For a long time Denmark has had a reputation for euroscepticism among other members of the European Union. Despite information pointing to a slow warming of popular opinion towards Europe (in the latest Eurobarometer, 52 per cent of Danes express confidence in the EU, 42 per cent lack of confidence ), this feeling has been maintained.
This is mainly because of the Danish exceptionalism. Denmark enjoys four exceptions or opt-outs from the acquis: The euro, defense policy, justice and home affairs, as well as 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 negative comments from EU Commission chairman Barroso himself.
But things are about to change in light of the recent elections that gave birth to a new, centre-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. The exact duties, beyond the immediate preparations of the upcoming Danish presidency of the Council, starting in January 2012, are not clearly delineated. But 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 government structure. According to the agenda proposed by the new government, two of the opt-outs are supposed to be opened up for public referendum: The exception on defense policy, and on the justice and home affairs:
»The government wants to strengthen Denmark’s participation in European cooperation and will therefore organize a referendum during the next mandate period on the Danish opt-outs on justice and home affairs, and defense policy.«
Good with a change
The general attitude 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, it 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]«.
The goals of the Danish presidency (in 2012) are: Green and sustainable development, while 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 far more committed Denmark to Europe 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, it is good news that there is a change: Even if it is just at the level of discourse.
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