‘Danish royals can’t afford a car’: Former US envoy to Denmark ridiculed over cycling tweet

Carla Sands, the former United States Ambassador to Denmark, has been criticised by Danes including a government minister after claiming large parts of the population cannot afford to own a car.

Former US Ambassador to Denmark Carla Sands
Former US Ambassador to Denmark Carla Sands has raised eyebrows in the Nordic nations with a misleading tweet about the country's cycling culture. Photo: Hannah Beier/Reuters/Ritzau Scanpix

Sands, who was appointed by former president Donald Trump and served as ambassador from 2017-2021, claimed in a Twitter post on Friday that “in Denmark, middle class people can’t afford to drive a car”.

The former ambassador was ostensibly attempting to make a point about the Biden administration’s policies in the context of increasing petrol prices, which are occurring globally.

People in Denmark “have a bike and take the train for long trips. My embassy driver would bike an hour in the snow to get to work,” Sands tweeted.

The tweet has elicited responses from at least three Danish politicians and many members of the Danish public, with Sands largely ridiculed for the claim.

“According to your theory it is even so bad that the Danish royal family cannot afford a car,” responded Danish Social Democratic MEP Marianne Vind along with a photo of the heir to the throne, Crown Prince Frederik, cycling through Copenhagen on a cargo bike with two of his children.

Using the same photo, another user sarcastically pointed out that it was “so sad to witness a middle class family sharing one bike” in reference to the Danish royals.

“Hello this is Denmark speaking”, a further user tweeted.

“Sounds like your embassy driver should have been paid more. Most of us can afford cars, but public transportation is cheap(ish), greener and often more convenient. Which Denmark did you go to?”, they said.

Former Minster of Transport Benny Engelbrecht wrote that “I can assure you that using the bike for urban mobility is a question of choice, not economy for most Danes. This is for instance me in my time as minister — and don’t worry, we could afford a car.”

Health Minister Magnus Heunicke described the Sands tweet as “misinformation”.

“The Trump-nominated former US Ambassador to Denmark is once again spreading misinformation about us. We like cycling, which is healthy and good for the environment and climate, (this) becomes ‘the middle class cannot afford to own a car in Denmark’. I refuse to believe she doesn’t know better,” Heunicke wrote.

It’s not the first time Sands has faced accusations of misinformation.

In late 2020, she made several Twitter posts following the US election in support of Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud. In one tweet, she claimed her absentee ballot in the state of Pennsylvania had not been registered. This was subsequently debunked.

For what it’s worth as anecdotal evidence: the author of this article lives in Denmark and owns, and frequently drives (despite rocketing fuel prices), a car whilst living in a three-person household (two adults, one child), and has done so since 2020. Until recently, the household’s income consisted of a journalist’s salary and the basic state grant for students, SU.

READ ALSO: How Danish Tour de France preparations will cause traffic delays

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What does resolution of Denmark-Canada ‘whisky war’ tell us about international relations?

Canada and Denmark on Tuesday finally settled the largely good-natured "whisky war" that was fought for decades with weapons such as flags and bottles of alcohol over a tiny, barren, and uninhabited outcrop in the Arctic.

What does resolution of Denmark-Canada 'whisky war' tell us about international relations?

The two sides formally announced a deal to split Hans Island and effectively create the first land border between Canada and Europe at a signing ceremony in Ottawa with Canadian and Danish foreign ministers.

READ ALSO: Why Denmark and Canada are about to share a border

Dividing up the kidney-shaped island and resolving the 49-year-old benign impasse was held up as a model for peacefully resolving territorial disputes — contrasted with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“The Arctic is a beacon for international cooperation, where the rule of law prevails,” Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly told news wire AFP.

“As global security is being threatened, it’s more important than ever for democracies like Canada and Denmark to work together, alongside Indigenous peoples, to resolve our differences in accordance with international law.”

The waggish row over the 1.3 square kilometre Hans Island, which sits between Ellesmere and Greenland, dated back to 1973, when a marine boundary was drawn between Canada and Greenland, part of the Danish kingdom.

Danes and Canadians have visited the rock by helicopter over the past decades to lay claim to it, leading to diplomatic protests, online campaigns and even a Canadian call to boycott Danish pastries. 

During those ministerial visits, each side would plant a flag and leave behind a bottle of whiskey or schnapps for the other to enjoy, along with comical notes.

“Many have called it the whisky war. I think it was the friendliest of all wars,” Joly said of the territorial dispute — which had drawn in no less than 26 foreign ministers over the decades — at a news conference with her Danish counterpart Jeppe Kofod.

Kofod said that its resolution, however, comes at a time when “the ruled-based international order is under pressure” and democratic values “are under attack.”

“We see gross violations of international rules unfold in another part of the world,” he said, alluding to the war in Ukraine. 

“In contrast, we have demonstrated how longstanding disputes can be resolved peacefully by playing by the rules,” Kofod said, adding that he hoped Canada and Denmark’s experience will “inspire other countries to follow the same path.”

“This sends a strong signal: diplomacy and the rule of law actually works, and that a great result can be achieved by following the rules.”

As they exchanged bottles on Tuesday, Joly and Kofod laughed off suggestions that Canada might join the EU now that the two share a land border.

Joly quipped that a Canadian singer would surely enter the next Eurovision Song Contest, while Kofod offered: “Welcome Canada to the European continent!”

Snow-covered Hans Island is uninhabitable, but the onset of global warming is bringing more ship traffic to the Arctic, and opening it up to fishing and resources exploration — although maybe not in the area of the island.

Arctic expert Michael Byers noted that “the island is so incredibly remote as to make it uneconomical to contemplate any serious activity there.”

Putting off resolution of this unusual territorial dispute, however, made for good political theater in both countries, flaring up ahead of elections.

“It was an entirely risk-free sovereignty dispute between two NATO allies over an insignificant, tiny island,” Byers said.

Denmark had also feared that losing the ownership battle would undermine relations with Greenland, while Canada worried that a loss would weaken its negotiating position in a more consequential dispute with the United States over the Beaufort Sea, in far northwestern Canada, believed to be rich in hydrocarbons.

More recently, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “has not made Arctic sovereignty part of his brand,” in contrast to his predecessor, Byers said. 

“So that reduced the temperature, at least from our side.”

“But most importantly, Russia invaded Ukraine, and that created an opportune moment to tell the world that responsible countries settle territorial disputes in a peaceful way,” he said.