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POLITICS

Why are Danish PM Frederiksen’s deleted mink texts causing controversy?

Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen has for the first time answered press questions on the thorny issue of automatically deleted SMS messages related to last year’s decision to cull Denmark’s fur farm mink.

Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen and Justice Minister Nick Hækkerup address media on November 3rd 2021 over the government's deleted texts related to the 2020 decision to cull fur farm mink.
Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen and Justice Minister Nick Hækkerup address media on November 3rd 2021 over the government's deleted texts related to the 2020 decision to cull fur farm mink. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

While Frederiksen attempted to offer reassurance by addressing questions over the issue, opposition politicians immediately reacted by saying she had failed to answer sufficiently and had even given rise to more questions.

It is “too early to say” what the overall consequences of the issue will be for Frederiksen and her government, an expert said.

Denmark controversially killed all of its 15-17 million minks late last year over a mutated strain of Covid-19 found in some of the animals.

Studies had suggested the variant could jeopardise the effectiveness of future vaccines. 

But with the mass culling programme already underway, a court challenge to the order found that the government’s decision had no legal basis. 

A subsequent official inquiry into the government’s handling of the matter requested access to Frederiksen’s cell phone text messages and those of three close advisers.

However, the prime minister said they no longer existed as her phone setting automatically deleted them after 30 days. She earlier said that she had been advised by her ministry to delete texts after 30 days for security reasons.

It later emerged that some other government ministries do not automatically delete their texts.

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Automatic deletion of her texts was implemented sometime in summer 2020 after a review of “different security questions”, Frederiksen said in a briefing Wednesday. The timeline of summer last year would place it several months before the mink decision was made.

“I understand it can look strange. But I want to make it absolutely clear that we had no wish to erase anything. I take responsibility for what we did,” Frederiksen said.

“I’m the prime minister of this country. I’m not covering anything up,” she also said.

Frederiksen has had several phones since becoming prime minister in 2019 but neither her office nor Frederiksen herself could say where her decommissioned mobiles are now located.

The policy to delete texts remains in place today, she also confirmed.

“But it’s clear that with the discussion that’s taking place now, we need to discuss the guidelines,” she said.

Justice minister Nick Hækkerup said at the briefing that deletion of texts was “in line with the rules” and that, SMS messages can be exempted from relevant record keeping requirements.

“In practice, SMS’ will very seldom need to be kept on record,” Hækkerup said.

Conservative party leader Søren Pape Poulsen said the PM’s briefing “almost raises as many questions as it answers”.

Sophie Løhde, political spokesperson with the Liberal (Venstre) party, said there were “significantly more unanswered questions than what was answered at this press briefing”.

Both opposition lawmakers noted in particularly the lack of specificity given by the PM on when automatic deletion of texts was initiated.

Poulsen also pointed out the difference in practice between the PM’s office and the justice ministry, which does not delete texts.

He and Løhde both suggested they would press Frederiksen on the issue in parliament.

The pressure on the prime minister over the deleted texts is not gone, but is lessened after Wednesday’s briefing, said analyst Erik Holstein, political commentator with media Altinget.

“The pressure isn’t gone, but I think it will decrease. There’s no doubt that the right thing to do in a situation like this is to have a long press conference,” Holstein said.

“Now you certainly can’t claim that she’s not accessible to the press and that she won’t actively address the questions,” he added.

But Frederiksen “will still be asked about” aspects like when deletion of texts began, he predicted.

It is “too early to see” if there will be any longer term consequences for the government, he also said, noting that the texts could still be recovered and their content revealed.

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POLITICS

Faroe Islands renew fishing quota deal with Russia

Denmark's autonomous Faroe Islands have renewed a fishing quota deal with Russia for one year despite Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, a local minister said on Saturday.

Faroe Islands renew fishing quota deal with Russia

“The Faroe Islands are totally right to extend their existing fishing agreement with Russia,” the North Atlantic archipelago’s minister of fisheries Arni Skaale told the Jyllands-Posten daily.

He added however that the islands, which are not part of the European Union, condemned “all form of war – also the war in Ukraine” after Russian forces invaded in February.

The agreement has been in place since 1977 and is renewable each year.

It lays out catch quotas for cod, haddock, whiting and herring in the Barents Sea north of Russia for Faroese fishermen, and in waters off the coast of the Faroe Islands for Russian fishing boats.

Dependent on fishing

The autonomous territory is highly dependent on fishing for its income, and the fisheries ministry says the deal with Russia covers 5 percent of its GDP.

Russia has become a key commercial partner of the Faroe Islands since they and neighbouring Iceland fell out with the European Union – including Denmark – between 2010 and 2014 over mackerel and herring quotas.

An EU embargo on Faroese fish harmed the economy of the territory, which then turned to other markets.

“Today we only have free trade agreements with six countries – and not with the European Union,” said Skaale.

“If we cut ourselves off from one of these markets, it could be problematic for the whole of the next generation.”

Alternatives to be considered

Authorities on the archipelago have however said they would think about alternatives to the deal with Russia after local parliamentary polls on December 8.

Last month, neighbouring Norway – a NATO member – and Russia also agreed on catch quotas in the Barents Sea for next year.

Home to some 54,000 inhabitants, the Faroe Islands have been largely autonomous from Denmark since 1948.

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