The incoming Danish EU Presidency will 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 its term, the country's ambassador in Brussels said yesterday (23 November).
The EU's budget for 2014-2020 – called the multiannual financial framework, or MFF, in EU jargon – "will be the biggest single item in the agenda of the Danish Presidency," said Ambassador Jeppe Tranholm-Mikkelsen.
He was addressing a gathering organised by the European Policy Centre ahead of the Danish EU Presidency in the first half of 2012.
When Copenhagen started preparing for the presidency, their experts had thought that it would be possible to wrap up the budget agreement by June 2012.
"But it has become evidently clear that this will not be concluded in June, everybody has been telling us that," he said. Therefore, the assumption is that the 2014-2020 budget would be wrapped up in the second half of 2012 under Cyprus EU Presidency.
However, Tranholm-Mikkelsen insisted that his country would do its utmost and "invest a lot of energy" to leave behind a good basis for the final state of negotiations.
In concrete terms that would be a "negotiating box" of some 15 to 25 pages of draft Council conclusions that would still contain a number of "xxxx" and square brackets signs, he explained.
"Hopefully we will all have at this stage a rather clear idea where we are heading, without actually trying to force a compromise at this stage," he said.
He said that substantial discussion would take place over the 28-29 June Council meeting, when opinions around the tables would be heard. Then at "another summit" the decisions would be taken.
Tranholm-Mikkelsen explained that the effort to come up with a good draft is necessary to help the legislation process, as "in order to pay out money, first you need money, and second you need a legal base".
"We are still trying to count the number of legislative acts proposed by the Commission; our current account is beyond 60 legal acts, in different clusters, some in agriculture, some in cohesion policy, some in research, some in transport, some in health, some in the external area," he said.
The diplomat insisted that the legislation could not be finalised before there would be a budget agreement.
The Danish ambassador said that the first priority would be to deal with the eurozone crisis, adding that his country, which has opted out of the single currency, was not responsible for it. The Danes rejected the euro in a 2000 referendum by a margin of 53.2% to 46.8%.
Tranholm-Mikkelsen said the new Danish government was deeply pro-European and has for the first time appointed a permanent minister for Europe. He also said that within the government programme it is indicated that there will be referendums on two of the three Danish opt-outs – on common security and defense policy, and citizenship, police and justice.
On the third opt-out, the euro, he said that the majority of the Danish parliament was in favour of joining the European common currency as soon as possible, but because of the crisis, the time was not right to hold a referendum.
If Denmark was not constrained to choose its priorities according to external factors, the priority which would had topped the list would be setting a growth agenda, including green growth, the ambassador said.
But even in the current crisis, he said that it was necessary to look into the future and see from where growth can come from in the medium and long term.
Tranholm-Mikkelsen singled out "external matters" as another priority, emphasising the need to strengthen the European External Action Service. He also touched upon EU enlargement issues [more information].
He also spoke of the need to manage "low intensity" crisis inside the EU, naming the recent Roma expulsion controversy in France, the French-Italian border spat over refugees from Tunisia, and the still outstanding problem of the bid of Bulgaria and Romania to join the Schengen area, which he said was still opposed by one country (the Netherlands).
Regarding the expected report from European Council President Herman Van Rompuy on a possible EU treaty change, expected to be presented at the March summit, he said his country was hoping that the changes would be "as limited as possible".
Tranholm-Mikkelsen said Denmark had the understanding that the 17 eurozone members had "special responsibilities", but would make its utmost to keep the "family of 27 countries together".
Asked by EURACTIV whether the Danish presidency would prepare for the replacement of Catherine Ashton as EU foreign affairs chief, as her term expires in the spring of 2012, Tranholm-Mikkelsen said the issue was not on the presidency's agenda.
Denmark will tak over from Poland as the holder of the rotating six-month EU presidency on 1 January 2012.
Top issues on the European agenda will include talks on the EU's next long-term budget for 2014-2020 and the related reform of the Common Agricultural Policy.
But the eurozone debt crisis is likely to continue dominating headlines as any important reform in the currency area's decision-making will have to be submitted to parliamentary ratification at the national level.
The last time Denmark held the rotating presidency was in 2002 and the main topics were the EU's enlargement from 15 to 25 countries as well as the draft European Constitution (see EURACTIV 2002 coverage).
After the 15 September election, Denmark is governed by a centre-left coalition led by Social Democrat Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt.
- 1-2 March 2012: European Council meeting
- 25 May 2012: European Council meeting
- 28-29 June 2012: European Council meeting