Danish PM sets aside ‘selfie’ fuss to reshuffle cabinet

Justice minister resigned from Thorning-Schmidt’s government after secret service scandal

Danish prime minister Helle Thorning- Schmidt:  “This should hopefully be the last [reshuffle].” Photograph: Ints Kalnins/Reuters

Danish prime minister Helle Thorning- Schmidt: “This should hopefully be the last [reshuffle].” Photograph: Ints Kalnins/Reuters

 

While the world debates her Mandela funeral “selfie” with David Cameron and Barack Obama, Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt is fighting to hold together her government at home.

In a political scandal straight out of the television drama Børgen, Denmark’s justice minister has resigned after lying to parliament about secret service spying on a political rival.

That departure – the third cabinet resignation in three weeks – prompted the second cabinet reshuffle this year by the 46-year-old Social Democratic leader who took office in 2011.

“This should hopefully be the last one,” joked Ms Thorning-Schmidt on Danish television yesterday.

In Copenhagen, however, speculation is rife about the future of her minority government, a three-way alliance between her Social Democrats, the Socialist People’s Party and the Danish Social Liberal Party.

Last month Social Liberal development minister Christian Friis Bach resigned over involvement in a scandal about excessive expenses. On Wednesday foreign minister Villy Søvndal, from the Social People’s Party, stood down after undergoing surgery for a blood clot on his heart.


Damaging
But the most damaging departure was that of Social Democrat Morten Bødskov. He resigned as justice minister, also on Wednesday, after he admitted misleading parliament over secret service snooping on a right-wing populist leader.

The affair began with a plan in February 2012 for justice committee parliamentarians to visit Copenhagen’s alternative district of Christiania. The visit never took place, reportedly because of scheduling difficulties, but the real version of events later emerged.

One of the participants in the scheduled visit was Pia Kjærsgaard, then leader of the Danish People’s Party.

Denmark’s domestic intelligence service (PET) was concerned the presence of Ms Kjærsgaard, a controversial and outspoken figure in Danish politics, increased the likelihood of a disturbance and posed a security threat.

Rather than face a riot in Christiania, where Ms Kjærsgaard is particularly reviled, PET officials proposed rescheduling the Christiania visit on a day when she was less likely to attend.

But how to be sure she would stay away? In a leaked memo to one of his staff, the PET chief asked if it would be possible to “have a look in Pia Kjærsgaard’s calendar . . . with the aim of finding a day for the Christiania inspection by the justice committee when the MP is busy elsewhere”.

It remains unclear whether this actually happened, but the revelations caused a storm of controversy and forced the PET chief’s resignation.


Scandal
When the scandal reached the justice minister the opposition Red-Green Alliance (Enhedslisten), which lends its support to the minority government, withdrew its confidence in Mr Bødskov. Observers say the reshuffle is likely to stabilise, for now at least, the government of Ms Thorning-Schmidt.

However several ambitious Socialists in Copenhagen felt snubbed yesterday that the prime minister looked beyond the Christiansborg Palace, nicknamed Børgen, to appoint Danish MEP Dan Jorgensen as her new minister for food, agriculture and fisheries.

A poll last week showed support for the Danish government down to 35.6 per cent from 43.5 at the 2011 election.