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How an accidental email has put Denmark’s government in a spot of bother

An internal Social Democrat email, ostensibly planning a media attack on the opposition Liberals as a negotiation strategy, has caused a stir after being accidentally sent to a journalist.

How an accidental email has put Denmark's government in a spot of bother
Senior Liberal politicians Sophie Løhde (L) and Troels Lund Poulsen (C) have criticized the government over the leaked strategy. Photo: Martin Sylvest/Ritzau Scanpix

What exactly is going on here?

Have you ever written a furious email about your boss and then accidentally sent it to your boss? Or a text to your friend in which you say you’re going to break things off with a date, before unintentionally sending it as a reply to a text from the date? Then you’ll know the feeling of horror probably experienced by a Social Democrat staffer this weekend. It goes right to the depths of your stomach.

So what did they send?

An email about negotiating strategy in government talks with the opposition Liberals over a proposal to recalibrate state spending across municipalities, known in Danish as udligningsreformen.

According to reports, an email outlining strategy for the talks over the coming week – including a planned attack on the Liberals in the media – was not only sent to the ministers, spin doctors and party staff for whom it was intended, but also (accidentally) to a journalist at Jyllands-Posten. Seemingly, this was an innocent mistake. Oops.

Why is it a big deal?

The cloak-and-dagger tone of the email has riled politicians from other parties, not least the Liberals. It outlines instructions for “attacks” on the opposition party ad encourages the press advisor to finance minister Nicolai Wammen to find “stories on” the Liberals based on answers given during the negotiations, according to Politiken’s report of the fall-out.

The email outlines a “daily effort on Twitter, offensively and defensively” during the talks. The finance ministry, interior ministry and the prime minister's office are all reported to have been involved in coordination of the strategy.

And the fallout?

This is Denmark, so any political outrage against the government will probably feel measured and proportionate, depending on your basis for comparison. But the Liberals have had some choice words for their counterparts in the municipal spending negotiations.

According to Ritzau, the Liberals have accused the government of making the talks “completely toxic”, in a strongly-worded statement. They have also demanded an explanation from Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen.

“You must at least expect the prime minister to face up and distance herself from the way some government ministers are negotiating,” finance spokesperson Troels Lund Poulsen said. Political spokesperson Sophie Løhde called the government’s tactics a “double-play in disguise”.

Is that it?

Despite its apparently clumsy origins, the matter could be a damaging one for the government, which is negotiating with the Liberals, a traditional political rival, over a key domestic policy for the first time since being elected last year. Being able to land agreements across the aisle is key for Mette Frederiksen’s minority government, which does not want to solely rely on left-wing parties to pass laws.

Social Democrat finance spokesperson Christian Rabjerg, in comments to Jyllands-Posten, denied a breakdown in trust between the parties after the leaked mail.

“There is no reason to be concerned that we could compromise confidentiality, which must of course be kept,” Rabjerg told the newspaper.

“The internal mail is written in direct language and expresses itself in a different way than you normally would. If anyone feels offended, I’ll be the first to apologise,” he said.

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Who do Denmark’s right-wing parties want to be prime minister?

Conservative parties in Denmark must now decide who their favoured prime ministerial candidate will be, with to party leaders declared as candidates for the job.

Who do Denmark’s right-wing parties want to be prime minister?

Denmark will have three candidates for prime minister in the next election – a change from the usual two – after Søren Pape Poulsen, the leader of the Conservative party, said on Monday that that he will stand as a PM candidate in the next general election.

Poulsen’s declaration on Monday means there are now two leaders from right wing parties in Denmark with an expressed aim of securing backing as prime minister following the next general election. The other is the Liberal (Venstre) party leader, Jakob Ellemann-Jensen.

The third candidate is the incumbent, Social Democrat Mette Frederiksen, who commands the support of left-wing parties.

Poulsen’s announcement means smaller right-wing parties will have to decide who they would ultimately back to be prime minister.

It is unlikely the situation would hand the election to Frederiksen, as the right-wing parties can be expected to eventually align behind one of Ellemann-Jensen or Poulsen should they have an overall majority after the next election.

The leader of the Liberal Alliance, a libertarian party which currently has three seats in parliament, told news wire Ritzau his party was yet to decide on a preferred candidate.

“It’s still too early to say for us. Primarily because it’s actually unclear to me what their visions actually are,” Alex Vanopslagh said.

Another conservative party, the anti-immigration Danish People’s Party, is also yet to decide on its support, but leader Morten Messerschmidt welcomed Poulsen’s candidacy.

“It means something – who is the safest hand to lead Denmark through an uncertain time. And that’s what we’re going to have some good talks about, and I won’t be announcing anything here today,” he said.

“But I can just say that I’m very happy that Søren Pape has entered the ring,” he said.

READ ALSO: Danish Conservative leader confirms plan to become prime minister

Vanopslagh however said that Poulsen’s announcement “does not make a positive impression when [he] has waited for so long”, leaving Liberal leader Ellemann-Jensen to “take the flack” as opposition leader through a difficult period.

Pernille Vermund, leader of the far-right Nye Borgerlige (New Right) party, said she would not announce which of the two her party will back until after the election.

“Politically I’m probably a bit closer to Søren Pape Poulsen, but on the other hand the last three years have given me a good impression that if you make an agreement with Jakob Ellemann-Jensen, you can trust the Liberal party,” she said.

Vermund also called for clear statements from both party leaders on their immigration policies.

The announcement by the Conservative leader has disrupted the established order in the ‘bloc’ system which usually prevails in Danish politics.

The ‘bloc’ classification commonly broadly denotes whether parties are right or left of centre.

Recent decades have seen the ‘blue bloc’ parties work together in parliament to back the leader of the Liberal party, currently Ellemann-Jensen, to be prime minister if they command a majority after a general election.

The next election in Denmark must take place no later than June 4th next year, but recent speculation has suggested Frederiksen is likely to call an election as soon as this autumn.

A recent Voxmeter poll for news wire Ritzau gave the Liberal party 13.4 points, compared to 13.3 points for the Conservatives. The poll gave an overall conservative majority.

READ ALSO: How likely is Denmark to have a general election ahead of schedule?