Denmark

1. Euroscepticism and European Parliament elections

The Election campaign: national or EU issues?

The Dan­ish elec­tion cam­paign cen­tred to a large extent on Euro­pean issues, rather than on nation­al ones. A char­ac­ter­is­tic of pre­vi­ous cam­paigns in Den­mark, as well as in many oth­er mem­ber states, has been that the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment elec­tion cam­paign is a ‘sec­ond order’ con­test focus­ing more on domes­tic issues than issues rel­e­vant for the EU elec­tion at stake. At the 2014 elec­tion, the debate cen­tred on transna­tion­al issues such as envi­ron­men­tal pol­i­cy, EU eco­nom­ic gov­er­nance and the free move­ment of per­sons. Although these issues were still debat­ed from a nation­al per­spec­tive, it was sig­nif­i­cant how Euro­pean rather than nation­al issues dom­i­nat­ed the agen­da.

The ini­tia­tive made by the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment to have EU-wide front-run­ners to cam­paign for EU Com­mis­sion Pres­i­dent, in order to fur­ther spur the transna­tion­al debate in Europe, did not, how­ev­er, have any major impact on the Dan­ish cam­paign. While it was men­tioned as a fact through­out the cam­paign, it is high­ly unlike­ly that the aver­age vot­er had this in mind when cast­ing his/her vote.

The 2014 elec­tion also point­ed towards a new trend of focus­ing more on the con­tents of Dan­ish EU coop­er­a­tion rather than on the form. Since Den­mark has had sev­en ref­er­en­da on the EU since its acces­sion in 1973, where the Danes have had to vote on deep­en­ing Euro­pean inte­gra­tion, the EU debate in Den­mark has often been reduced to a ‘for’ or ‘against’ the EU. This has usu­al­ly also been reflect­ed in the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment elec­tion cam­paigns and with­in the nation­al par­ties. The 2014 EP elec­tion was also held along­side a ref­er­en­dum where the Danes had to vote on whether Den­mark should join the uni­fied Patent Court. Inter­est­ing­ly, the debate did not become the typ­i­cal ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the EU. Instead, the debate regard­ing the ref­er­en­dum cen­tred on the tech­ni­cal advan­tages and dis­ad­van­tages of Den­mark join­ing the uni­fied Patent sys­tem. The ref­er­en­dum on whether to join the uni­fied Patent Court was approved by 62.5% of the votes. Thus, in turn, the Dan­ish cam­paign, includ­ing the EP elec­tion cam­paign, took a step away from its pre­vi­ous nar­row focus on debat­ing EU issues from either a pro- or anti-EU per­spec­tive.

Euro-scepticism

The fact that the cam­paign to a less­er extent had a nar­row pro/anti approach to EU coop­er­a­tion did not, how­ev­er, come to mean that euroscep­ti­cism was absent from the debate. Fol­low­ing the trend of many oth­er mem­ber states, the anti-Euro­pean par­ties in Den­mark gained sig­nif­i­cant sup­port.

The nation­al­ist, right-wing Dan­ish Peo­ple’s par­ty (DPP) gained near­ly 27 per­cent of the vote and dou­bled its num­ber of MEPs from two to four. The par­ty had led a very per­sua­sive cam­paign, and also man­aged to bring many of its key issues to the elec­tion agen­da, forc­ing the oth­er par­ties to dis­cuss these top­ics. As exam­ples, the DPP cam­paigned to reclaim bor­der con­trols and curb ben­e­fits to oth­er EU cit­i­zens liv­ing in Den­mark. Besides the fact that the DPP man­aged to bring these top­ics to the agen­da, there was also a ten­den­cy that the main­stream pro-Euro­pean par­ties became recep­tive towards some of the argu­ments made and adopt­ed a more crit­i­cal EU line them­selves. Most notably, the debate on Dan­ish wel­fare ben­e­fits offered to non-Dan­ish EU cit­i­zens became a major top­ic in the cam­paign, where sev­er­al of the pro-Euro­pean par­ties, such as the lib­er­al par­ty and the social democ­rats adopt­ed a much more restric­tive line than their pre­vi­ous poli­cies on the mat­ter.

