Danish elections: Euroscepticism instead of rapprochement

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Danish People's Party's Kristian Thulesen Dahl. [News Øresund/Flickr]

After its good election results, the Danish People’s Party could draw Denmark further into the Eurosceptic camp, write Tobias Etzold and Janus Keck.

Tobias Etzold and Janus Keck are doing research on the European Union at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP). This editorial was first published on the SWP website as Point of View.

In the recent Danish elections, the Social Democrats of incumbent Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt emerged as the strongest party with 26.3% of the vote. The real election winner, however, is the centre-right bloc, in which the right-wing Danish People’s Party surprisingly turned out to be the strongest contender ahead of the right-liberal Venstre Party. New prime minister and leader of the new ultra-minority government, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, with his Venstre Party is likely to make concessions in his 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 elections.

Traditionally restrained with regard to a deepening European integration, the country’s policy toward the European Union is still based upon four reservations regarding the 1993 Maastricht Treaty: monetary union; justice and domestic policy; security policy; and union citizenship. The reservations about European justice and domestic policy are not seen as suitable by the Social Democrats, Venstre and several smaller parties.

These parties advocate for the reservations’ gradual abolishment and a rapprochement toward the core of the EU. In contrast to that, the Danish People’s Party wants to restrict European collaboration to inter-governmental aspects.

A referendum about the abolishment of justice and domestic policy reservations

The reservations against justice and domestic policy are not seen as suitable anymore, because they prevent Denmark from being involved in the European police cooperation Europol. This cooperation is gradually 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 centre block were involved in the proposal, but it was not possible to win over all parties on each side. Consequently, open Eurosceptics like the Danish People’s Party and the left Unity List/Red-Green Alliance are not part of the compromise. The majority of the 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-sceptical parties 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 policy are supposed to remain a national prerogative. Decrees of EU legislation, which objectively would guarantee more legal security for Danish citizens as well as companies are not going to be considered either.

Perpectives on European policy

Despite the concessions to Eurosceptics, the Danish People’s Party – as a majority provider for a centre minority government – is unlikely to accept this agreement without modifications. It will rather attempt to push through a special agreement instead of the “opt-in” model, through which only the participation in the European police cooperation would be safeguarded. Nonetheless, soon after the new government was disclosed, Prime Minister Rasmussen announced that the referendum will take place even before Christmas.

In order to gain their support, he already made several further concessions to the Danish People’s Party concerning stricter border controls emphasising the fight against cross-border crime and human trafficking. Furthermore, the Danish People’s Party is going to demand a renegotiation of its EU membership and a referendum similar to the British example. According to polls from May, 46% of Danes support this plan.

The outgoing government distanced itself from the openly Eurosceptic position of the United Kingdom and the debate about an EU exit there. In November 2014 Venstre Party leader Rasmussen voiced similar views, but during the election campaign he moved toward the Danish People’s Party. In a joint announcement, both parties announced on 11 June that that they would support David Cameron in his negotiations about 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 great chances to draw Denmark further into the camp of Eurosceptics. 

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