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Analysis | How a Mink Cull Tipped Denmark Into Political Crisis


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Denmark is heading for early elections just as the country grapples with escalating security and energy crises caused by the war in Ukraine. However, it isn’t soaring power bills that threaten to topple the government of Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, but the fallout from a decision she made 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 to be unlawful. Frederiksen’s minority government has tried unsuccessfully to shake off the scandal ever since. 

Frederiksen, 44, made the controversial cull order in November 2020 after coronavirus was detected at 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 the small animals, whose soft fur is used in clothing and furnishings. There was no legal basis for the cull when it began and, as it progressed, public outrage grew and the country’s food and veterinary affairs minister quit. Parliament eventually passed a bill giving legal cover to the cull but, by then, millions of healthy animals had been slaughtered. It later emerged that the decomposing bodies of buried mink were threatening to contaminate local water supplies, forcing the government to exhume them. Frederiksen avoided an impeachment trial, but a party that had backed the government in parliament withdrew its support and new elections were set for Nov. 1 — seven months before the usual deadline. 

2. Did the cull really cause this crisis? 

It’s not the whole story. While Frederiksen received praise in some quarters for showing strong leadership during the pandemic, rivals have painted her as power-hungry and authoritarian. She was criticized for a lack of contrition over the cull, though she personally was cleared of any illegal behavior. Trust in her cabinet was further eroded after revelations during a parliamentary probe that she and several key government employees 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 that her Social Democrats could lose power to the center-right opposition, though it was too close to call. Frederiksen has proposed to recruit rival parties into what would be Denmark’s first “grand coalition” government in more than four decades. The idea was quickly rebuffed by several parties, which were reluctant to be seen ruling with her after the mink scandal. The situation is even harder to predict because the Denmark Democrats, a new right-wing party, could gain 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 close to its territorial waters. 

4. What remains of the mink industry? 

The government funded a support package estimated at about 19 billion kroner ($2.5 billion) to bail out the country’s 3,000 mink farmers. A temporary ban on mink farming in Denmark was due to expire at the end of 2022. However, there may be no way back for the industry, which was effectively wiped out by the cull and lacks the breeding animals needed to restock farms. Kopenhagen Fur, the world’s largest auction house for furs, announced it would close down and liquidate its assets after the cull.  

More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com

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