Voter turnout

As in many oth­er mem­ber states, vot­er turnout in Den­mark is sig­nif­i­cant­ly low­er in EU elec­tions than in nation­al elec­tions. The turnout at the 2014 elec­tion was 56.5 per­cent. At the 2004 EP elec­tions the over­all turnout in Den­mark was 47.9 per­cent and 59.5 per­cent in the 2009 elec­tions. In com­par­i­son, the Dan­ish state elec­tion has an aver­age turnout rate of 82–90 per­cent. The expla­na­tion for the high 2009 turnout was that the EP elec­tion was held simul­ta­ne­ous­ly with a ref­er­en­dum on the Dan­ish roy­al fam­i­ly suc­ces­sion boost­ing the turnout to the high­est lev­el ever for a Euro­pean elec­tion in Den­mark. Even though the 2014 results of 56.5 per­cent is not a high num­ber com­pared to nation­al elec­tions, it was still some­what sur­pris­ing as polls had pre­dict­ed an even low­er turnout. There is no doubt that the 2014 cam­paign in Den­mark was more inten­si­fied than what we have seen in ear­li­er cam­paigns and this may indeed have led to a high­er turnout than expect­ed.

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2. The EU’s Neighbourhood

Future Relations with Russia

The Dan­ish posi­tion on Rus­sia is that it is cru­cial to find a diplo­mat­ic and peace­ful solu­tion to the Ukraine cri­sis and in this regard the dia­logue track with Rus­sia is essen­tial to be kept alive.

Thus, while Den­mark is among the EU mem­ber states sup­port­ing a rather hard line regard­ing sanc­tions, Den­mark is con­tin­u­ous­ly stress­ing the impor­tance of keep­ing cer­tain rela­tions with Rus­sia intact. That being said, the Dan­ish posi­tion also strong­ly empha­sis­es the secu­ri­ty threat posed by Rus­sia. Sim­i­lar­ly, this approach does not ques­tion Ukraine’s sov­er­eign­ty rights and the offi­cial posi­tion of Den­mark is that it will not at any point accept Crimea’s annex­a­tion by Rus­sia.

This posi­tion is also reflect­ed among the Dan­ish pop­u­la­tion where a recent opin­ion poll has shown that a major­i­ty of 60 per­cent agree that Rus­sia pos­es a threat to Euro­pean secu­ri­ty and sta­bil­i­ty and that it is to be held respon­si­ble for the cur­rent con­flict.

The Ukraine crisis and EU relations with Eastern Partnership countries

There can be no doubt that the Ukraine cri­sis has renewed the focus on and need for strong rela­tions with the East­ern Part­ner­ship coun­tries, also those where there are cur­rent­ly no prospects for the sign­ing of an asso­ci­a­tion agree­ment with the EU.

Though the focus has been inten­si­fied with the lat­est devel­op­ments in Ukraine, being involved with the East­ern Euro­pean coun­tries is not a new pri­or­i­ty for Den­mark. Den­mark has for sev­er­al decades attached great impor­tance to pro­mot­ing sta­bil­i­ty and democ­ra­cy in East­ern Europe and the Cau­ca­sus. As one of the pio­neers of EU enlarge­ment after the end of the Cold War, Den­mark was also among the ini­tia­tors of the estab­lish­ment of the Euro­pean Neigh­bour­hood Pol­i­cy. In addi­tion, Den­mark con­tin­ues to run an ambi­tious bilat­er­al pro­gramme of tech­ni­cal assis­tance with reforms in the East­ern Part­ner­ship coun­tries.

Turkey and the EU

The Dan­ish stance on Turk­ish EU mem­ber­ship was revis­it­ed in March 2014, when the Turk­ish Pres­i­dent, Abdul­lah Gül, paid a state vis­it to Den­mark. Here, the Dan­ish Prime Min­is­ter, Helle Thorn­ing reaf­firmed that Den­mark sup­ports Turkey’s EU mem­ber­ship process, while also stress­ing the need for Turkey to deal with its impor­tant short­com­ings of ful­fill­ing the Copen­hagen cri­te­ria, such as the prin­ci­ples of the rule of law, fun­da­men­tal rights and free­dom of expres­sion.

The vis­it also rekin­dled the crit­i­cal voic­es against Turk­ish EU mem­ber­ship, most notably led by the nation­al­ist Dan­ish People’s Par­ty, which is espe­cial­ly crit­i­cal of Turkey join­ing the EU.

