Martin Lidegaard, Denmark’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, has warned David Cameron against copying the Danish EU opt-out model when the UK Prime Minister negotiates a reform of Britain’s relations with the EU, saying “it has given us nothing but problems”.
Cameron, the Conservative leader who was re-elected as Prime Minister on 7 May, has promised to renegotiate Britain’s relations with the European Union, and hold a referendum on the country’s continued membership of the bloc by the end of 2017. Unless he can get those reforms, the Tory leader said he would campaign for Britain to leave.
At a summit in Riga over the weekend, Cameron stated that changes to rules on welfare benefits was an absolute requirement in any renegotiation. The prime minister wants EU migrants to wait four years before accessing a range of welfare benefits in Britain. He also wants to be able to deport EU jobseekers who have remained out-of-work after six months.
Since changing the EU treaties might take too long, Cameron may be tempted to follow the Danish example and negotiate range of additional opt-outs for the UK.
But this might be far from ideal, warned Martin Lidegaard, the Danish Minister for Foreign Affairs.
“I don’t know if this is something I would really want to recommend, because I think we have had so many problems with these opt-outs, but this is not a discussion we have yet had with the British,” Lidegaard told Danish news agency Ritzau in Riga.
Denmark negotiated four opt-outs back in 1992 before joining the EU: on citizenship, the euro, defence and justice.
The justice opt-out has posed problems for the Scandinavian country in recent months. The government wanted Denmark to join the Unified Patent Court and continue coorperation with the European Police Office, Europol. This led Copenhagen to hold a referendum on joining the patent court in 2014. Denmark will hold another referendum before April 2016 on 22 matters related to EU justice cooperation.
Cameron used the summit in the Latvian capital as an opportunity to address EU leaders on his demands for renegotiating the UK’s relationship with the EU.
“These talks will not be easy. They will not be quick. There will be different views and disagreements along the way. But by working together in the right spirit and sticking at it, I believe we can find solutions that will address the concerns of the British people and improve the EU as a whole,” he said.
On Thursday (28 May), Cameron will have breakfast with Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt in Copenhagen.
Lidegaard said that Cameron’s demands for EU reforms could also benefit his country and might be something Denmark would support as long as they did not compromise the freedom of movement in the EU.
“We are of course open to what Cameron has to say. There might be things that the UK wants which we would agree would be a good thing,” Lidegaard said, referring specifically to ‘benefits tourism’ and how non-euro countries can get increased influence on policies related to the euro.
“Some of these issues are ones that we can support. It’s not an impossible journey, but it’s going to be a road full of rocks,” the minister said.
David Cameron's ruling Conservative party won an outright majority in the 2015 parliamentary election, allowing them to govern alone.
Cameron has promised to renegotiate the country's relationship with the EU and then call a referendum by 2017 on whether to stay or leave, a decision with far-reaching implications for trade, investment and Britain's place in the world.
The Tory government may use the momentum from its win to bring the vote forward to 2016, avoiding clashes with French and German national elections due in Spring 2017.
The British premier has previously said he would be “delighted” if renegotiation of the terms of UK membership could be agreed quickly and the vote brought forward.
- 28 May: Cameron to visit Danish PM Thorning-Schmidt.
- By end 2017: Britain to hold in/out referendum on the country's EU membership.
- Ritzau: Lidegaard to the Brits: Danish EU solution is too troublesome [In Danish]