A renewed relationship between Denmark and Europe: Thoughts about the Thorning-Schmidt government

For a long time Denmark has had a reputation of euroscepticism[1] among the other members of the European Union. Despite information pointing out to a slow warming up of the popular opinion towards Europe (in the latest Eurobarometer, confidence in the EU is expressed by 52% of the Danes, whereas lack of confidence 42%), this feeling has been maintained — mainly because of the Danish exceptionalism, taken ad literam. Denmark enjoys four exceptions or opt-outs[2] from the acquis: the euro, defense policy, justice and home affairs and union citizenship.

The most recent item on this Eurosceptic agenda has been the proposal, initiated by the right-wing Danish People Party, to reinforce border controls with Germany and Sweden. The proposal, half-heartedly implemented, has raised eyebrows in Brussels and drew some negative comments from Barroso himself.

Helle Thorning Schmidt, S, statsminister. Foto: Jakob Dall

Helle Thorning Schmidt, Prime Minister. Foto: Jakob Dall

But things are about to change in light of the recent elections that gave birth to a new, center-left coalition government led by the Social Democrat Helle Thorning-Schmidt. The cabinet has for the first time a separate post for European Affairs, taken by the experienced politician and former mayor of Aarhus (Denmark’s second largest city), Nicolai Wammen. While the exact duties, beyond the immediate preparations of the upcoming Danish presidency of the Council, starting in January 2012, are not clearly delineated, the very existence of such a ministerial position is symbolic of the new approach the Thorning cabinet wants to follow in regards to the EU.

Moreover, the changes will apparently not stop at the level of the government structure. According to the agenda proposed by the new government, two of the opt-outs are supposed to be open for a public referendum: the exception on the defense policy and on the justice and home affairs.

“Regeringen vil styrke Danmarks deltagelse i det europæiske samarbejde og vil derfor gennemføre en folkeafstemning i den kommende valgperiode om Danmarks forbehold for de retlige og indre anliggende samt forsvarsforbeholdet.”

“The government wants to strengthen Denmark’s participation in the European cooperation and therefore will organize a referendum during the next mandate period about the Danish opt-outs on the Justice and Home Affairs and the Defense policy.”

Finally, the general relationship towards Europe is summed up in the title of one of the chapters of the government’s agenda: “An active Denmark in a Strong Europe”. In general, the attitude is openly more cooperative, as illustrated in such phrases as “strengthen Europe’s role in the world and Denmark’s role in Europe” or “our EU membership gives us the best platform to affect this development [in terms of the open global economy]” (p. 35).

The goals of the Danish presidency (2012) are: a green and sustainable development, taking into account the global financial crisis and the climate issue. Denmark wants also a stronger European voice in the international climate negotiations in Rio 2012. The European budget 2014-2020 should be in balance in order to revitalize the european internal market.

The expressions of intent of the Thorning-Schmidt government point towards a far more open and engaged Denmark than in the past ten years. This bides well for the upcoming Danish presidency and for the long term harmonization of Danish and European policies. The beginning of 2012 will reveal whether or not this agenda will lead to concrete measures or will remain largely symbolic. At any rate, even a change at the level of the discourse alone is to be welcomed.

[1] For more on this see Catharina Sörensen, “Danish and British Popular Euroscepticism Compared: A Sceptical Assessment of the Concept”, DIIS Working Paper 2004/25

[2] For more on the Danish opt-outs in Justice and Home Affairs see for example Rebecca Adler-Nielsen, “Behind the scenes of differentiated integration: circumventing national opt-outs in Justice and Home Affairs”, in Journal of European Public Policy Volume 16, Number 1, January 2009 , pp. 62-80, DOI: 10.1080/13501760802453239. An analysis of the consequences of the opt-outs for the Danish state is presented in a report, commissioned by the Danish government to the Danish Institute of International Studies in 2008.

One Response to A renewed relationship between Denmark and Europe: Thoughts about the Thorning-Schmidt government

  1. “For a long time Denmark has had a reputation of euroscepticism[1] among the other members of the European Union.”

    ..I think this need to be put to rest..i mean majority (52%) are agreeable. The debate rages on but there are some encouraging facts that EU is better than it’s not.


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