and heightened criticism of her government.

“It will not be possible to make any new, broad political agreements on this side of a general election. There’s no willingness to compromise between parties. So Danish politics is already frozen by the election campaign, even though it hasn’t been formally announced yet,” TV2’s political editor Hans Redder said last week.

Redder said it was “relatively probable” that Frederiksen will announce an election in August.

“The political season begins next week. Several parties will have their summer group meetings and start calling press briefings. So it’s just a question of which date Mette Frederiksen decides on,” Redder said.

The Social Liberal (Radikale Venstre) party, which is an ally of the government, has demanded Frederiksen call a general election by October 4th.

Although a new general election is not due until next year, the Social Liberals earlier in the summer said they wanted an election by October after the government and Frederiksen were severely criticised earlier this summer in an official inquiry into the mink scandal.

The Social Liberals have the ability to bring down the government by withdrawing their support for Frederiksen and bringing an no confidence motion in parliament, although it’s not certain they would actually do this.

In addition to the mink scandal, Frederiksen’s government has been damaged by a high-profile case centred around leaks at intelligence service Forsvarets Efterretningstjeneste (FE), as well as broader criticism of her leadership style.

“(Frederiksen) really needs some wins and we have not heard much about what their election platform will be. That will come when the 2030 (political) plan is presented,” political analyst Hans Engell told news wire Ritzau.

“Bad opinion polls are not conducive to an early general election and it doesn’t seem as though there is complete clarity over their 2030 plan. They are probably keeping all their options open,” he said.

Talk of an early election comes despite poll numbers looking as bad for the government as they have at any time since they came to power in 2019.

A new opinion poll by Voxmeter for news agency Ritzau on Monday gave the Social Democrats their worst showing since 2015. 

The ‘blue bloc’ — anchored by the Liberal party (Venstre) and the Conservative party — command 50 percent of the vote according to the latest poll.

Meanwhile, the government’s ‘red bloc’ holds just 47.5 percent. 

The demands that Frederiksen hold elections by October at the latest come from the Social Liberals, also of the red bloc.

The ‘bloc’ classification commonly referred to in Danish politics broadly denotes whether parties are right or left of centre.

‘Blue bloc’ parties will usually work together in parliament and back the leader of the Liberal party to be prime minister if they can command a majority after a general election. The ‘red bloc’ will usually support the Social Democratic leader to become PM, as is currently the case with Frederiksen.

READ ALSO: Danish PM Frederiksen loses majority in ‘neck and neck’ new poll