EU Skepticism Awaits Denmark

Denmark

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The Danish People’s Party could draw Denmark further into the euro-skeptic camp.

In June, Denmark held its general election, which saw the Social Democrats of then-Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt emerge as the biggest party with 26%. The real winner, however, was the center-right bloc, in which the right-wing Danish People’s Party surprisingly turned out as the strongest contender ahead of the right-liberal Venstre Party.

Lars Lokke Rasmussen, the new prime minister, and his Venstre Party are likely to make concessions in European Union (EU) policies to the Danish People’s Party.

Besides economic and migration issues, which dominated the election campaign, Denmark’s future European policy played a substantial role in the run-up to the vote. Traditionally restrained with regard to a deepening European integration, the country’s policy toward the EU is based upon four reservations concerning the 1993 Maastricht Treaty: the monetary union, justice and domestic policy, security and union citizenship.

Reservations about European justice and domestic policy are not seen as suitable by the Social Democrats, the Venstre Party and several smaller parties. These parties advocate for the gradual abolishment of such restrictions and a rapprochement toward the core of the European Union. In contrast, the Danish People’s Party wants to restrict European collaboration to inter-governmental aspects.

The reservations against domestic and justice policies are not seen as suitable anymore, because they prevent Denmark from being involved in Europol. This mode of cooperation is being transferred from the inter-governmental to the supranational arena as a result of the 2009 Lisbon Treaty. In March 2015, a majority of five parliamentary parties were able to agree on the necessity to hold a referendum about the abolishment of this reservation. The plan was to vote on an “opt-in” model similar to the British and Irish example, where certain legislative acts could be voted in or out.

Parties from the left and center bloc were involved in the proposal, but it was not possible to win over all of them. Consequently, open euro-skeptics such as the Danish People’s Party and the left Unity List/Red-Green Alliance are not part of the compromise. Most of the Danish population clearly backs the transformation into an opt-in model. Only 38% support a complete abolishment of the reservations.

The fact that the compromise for an opt-in only pertains to 22 of the 32 relevant EU guidelines is likely rooted in the fact that the parties of the agreement wanted to provide EU-skeptics as little of a target as possible. This is why the proposal is more European cherry-picking than a general rapprochement. All clauses about asylum and immigration policies are supposed to remain a national prerogative. Decrees of EU legislation, which would guarantee more legal security for Danish citizens as well as companies, are not going to be considered either.

Perspectives on European policy

Despite concessions to euro-skeptics, the Danish People’s Party—as a majority provider for a center minority government—is unlikely to accept this agreement without modifications. It will attempt to push through a special agreement instead of the opt-in model, through which only the participation in Europol would be safeguarded.

Nonetheless, soon after the new government was revealed, Prime Minister Rasmussen announced that a referendum would take place before Christmas. In order to gain their support, he has made further concessions to the Danish People’s Party concerning stricter border controls, emphasizing the fight against cross-border crime and human trafficking.

Furthermore, the Danish People’s Party will demand a renegotiation of Denmark’s EU membership and a referendum similar to the United Kingdom’s over whether to leave the European Union. According to polls from May, 46% of Danes support this plan.

The outgoing Danish government distanced itself from the openly euro-skeptical position of Britain and the debate over an EU exit in that country. In November 2014, Rasmussen voiced similar views, but during the election campaign, he moved toward the Danish People’s Party agreed upon line.

In a joint announcement on June 11, the Venstre Party and the Danish People’s Party said they would support British Prime Minister David Cameron in his negotiation over EU reforms, especially his demand to restrict social services for other EU citizens. This indicates that Rasmussen is likely to be swayed by the People’s Party regarding his European policy, including an accommodation on the opt-in model.

Through its election result, the Danish People’s Party has the opportunity to draw Denmark into the camp of euro-skeptics.

*[A German version of this article was published by Fair Observer’s content partner, Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP), and was translated to English by Manuel Langendorf.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH / Shutterstock.com


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