Denmark won’t follow Britain’s EU direction, minister says

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Britain and Denmark, the EU countries with perhaps the most eurosceptic populations, are both celebrating 40 years as EU members in 2013. But while Britain is debating whether to leave the EU, Denmark's European affairs minister says his country has no intention of going in the same direction. 

Nicolai Wammen, minister for European Affairs, said that Denmark wants to be as close to the core of the EU as possible because he believes this serves Danish interest best.

And while euroscepticism is running high across the channel, Wammen insists that Denmark is not on the same EU track as Britain.

"We have no intentions of going in the direction which the British government has set up for Britain," Wammen told EURACTIV in an interview.

Denmark currently has four opt-outs from common EU policies: Security and defence; citizenship; freedom, security and justice; and the economic and monetary union. This is just as many as the UK, which opts in on a case-by-case basis on most matters related to security and justice.

Wammen said Denmark's centre-left government wants a closer cooperation with the EU and wants a referendum in Denmark on the justice and defence opt-outs. 

"But right now there is a lot of turbulence around the EU and therefore, it is not the right time to have a referendum," he said.

Closer cooperation with Brussels

In parliament, Danish politicians are generally quite EU-friendly. But the widespread scepticism towards Europe among the Danish public makes it difficult for the government to carry out its ambition of getting closer to the EU's core, with any referendum on the matter likely to be negative.

As a result, further Danish EU integration currently looks unlikely.

The Social-Democrat minister even acknowledged that it is sometimes difficult keeping a debate going about Europe in his country. The financial and economic crisis has had such a damaging effect on Danish perceptions of Europe that many are turning their backs against the euro and European integration in historical numbers.

According to a survey by TNS Gallup for the newspaper Berlingske Tidende, support for replacing the Danish krone with the euro is now at its lowest since the newspaper started measuring the Danes' euro sentiment in 1996.

Only 22% of those surveyed said they would vote in favour of adopting the euro in a referendum.

The new black sheep?

If Britain left the EU, Denmark would be left in the peculiar situation of replacing Britain as the most semi-detached EU member.

However, Wammen said this is not how he is viewing his country's EU position.

"Denmark is the country, among the 10 countries that don’t have the euro, which has made the closest connections to the euro countries. This means that we are as close to the core as possible," the minister said.

He highlighted that Denmark has chosen to be part of the Euro Plus Pact though that was not required of the country as a non-euro member, and that the Scandinavian country is also working constructively in the banking union negotiations.

"So from Denmark’s side we have shown that we are part of the negotiations and that we while respecting our opt-outs work closely with the other countries," Wammen stated.

Keeping a strong bond with Britain

Maintaining close ties with Britain is also a top priority for Denmark, as the UK is perceived as a close ally and trade partner.

To a large extent, Denmark joined the EU due to British membership. And even if the UK eventually decided to leave the EU, he believes Denmark's relationship with Britain would not change dramatically.

"I don’t expect Britain to leave the EU. And no matter how Britain is linked to the EU after a referendum, Britain will remain an ally, we will remain good friends and we will keep working closely together," Wammen said.

Euro not in sight

Euro membership is a more sensitive issue. Despite statements by the Danish central bank saying that it would be in Denmark's interest to adopt the single currency and the government's "positive" view of the euro, Denmark is unlikely change course at any point in the foreseeable future, Wammen said. And in any case, the government has no intention of organising a referendum on the matter.

"The Danes have decided to have an opt-out and nothing looks as if the population has changed its mind regarding this question so there isn’t any referendum in our work programme," the European affairs minister stressed.

Latvia has decided to join the euro without holding a referendum. But such a move would not be possible in Denmark, Wammen said.

"Regarding other EU countries, joining the euro eventually was a condition for their EU membership. These are two different situations which you cannot compare," the minister explained.

>> Read the full interview with Nicolai Wammen

Denmark obtained four opt-outs from the Maastricht Treaty following the treaty's initial rejection in a 1992 referendum.

The opt-outs are outlined in the Edinburgh Agreement and concern the Monetary Union (EMU), the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) and the Citizenship of the European Union.

With these opt-outs, the Danes accepted the treaty in a second referendum held in 1993. In 2000, Danes rejected a referendum on adopting the euro.

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