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.


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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Danish employment minister against easing immigration rules for labour

Denmark’s employment minister, Ane Halsboe-Jørgensen, is not in favour of easing immigration rules to make it easier for companies to recruit foreign labour despite calls from elsewhere in the government to do so.

Danish employment minister against easing immigration rules for labour

Social Democrat Halsboe-Jørgensen said she was against allowing more foreign labour in Denmark, saying it could have a negative impact on society.

“As a government we must have an eye on everything. The question I have to ask myself as minister, which individual employers don’t ask themselves is, that if they get those workers, let’s say from an African country, what does that mean for the cohesive force [of society],” the minister said in an interview with newspaper Politiken.

Government policies on labour and immigration are closely related, she said in the interview.

“I think they are related when you start talking about, for example, 50,000 [people] from Kenya. Then we certainly must look not only at what it what do for the place of work those people are taken into, but very much also what it would do to society as a whole,” she said, citing a figure recently given by the Danish Chamber of Commerce in a proposal for raising Denmark’s international workforce.

“I think individual people from Kenya could be of great benefit to Denmark but I think that the number means something,” she said.

The minister recognised that foreign recruitment from both inside and outside the EU could ease the labour shortage, but said that recent talk of seeking agreements with non-EU countries on the area, as well as easing existing rules, was not in line with the immigration policy followed by the Social Democrats.

“It’s now been a while since almost everyone at Christiansborg [parliament, ed.] fortunately recognised that the number [of immigrants] means something,” the minister said in reference to the so-called ‘paradigm shift’ of 2019, in which most parties inside and outside of government agreed on a stricter approach to immigration, particularly asylum.

Businesses and other political parties – including partners in the coalition government – have more recently come out strongly in favour of more foreign labour to address Denmark’s ongoing shortage in many sectors.

READ ALSO: Fear of slack migration rules holds back Denmark on foreign labour: Deputy PM

Young Danes who are currently not engaged on the labour market should instead be drawn upon to help ease the worker shortage, according to the minister.

Lars Løkke Rasmussen, leader of coalition partner the Moderate party, said last month that Denmark’s businesses should be allowed to freely hire international staff, provided they comply with labour market collective agreements.

“The proposal we have should speak directly to a good social democrat because it’s a real tribute to the Danish labour model,” Rasmussen said at the time.

Rasmussen has previously suggested Africa, citing Kenya as a possible example, as a region in which Denmark could seek agreements with specific countries in relation to recruitment of labour.

Earlier in September, deputy prime minister and economy minister Jakob Ellemann-Jensen said a fear of being seen as weak on immigration is a factor in Danish politics which hinders measures to recruit much-needed labour from abroad.

Ellemann-Jensen is leader of the Liberal (Venstre) party, the third partner in the coalition.

“Since the 2000s, successive governments have tightened the [immigration] rules,” Ellemann-Jensen said.

“But we have ended up in a situation where we are afraid of making sensible and necessary decisions that would ensure international labour for fear of being called ‘a slackener’,” he said at a Danish Chamber of Commerce event.

Some 42 percent of Danish businesses said they were short of labour in 2022, according to figures from national agency Statistics Denmark reported by Politiken.

The Confederation of Danish Industry has called for action to avoid a potential shortage of labour amounting to 130,000 people within the next ten years, the newspaper writes.