Denmark to keep distance with EU treaty talks

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The incoming Danish EU presidency made it plain on Friday (16 December) that it would take a back-seat role in negotiations over the intergovernmental treaty decided by EU leaders at their 8-9 December summit.

The Danish presidency will assist, but not lead, negotiations for a new intergovernmental treaty aimed at tightening fiscal discipline in the eurozone.

"We expect the president of the European Council to play the leading role in drafting the new agreement," Nicolai Wammen, the Danish minister for European Affairs, told reporters in Brussels.

Wammen was recently appointed European Affairs minister in the new government led by Helle Thorning-Schmidt, a position that had never been created before in a Danish government.

Negotiations of texts under the new treaty will take place in ad-hoc working groups chaired under the authority of European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, Wammen said.

Denmark opted out of the single currency after voters rejected the euro in a 2000 referendum by a margin of 53.2% to 46.8%.

But this may not be the only reason for Copenhagen staying away from treaty mediation.

Danish Foreign Minister Villy Søvndal of the Socialist People's Party has voiced concerns about austerity measures in the intergovernmental deal. His main issue is the obligation on national governments to cut deficits to 0.5% of GDP. Several countries will experience difficulties ratifying the treaty in parliament, and one of them could be Denmark.

Bridge over troubled water

Referring to the eurozone crisis, Wammen said: "Let me be frank with you. Denmark has been taking over its presidency at the most difficult of times. But still we are looking forward to the job."

Wammen conceded that the eurozone crisis would "heavily affect" his country's presidency agenda.

"We see it as a key task of the Danish presidency to [unite] the countries that are inside and those outside the eurozone. So if you will allow me to bring the lyrics of an old Simon and Garfunkel song, Denmark would like to be the 'bridge over troubled waters'," the minister said.

Turning to other issues, Wammen said Denmark would keep the negotiations over the next EU budget for 2014-2020 high on its agenda. He indicated that his country would attach priority to policy areas such as research, education and innovation technologies, with an emphasis on job creation.

A Danish diplomat had previously explained that his country would try to get "as far as possible" on the next EU budget for 2014-2020, knowing that a deal is unlikely to be struck until the end of Denmark's six-month term, from 1 January to 30 June 2012.

Timeline: 
  • End of Dec. 2011: New forum for the intergovernmental agreement will meet.
  • 1 Jan. 2012: Denmark takes over the rotating EU presidency, succeeding Poland.
  • End of Jan. 2012: Council President Herman Van Rompuy will seek to have a draft of the intergovernmental accord agreed.
  • Late Jan./early Feb. 2012: Regular European Council meeting.
  • 1-2 March 2012: Next regular EU summit. '17+6' group plus others expected to sign to new intergovernmental treaty putting in place the so-called "fiscal compact".
  • 25 May 2012: Regular European Council meeting.
  • 28-29 June 2012: Regular European Council meeting.
  • 1 July: Beginning of Cyprus EU presidency.
  • July 2012: Entry into force of the eurozone's permanent bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM).
  • End 2012: Target date for completing ratification process of new treaty.
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