Wammen told 66 Brussels-based journalists that Denmark would not offer “so many presents to dignitaries as usual” during its six-month term at the EU's helm.
Public transportation would be used “more than ever seen previously" and instead of bottled water, “pure Danish water from the tap” would be served during official meetings, he said.
The €35-million figure stands in stark contrast to what other countries have spent for their term at the EU's helm. In 2008, France spent €171 million for its six-month presidency, reportedly the highest sum ever spent. In comparison, the outgoing Polish presidency spent €115 million, while its predecessor, Hungary, spent €70-€75 million.
Some countries are known for their lavish gifts to high-ranking diplomats during their turn at presiding over international institutions. When it chaired the G8, France is known for having offered Dupont-branded fountain pens to heads of states, which are sold in selected shops for over €1,000. Their spouses were treated to Hermes handbags.
But Wammen sought to dispel the impression that Denmark was criticising the way other countries had run their own presidency. “Is the Danish Presidency going to be less costly than what we have seen from other countries? Yes. Do we by that send a message to other countries on the way they have conducted their business? No,” Wammen said.
Asked by EurActiv what was the most expensive gift the Danish presidency had prepared for heads of state and government, Wammen said it was an alarm clock, at the unit price of €90.
The secret remains
Later over dinner with Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, tap water was served. For male journalists, the Danish presidency offered a necktie, and women got a scarf.
In her official residence, Thorning-Schmidt played host with elegance and humour. She said she knew in advance what journalists were going to ask her, adding that she would not answer “that question”.
The Danish press broadly reports that over the 9 December EU summit, French President Nicolas Sarkozy had attacked her for daring to speak of an agreement at 27 to salvage the eurozone from its debt crisis after Britain vetoed it.
Sarkozy reportedly said that he didn’t want to hear from her, as Denmark is not a member of the eurozone and that Thorning-Schmidt was “new”, having just been elected in September.
“We welcome France and Germany taking a leading role, but we also want to make very clear that it is a Union of 27,” Wammen said. He added that has also been the position of Council President Herman Van Rompuy, and that the extraordinary summit on 30 January, devoted to the issue of growth and job creation, was going to be a meeting of all 27.
Thorning-Schmidt is a Social Democrat, affiliated to the Party of European Socialists (PES), while Sarkozy is facing a difficult reelection campaign against his Socialist opponent François Hollande.
France and Germany 'as important as others'
“It is very important France and Germany are taking initiatives, just as other countries are taking initiatives … All good ideas must be brought to the table, but we must also remember that the table consists of 27 member states.”
Asked about the alleged remarks by Sarkozy to Thorning-Schidt, Wammen said he was not present at the summit, but that if the French leader had said what was reported, he was sure his prime minister had “responded in a firm way”.