Guan’s blog


The Danish political crisis

25 Feb 2016

For only the first or second time ever (depending on who you ask), the Danish parliament on Wednesday will vote to express no confidence in a Danish government minister. The center-left parties and the Conservative People’s Party no longer trust the environment and food minister Eva Kjer Hansen.

This all started with a farm law, passed this morning, that would ease pollution restrictions on Danish farmers, egged on by an extremist farmer group that unironically calls itself Sustainable Farming. One of the big changes in the law will be to let farmers use more fertilizer. Using more fertilizer will release nitrates into the waterways, which is bad and could be illegal under EU law. The law would also permit more aquaculture, which also discharges nitrates into the water. (It also releases greenhouse gasses, making it more difficult for Denmark to fulfill its greenhouse gas emissions targets.)

The Conservatives have positioned itself as an environmentalist party—they’d like to conserve the environment getitgetit—so they wanted to see an improvement in nitrogen discharge, not an increase. That’s why the law includes various initiatives to reduce nitrogen discharge, to outweigh the additional discharge from increased fertilizer use.

But those initiatives won’t be effective until 2019, and the government wanted to show an improvement in nitrogen every year starting in 2016. So it decided to include a “baseline effect,” which accounts for reduced nitrogen discharge due to factors such as farm area that is converted to residential or industrial use.

That might be a little questionable, but so far so good. The real problem is: the baseline effect used for 2016 includes the baseline effects for 2012–2015. Without that misleading figure, there would be no net nitrogen reduction in 2016.

At a parliamentary hearing last week, six of the seven experts who testified agreed that the figures are very misleading. But Eva Kjer Hansen has not been willing to admit that she misled parliament. That is why she is now facing a no-confidence vote on Wednesday, the earliest possible day under parliamentary rules, and she would be forced to resign if she loses that vote. Prime minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen is backing his minister and is not willing to fire her, and has threatened to call an election if she is deposed.

(Obviously there is more going on. The single-party minority government is weak and the nitrogen crisis reflects deep problems in the government’s ruling coalition.)