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Analysis | How a mink secession lifted Denmark into a political crisis

Denmark is heading for snap elections just as the country is grappling with escalating security and energy crises following the war in Ukraine. However, it is not the sky-high energy bills that threaten to topple Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen’s government, but the consequences of a decision she took almost two years ago. Her order to cull 17 million mink at the height of the coronavirus pandemic was condemned by political rivals and later found illegal. Frederiksen’s minority government has since tried unsuccessfully to shake off the scandal.

Frederiksen, 44, made the controversial cull order in November 2020 after coronavirus was detected on some mink farms and experts warned it could potentially mutate into a deadlier strain and make future vaccines less effective. Denmark had the world’s largest population of small animals, whose soft fur is used in clothing and furniture. There was no legal basis for the cull when it began and as it progressed public outcry grew and the Minister of Food and Veterinary Affairs resigned. Parliament eventually passed a law providing legal cover for the cull, but by then millions of healthy animals had been slaughtered. It later emerged that the decomposing bodies of buried minks threatened to contaminate local water supplies, forcing the government to exhume them. Frederiksen avoided impeachment, but a party that had supported the government in parliament withdrew its support and new elections were set for November 1, seven months before the usual deadline.

2. Did the culling really cause this crisis?

It’s not the whole story. While Frederiksen has been praised in some quarters for showing strong leadership during the pandemic, rivals have portrayed her as power-hungry and authoritarian. She was criticized for a lack of remorse for the cull, although she was personally cleared of illegal conduct. Confidence in her cabinet was further shattered after revelations during a parliamentary inquiry that she and some key government officials had deleted text messages from their phones. Frederiksen said that as a woman in power she was treated more harshly than a man would have been in the same situation.

3. Who is likely to form the next government?

Polls indicated her Social Democrats could lose power to the center-right opposition, though it was too close to call. Frederiksen has proposed recruiting rival parties into what would be Denmark’s first ‘grand coalition’ government in more than four decades. The idea was quickly rejected by several parties, who were reluctant to see her reign after the mink scandal. The situation is even more difficult to predict because the Danish Democrats, a new right-wing party, could take about 10% of the vote according to polls. The uncertainty threatens to delay Denmark’s response to Europe’s worst energy crisis in decades and the recent sabotage of natural gas pipelines near its territorial waters.

4. What’s left of the mink industry?

The government funded an estimated $19 billion ($2.5 billion) bailout package to save the country’s 3,000 mink farmers. A temporary ban on mink farming in Denmark is set to expire at the end of 2022. However, there may be no turning back for the industry, which has been effectively wiped out by the cull and lacks the breeding stock needed to replenish livestock farms. Copenhagen Fur, the world’s largest fur auction house, announced it would close after the clearance and liquidate its assets.

More stories like this are available at bloomberg.com

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