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Denmark issues ban on ministers and officials from deleting texts

The Ministry of Justice has published new temporary rules for storage of text messages at ministries following controversy by an official inquiry.

Denmark issues ban on ministers and officials from deleting texts
Danish ministers and officials will now be required to keep a record of work related texts. Photo by Alicia Christin Gerald on Unsplash

The recently-published report by the Mink Commission, appointed to scrutinise the government’s 2020 decision to cull fur farm mink – later found to have been made without legal basis – criticised officials for deleting SMS messages that would have provided important context in the inquiry.

During the inquiry, the commission found that Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen and several other officials had their mobile telephones set to automatically delete texts. That resulted in the commission being unable to see them.

The justice ministry has now set out new interim rules for storage of SMS communications, it said in a statement.

READ ALSO: What did Danish mink inquiry conclude and what happens next?

The new rules and guidelines are intended to ensure that ministries keep records of work-related text messages on devices used by ministers, special advisors and heads of department.

The texts must also be retained if officials switch to a new device or leave their positions.

Interim rules have been put in place because of “the timescale for clarification of the technical options for central and user-independent storage of SMS messages”, which will eventually be put in place to “ensure uniform practice”, the ministry said.

A uniform process for storing texts sent in an official capacity “takes time to develop”, Justice Minister Mattias Tesfaye said in the statement.

“We don’t have the solution [in place] today. That’s why it’s good that we now have temporary guidelines that we can use for now,” he said.

The Mink Commission last week published a 4,500-page report in which it found fault with Frederiksen, who, it said, made “grossly misleading” statements about the legal basis of the mink cull at a November 2020 press conference. 

It was not the duty of the commission to make a legal assessment of whether Frederiksen or other ministers and officials acted intentionally or recklessly.

Potential consequences for Frederiksen could have resulted in an independent legal assessment of the scandal, which could in turn have led to the appointment of a special impeachment court, a rare occurrence in Danish politics but used as recently as last year.

This does not now appear to be on the cards after the centre-left Social Liberal (Radikale Venstre) party said it did not back an independent legal assessment, meaning this move would not have the parliamentary majority it would need to go ahead.

The Social Liberals have, however, threatened to forward a motion of no confidence in the government if Frederiksen does not call a snap general election by October 4th.

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POLITICS

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

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