French Presidency agenda regarded as ambitious

The French Foreign Minister’s speech at the Europe Day on 9th of May recently stated that the priorities of the French Presidency equal the normal workload of three presidencies. With its wide focus on energy, defence and migration besides the institutional issues regarding the future of the Lisbon Treaty, the agenda of the French Presidency is considered ambitious in Denmark.[1] The general expectation to the French Presidency is mixed. The Danish government and parliament support the priorities of the French Presidency on most points:
The effort of the European Commission to reform the European energy sector has previously been supported by the Danish Minister for Climate and Energy, Connie Hedegaard.[2] The French reform is therefore seen as a welcome step for Denmark, which considers itself a front runner in developing sustainable energy. Furthermore, the prioritisation of climate change is in tune with the global United Nations Climate Change Conference “COP15”, which is to be held in Copenhagen in December 2009.

Former Yugoslavia – major challenge for EU

The Western Balkans EU-accession
The Danish Parliament strongly supports the Commission’s strategy paper. Denmark considers it to be in Europe’s interest to support political and economic development in the Western Balkans. The overall goal for the Danish policy in the region is to contribute to a positive political, economic and social development that helps to promote the region’s accession to the EU and NATO, especially concerning Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia and Kosovo. Especially the principle of own merits, clear commitments and clarity concerning the steps of the accession process are emphasised by the Danish Foreign Ministry[1].
The Danish Parliament stands by the EU-membership perspective for the countries in the Western Balkans. However, it is clear that the former Yugoslavia has developed into a major challenge for the EU, especially regarding the Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, FYROM and Albania. Only Croatia and, to a limited extent, Montenegro are considered a ‘success story’[2].
Turkish membership

The Irish ‘No’: impact on the Danish opt-outs

The Irish voters’ rejection of the Lisbon Treaty was met with disappointment by the Danish government and pro-EU parties, but with joy from the parties and movements against the treaty being adopted in Denmark without a referendum. Jens-Peter Bonde (leader of the EU sceptical June Movement and former MEP) spent the 13th of June 2008 in Ireland celebrating the result with the Irish ‘No’ voters. The right-wing Danish Peoples Party, the left-wing Unity list and the two movements against the treaty, the June Movement and the Peoples’ Movement against the EU, saw the Irish rejection of the treaty as the final end of the treaty.
There is generally agreement in the Danish parliament (“Folketing”) that reform of the Lisbon Treaty is not an option as the treaty is already a political balance between conflicting interests. Therefore, changing the treaty text is regarded as opening a Pandora’s box and (re)starting a never-ending process. The Danish Prime Minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, has recommended that Ireland negotiates opt-outs from the Lisbon Treaty but should be cautious in ‘cherry picking’ from the document. The Danish model of 1992 could be a model for Ireland referring to the four Danish opt-outs from 1992 that enabled Denmark to endorse the Maastricht Treaty after an initial referendum thumbs-down.

Parliamentary ratification only

Denmark will not hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty as an investigation by the Danish Ministry of Justice in December 2007 concluded that the new treaty does not lead to any loss of national sovereignty. Under the Danish Constitution a referendum is needed when national sovereignty is relinquished to the EU (unless 5/6 majority in parliament is secured). Denmark was due to hold a vote on the European Constitution in 2005, but the planned referendum was scrapped after the no votes in France and the Netherlands. According to the Danish Ministry of Justice, nine mostly technical areas of the Constitutional Treaty would have involved a transfer of sovereignty to the EU, e.g. rules regarding identity papers, diplomatic protection, EU standards for medicine, and a common policy on space technology etc. These nine areas have been removed from the Lisbon Treaty leaving it for ratification by MPs[1].

The Danish opt-outs

Katrine Prytz Larsen

As a result of the Treaty of Lisbon entering into force, the Danish opt-outs were brought up. The opt-out regarding justice and home affairs and the opt-out regarding common defence were especially debated. According to these two opt-outs, Denmark only participates in EU judicial cooperation at an intergovernmental level and does not participate in the elaboration and implementation of decisions and actions which have defence implications.[1] All four opt-outs were maintained in the Treaty of Lisbon and thus Denmark was precluded from Europol cooperation, including the combating of international crime and terrorism. Furthermore, the opt-out regarding common defence meant that Denmark was unable to participate in the combating of piracy off the coast of Somalia – an issue which has been of great concern to the Danish shipping industry.[2]
The EU debate in Denmark focused mainly on the four Danish opt-outs and the possibility of an upcoming referendum. It was especially discussed how such a referendum ought to go about. The government parties have on a number of occasions argued that all four opt-outs should be voted on together as a full package so as to make it a final decision whether to become a full member of the EU.

Satisfied with its performance as conference host

Katrine Prytz Larsen

The Danish government was satisfied with its performance during the December 2009 Copenhagen conference; however, the negotiation strategy of the EU was conceived as somewhat imperfect. The Danish EU-Commissioner for Climate Action, Connie Hedegaard, pointed to the lack of leadership on the part of the EU as one of the main reasons for the failure in Copenhagen. She thus suggested that the EU would have had to step up offers to bring funds to developing countries at an earlier stage during the conference.[1]
On the part of the opposition, the Copenhagen conference was generally considered a failure since no binding agreement was reached. The People’s Movement Against the EU said the EU treated the developing countries in an arrogant way during the negotiations.[2]

Non Eurozone EU member state supports Greek financial package

Katrine Prytz Larsen

In Denmark, the financial package for Greece was generally perceived to be a positive act: in the government’s view, it was necessary to help Greece. Greece’s potential withdrawal from the Euro is perceived as an existential threat to the Euro itself. The “Greek tragedy” is seen as a product of decades of neglect, corruption and unwillingness to reform the economy.[1] According to the financial newspaper Børsen, Denmark faces small problems compared to other European member states such as Greece and Spain. Foreign Minister Lene Espersen underscored Denmark’s strong international position, but at the same time pointed to the need for a stronger Europe. She called for a modernisation of the single market and the creation of new e-trade solutions requiring strong coordination on both the EU and national levels.[2]

A neighbour in the EU

Julie Herschend Christoffersen

The prospect of Icelandic membership into the EU is widely welcomed in Denmark. This will shift the balance in the EU towards the north and hence Denmark. Denmark has even offered assistance to prepare for some of the negotiations Iceland will be having with the EU. The social democrat Member of European Parliament (MEP) Dan Jørgensen is welcoming Iceland into the EU, as only common solutions can bring a way out of the crisis about.[1]
Public debates in the media are sympathetic to the present economic plight of Iceland, but there is a general consensus that Iceland will have to live up to its responsibility and pay for its mistakes. The Icelandic “No” to Icesave II[2] was seen as a way of “voting No to reality”.[3] It is widely expected that Iceland will join the EU together with Croatia in spring 2012,[4] when Denmark is holding the Presidency of the Council.
Turning away from Europe?

The next best choice

Julie Herschend Christoffersen

The “Next best Choice” was the way in which the left-wing newspaper Information described the choice of Herman Van Rompuy.[1] He might not be an international showstopper, but he is considered valuable because of his strong analytical sense and ability to create consensus. The Danish Prime Minister (PM) Lars Løkke Rasmussen emphasised this point when asked if he thought that the new President of the European Council was too unknown for the prestigious job: “You can be very good at your job, even if you are not well-known”.[2] The Danish Member of European Parliament (MEP) Jens Rohde, also from the PM’s Liberal party, did not agree with Løkke. He thought that Van Rompuy was chosen so as not to overshadow the heads of the national governments.[3]