Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

Denmark Wants Responsible, Dynamic, Green and Safe Europe

Adelina Marini, January 3, 2012

Last time when Denmark presided the European Union was in the second half of 2002. Are you curious to learn what were the priorities of the Scandinavian country back then, 10 years ago? It is hardly a surprise that the main priority of the six-month Danish Presidency was research. "Denmark is taking over the Presidency at a time when the most important decisions about European Research Policy in future years are almost in place", is written in the archived website of Denmark's previous presidency. And the second important priority was enlargement but again with a focus on partnership in scientific research.

In 2002 economic growth, welfare and sustainable development were also a leading topic in the programme of the EU presidency, and the words "research" and "innovation" were among the most frequently repeated words.

Last but not least then was work on the institutional reform of the EU - the time when the European Constitution was being written, which failed in 2005. The reform ended in 2009, when on December 1st the Lisbon Treaty entered into force, not the European constitution.

10 years later

A decade later what is left of the Danish visions about EU's development is research. No longer as a priority though, but as a thread that goes through the four major issues on which Denmark intends to work until June 30: responsible, dynamic, green, safe Europe. These four priorities underscore the "Nordic" concept of Denmark about how the EU should further develop from now on. However, there is a big problem - Denmark is and calls itself an opt-out (from certain common European policies), which will deprive its presidency of the power of argument. Something which gave its predecessor, Poland, a powerful weapon in the hands - Poland is not a member of the eurozone but has an ambition to be and that is why it invested all its efforts in achieving a solution of the eurocrisis without this leading to a division in the Union.

Is Denmark going to succeed? It is hard to answer, especially given the first clash of the new prime minister of the country - the charming socialist Helle Thorning-Schmidt - with the euro area situation. This happened at the last for 2011 European Council on 8-9 December in Brussels when the idea of a fiscal compact was being hammered out, but the pressure of the non-euro countries a solution to be found, that would not be to their detriment, inflamed the already easily flammable temper of French President Nicolas Sarkozy. After scolding several times British PM David Cameron, he showed his bare teeth to Ms Thorning-Schmidt, reminding her that her country was not a member of the eurozone willingly and therefore she should fall silent.

"Denmark will assume the Presidency at a time when the EU is facing its perhaps greatest challenge ever." This is how the programme of the Presidency starts. "At the Summit on 8–9 December, a number of very important decisions were taken to stabilise the euro, including the agreement on a 'fiscal compact'. The further work on following up on the agreement will take place at intergovernmental level, and the EU Presidency will therefore not be in charge of this responsibility. However, as the Member State holding the Presidency, we are prepared to provide assistance if called upon". There is no sadder thing than this sentence which clearly shows "what dreams may come" when national interest prevails over the common one in a moment when deeper integration is a must.

The big issue is whether, no matter its good intentions, Denmark will be left aside or its voice will be heard. According to government's intentions, in the first 6 months of 2012 will start the implementation of the reformed economic governance - the Six Pack, which entered into force as of mid-December. It is entirely in line with Denmark's vision for a "responsible Europe". "In Europe, we have not been sufficiently good at complying with and enforcing the common ground rules and agreements regarding reforms", the presidency points out.

Denmark will continue what Poland started and aims to bring the negotiations on EU's multiannual financial framework (MFF) 2014-2020 as forward as possible, so that an agreement is reached in the second half of the year. The task is too difficult, given that the expectations for 2012 are dusk to fall over the European economy, and in the very onset of the negotiations process all major players announced that this budget would fall victim of the crisis.

For Denmark the single market is of key significance for the restart of economic growth in Europe, especially through its entering the "digital era". The implementation of the Single Market Act, facilitation of online trade and reducing roaming costs are the key, according to the presidency. More stimuli are needed for innovation companies to ensure greener and more sustainable growth. The green issue is not alien to Denmark - one of the countries that have achieved almost 100% energy supply from renewable sources. Undoubtedly this proved to be of great significance when Denmark was a host of the annual climate summit in Copenhagen in 2009. It was then when the unresting efforts of the then Danish environment minister Connie Hedegaard, who later became an EU Commissioner on climate change, promoted this so important topic to the first places in EU's agenda.

Safer Europe

There is one more key European sphere in which Denmark will find it hard to fight for European unity. This is security. This is the fourth priority, in which it is written that Denmark will lead a more effective fight against international crime and terrorism, it will fight for a better functioning of the Common European Asylum System and a stronger cooperation in the Schengen framework. And here is a big bad news for Bulgaria. And it is that Denmark in spring 2011 reinstated customs control over its borders because of increased trans-border crime.

And, although it is not among the most vocal countries like the Netherlands, for instance, Denmark still is an opponent of Bulgaria's and Romania's accession to Schengen because of their problems with corruption and organised crime. This is why the Bulgarian government will find it very hard to outline new arguments, especially having in mind that it seems it have given up this broadly advertised priority of its. Moreover, "because of our justice and home affairs opt-out, we will not be able to benefit fully from the advantages of this cooperation [Schengen]", is written in the press release of the Presidency.

So, what is coming is a charming, green and isolated presidency. A presidency that can serve as an example for many things but not for Europe's unity.