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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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REFERENDUMS

Poll suggests Danes ready to scrap EU opt-out in referendum

A new poll indicates a majority of Danes is in favour of scrapping the country’s EU defence opt-out in an upcoming referendum.

Poll suggests Danes ready to scrap EU opt-out in referendum

The poll, conducted by Epinion on behalf of broadcaster DR, shows 38 percent of voters in favour of revoking the opt-out, compared with 27 percent who want to retain it.

28 percent said they do not know how they will vote, meaning there is still plenty of potential for both a “yes” and “no” outcome in the June 1st vote.

An earlier poll, conducted in March, put the two sides closer, with 38 percent of eligible voters then saying they would vote ‘yes’ to scrapping the opt-out, with 31 percent saying they would vote ‘no’ and 31 percent saying they didn’t know.

The government announced in March a June 1st referendum in which citizens will decide whether to overturn Denmark’s opt-out from EU defence policy. The referendum was called following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Denmark’s opt-out – retsforbehold in Danish – is one of four EU special arrangements negotiated by the Scandinavian country, and has seen it abstain from participation in EU military operations and from providing support or supplies to EU-led defence efforts.

READ ALSO: Why does Denmark have four EU ‘opt-outs’ and what do they mean?

In April, the wording of the question on voting ballots for the referendum was changed, following objections from politicians opposed to scrapping the opt-out.

According to a breakdown of the new poll, younger voters and women are the most undecided groups. 20 percent of men said they were unsure how to vote compared to 38 percent of women.

Among 18-34 year-olds, 39 percent were unsure how they would vote compared to 22 percent of voters over the age of 56 who have yet to decide how to cast their votes.

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