Straight, No Chaser: There’s something fishy in the state of Denmark

Denmark increasingly seems like a country where nobody wielding political power at the highest level is actually held responsible for anything.

For instance, the ongoing saga of industrial-scale incompetence at SKAT resulted in the loss of billions of kroner in potential tax revenue. An enquiry is in progress to see if it was anyone’s fault.

Ministers take home top-bracket salaries and have extremely generous pension schemes compared to most voters. However, when the press ferret out a scandal, a blizzard of obfuscation, chronic amnesia and frenzied spin ensues. If all else fails, blame it on the civil service.

Some like it hot
Esben Lunde Larsen, the minister for the environment, food and fisheries, has been in hot water once again.

This time, it was about the way his ministry had been handling fishing quotas and how, despite the express wishes of MPs that these quotas should be spread more widely within the industry, the lion’s share remains in the hands of a few extremely large ‘quota barons’.

Jobs for the boys?
Coincidentally perhaps, a couple of these wealthy individuals also turned out to be contributors to PM Lars Løkke Rasmussen’s ‘Løkke Fond’, which was set up with the very worthy aim of helping teenage boys with learning difficulties get ahead.

Indeed, a picture of Løkke ‘hygging’ with shipowner and fishing skipper John-Anker Hametner Larsen at a fish supper in Thyborøn was obligingly printed in Ekstra Bladet. So far, Larsen has allegedly donated 809,000 kroner to the fund and, according to TV Midvest, bought up fishing quotas for 110 million kroner from 2015-2016.

There is no suggestion that anything illegal has taken place, but at the same time it doesn’t take too much of a stretch of the imagination to wonder what skipper Larsen gets out of this – besides the altruistic satisfaction of helping disadvantaged boys, of course.

A report from the independent auditors’ commission pulled no punches regarding what happened at the ministry. The police have become involved in the case and have been asked to investigate alleged instances of forged documents and companies set up to be run by ‘straw men’.

Message in a bottle
Admittedly, Lunde Larsen was not solely to blame, as the scandal went back a number of years and eight ministers were entangled in its net.

A damaging email surfaced, sent by a researcher to Socialdemokratiet minister Mette Gjerskov in 2012, warning of the danger of the fishing quotas ending up in the hands of very few. However, when pressed, the ex-minister said that “it had been answered administratively, so I probably never saw it.” The sound of Pilate-like hand-washing was almost deafening.

A fish out of water
In a bid to take the pressure off Lunde Larsen, the PM responded with a pre-emptive strike, removing fishing from the minister’s portfolio and handing it to the minister for equality and Nordic co-operation, Karen Ellemann.

So what in heaven’s name do fishing quotas have to do with equality, you may ask? There may be a peripheral Nordic connection, but this smacks of desperation.

Probably the worst that will happen is that one or more ministers or ex-ministers will end up with a ‘nose’ – that rather quaint Danish custom whereby a parliamentary telling-off is administered and the matter is closed. I’m sure Lunde Larsen is already quaking in his boots … safe in the knowledge that his pay and pension won’t suffer.