Danish environment minister took 71 domestic flights in three years

The environment minister, Lea Wermelin, took expenses-paid flights to Denmark’s Baltic Sea island Bornholm 71 times between August 2019 and August 2022, according to a newspaper report.

Danish environment minister took 71 domestic flights in three years
Danish environment minister Lea Wermelin said she does not believe she broke rules by repeatedly flying to Bornholm on government expenses. Photo: Emil Helms/Ritzau Scanpix

Wermelin flew to Bornholm 71 times, of which 8 journeys were related to political events on the island, tabloid newspaper BT reports. All of the trips were paid for by government expenses.

Overland travel to Bornholm requires taking a train or driving through southern Sweden before crossing to the Danish island on the Ystad-Rønne ferry.

Wermelin’s registered address is on Bornholm but the minister usually stays in Copenhagen, having spent around 100 days per year on the island during her time in office. Her children go to school in Copenhagen.

Denmark’s personal registration (CPR) law – bopælspligt in Danish – requires residents to live at least 180 days per year at their registered address.

The report raises questions of whether the minister breached Danish rules on actual residence at a registered address; and of whether her travel should have been paid for by the state.

“My initial assessment is that under residence in the [government expenses] rules on ‘other transport’, this must be understood as the requirements in line with CPR rules. In other words, it should be the minister’s primary residence,” Jøren Ullits, a law professor at the University of Southern Denmark, told BT.

“That means that, under the relevant rules, you cannot claim expenses for travel to and from a residence where you do not permanently reside, unless it’s in the minister’s car,” he said.

Ministers’ cars can be used for travel to residences such as summer houses, which are not the minister’s permanent address, but this does not apply to use of other types of transport such as air travel or ferries, according to government guidelines.

“When it’s a case of transport to a residence that is not the primary residence, we are in a grey area. My assessment is however that the minister should not have expenses paid,” Bent Greve, Professor of Social Science at the University of Roskilde, told BT.

A third expert in public administration, Bente Hagelund, told the paper that the rules were “not crystal clear” and that although Wermelin appeared to have broken address registry rules, she was within her rights to claim ministerial transport expenses for the trips under a “broad interpretation” of the government rules.

The Ministry of Environment said that ministers can use forms of transport other than the minister’s car – such as air travel – when this is necessary for practical reasons.

Wermelin told BT she had not broken any rules related to expenses-paid travel to Bornholm and that she also did not believe she was in breach of address registry rules.

“Firstly, the ministry has concluded it was within the rules. That means this applies to me as well as other ministers. Secondly, I’m from Bornholm and I have been under the impression that I complied with address registration rules,” she said.

She also said that the majority of the trips in question were related to political commitments.

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Moderate party downplays importance of joining new Danish government 

After another round of negotiations with acting Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, Moderate leader Lars Løkke Rasmussen says it’s beside the point if his party joins Frederiksen’s vision of a ‘broad, central’ government.

Moderate party downplays importance of joining new Danish government 

Rasmussen, who was Prime Minister before Frederiksen when leader of the Liberal (Venstre) party, led the newly-formed Moderates into parliament in their first election on a platform of installing a centrist government.

The Moderates have a relatively strong hand in the negotiations with their 16 seats from 9.3 percent of the vote share in the election, which took place one month ago.

“For us, it’s not a separate ambition to be part of such a government,” Rasmussen said outside of the prime minister’s official residence at Marienborg on Wednesday.

“Whether we are in or not is less important. But we want to put ourselves in a position where we can influence the content. That’s what matters,” he said. 

“It strikes me that Mette Frederiksen and I go a long way towards sharing the analysis of what’s good for Denmark,” he added.

READ ALSO: What does Denmark’s Liberal party want from government negotiations?

Rasmussen has previously backed a potential government involving the Social Democrats and Liberals along with the Moderates, calling it an “excellent starting point”.

But he said on Wednesday that his party could lend support to a central coalition without being part of the government itself.

The Moderates could be influential “by forming the parliamentary basis for a government which consists of parties from both sides of the infamous political centre,” he said.

Although the centrist party is heavily involved in talks led by Frederiksen, it does not have decisive seats which could give either the left or right wings an overall majority. The left wing ‘red bloc’ took a single-seat victory in the November 1st election, meaning a left-wing government could be formed without the support of the Moderates.

But Frederiksen has eschewed the option of a government reliant on the support of the parties furthest to the left, the Red Green Alliance and Alternative, maintaining her pre-election pledge to seek a coalition across the centre.

There is no majority which could put a ‘blue bloc’ or conservative government in place.

READ ALSO: Five things to know about the Danish election result