Danish fishing scandal strengthens UK’s Brexit hand
Fears grow that corruption case could weaken the EU’s credibility on fishing quotas.
Something is rotten in the state of Denmark — but the fishy odor could end up smelling sweet for U.K. Brexit negotiators.
The funk is emanating from a corruption scandal in the Danish fishing industry involving widespread cheating on EU quotas.
It has already claimed the jobs of two high-ranking civil servants and a handful of fishing companies being investigated by police. In an effort to contain the fallout, Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen relieved Fisheries Minister Esben Lunde Larsen of his portfolio, citing the EU’s position in the Brexit fisheries negotiations as one of the reasons.
“The fishing industry is very much challenged by Brexit because it lands large amounts of fish from British waters. With the change, we will be able to focus on strengthening international alliances to ensure that the entire [EU] is as strong as the other side,” said the Danish leader in a press release announcing the shake up of the country’s fisheries ministry.
This matters to Denmark because the country’s fishermen are particularly dependent on access to U.K. waters, since 40 percent of their annual catch comes from within Britain’s 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone. The worry is that the scandal will damage Denmark’s — and by extension the EU’s — credibility on fishing quotas and hence weaken their negotiating position in the Brexit talks.
Larsen’s dressing down was in anticipation of a damning report published Wednesday by the National Audit Office of Denmark, in which auditors slammed the Danish government for permitting irregularities in their management of fisheries quotas.
Some are happy with the change. “I am glad that this matter will now be administered by a new minister within the framework and expertise of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, so we can concentrate on getting the best possible deal on fishing for both the EU27 and the U.K.,” said MEP Jeppe Kofod, chairman of the Danish Social Democrats in the European Parliament.
But an EU official with knowledge of the case said the Danes were in full damage control mode to contain the fallout lest it undermine the EU’s negotiating position.
“This is a way to get rid of the scandal by actively denying the Danish parliament the right to question [Lunde Larsen]. The new minister can’t go into details about the mismanagement so it is a clean slate for this department and facilitates a political and administrative shake-up,” said the official.
Whether it will keep a lid on the smell remains to be seen.
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