There should be no doubt that Den­mark is divid­ed over Turkey’s mem­ber­ship in the EU. Arguably though, the cur­rent gov­ern­ment is more pro-Turk­ish than the for­mer gov­ern­ment, which was depen­dent on the sup­port of the Dan­ish People’s Par­ty.

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3. Power relations in the EU

The role of Germany

Ger­many is Denmark’s largest neigh­bour, as well as its most impor­tant trade part­ner, as almost a fifth of all Dan­ish export and import is trad­ed with Ger­many. Thus Den­mark great­ly val­ues the impor­tance of Ger­man lead­er­ship in Europe.

Den­mark is in favour of Ger­many tak­ing on a lead­ing role in ques­tions of Euro­pean affairs, func­tion­ing as the ‘very core and sta­ble anchor in EU coop­er­a­tion’ as argued by the Dan­ish For­eign Min­is­ter, Hol­ger K. Nielsen, ear­li­er this year dur­ing a meet­ing with the new­ly elect­ed Ger­man For­eign Min­is­ter, Frank-Wal­ter Stein­meier.

The gen­er­al per­cep­tion is thus that Ger­many should con­tin­ue to exert lead­er­ship in the EU – in eco­nom­ic gov­er­nance as seen through­out the cri­sis, but also, and to a larg­er extent, in for­eign and secu­ri­ty pol­i­cy. Den­mark remains very sup­port­ive of Germany’s aspi­ra­tions to take on more lead­er­ship and action with­in inter­na­tion­al affairs, and believes that Ger­many is also the right coun­try to push for­ward the EU’s com­mon for­eign pol­i­cy sys­tem. This was, for exam­ple, seen in the recent review process of the Euro­pean Exter­nal Action Ser­vice (EEAS) where a group of coun­tries, led by Ger­many and includ­ing Den­mark, took on a max­i­mal­ist approach to the strength­en­ing of the EEAS in the future.

Moving out of the crisis

Gen­er­al­ly, there exists a ret­i­cence in Den­mark towards eco­nom­ic inte­gra­tion with­in the EU, not least exem­pli­fied by the Dan­ish opt-out from the euro. For this rea­son there has been a fair­ly lim­it­ed debate on the pre­ferred reform options at the Euro­pean lev­el. When debat­ing recent ini­tia­tives of fur­ther­ing EU eco­nom­ic gov­er­nance with­in the cur­rent lim­its of the Lis­bon Treaty, e.g. the estab­lish­ment of a bank­ing union or the cre­ation of euro-bonds, the debate in Den­mark has been hes­i­tant, and a clear nation­al posi­tion has not yet been formed.

At the same time, Den­mark great­ly acknowl­edges the cru­cial need for com­mon solu­tions and Euro­pean lead­er­ship so that the EU and Den­mark can move out of the cri­sis. Since the begin­ning of the cri­sis, the Dan­ish per­cep­tion has been that the aus­ter­i­ty mea­sures tak­en by the EU were nec­es­sary. Even when the cur­rent cen­tre-left gov­ern­ment came into office in 2011, replac­ing the for­mer right-wing gov­ern­ment, this view­point was main­tained. How­ev­er, the focus is now shift­ing towards the per­ceived neces­si­ty of spurring growth in Europe in order to get out of the cri­sis. Thus, while the aus­ter­i­ty mea­sures towards cer­tain mem­ber states have been large­ly sup­port­ed, there is an increas­ing focus on the fact that there now is a need to lim­it aus­ter­i­ty and con­cen­trate more on devel­op­ing prac­ti­cal poli­cies to pro­mote growth, jobs and invest­ment.

The consequences of a British exit

The pos­si­bil­i­ty of a British exit from the EU has raised a con­sid­er­able amount of debate in Den­mark. The UK is per­ceived as a close ally and an impor­tant trade part­ner, so main­tain­ing close ties with Britain is a top pri­or­i­ty for Den­mark. More­over, Den­mark and the UK share a sim­i­lar rela­tion­ship with the EU, as semi-attached mem­bers insist­ing on stay­ing out of cer­tain aspects of EU coop­er­a­tion. Both coun­tries joined the EU in 1973 and for sim­i­lar rea­sons of main­ly pur­su­ing eco­nom­ic inter­ests.

A pos­si­ble British exit would, with­out doubt, spur a seri­ous pub­lic debate on the Dan­ish EU rela­tion­ship. When Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron first announced the pos­si­bil­i­ty for the UK to either leave the EU or rene­go­ti­ate its EU mem­ber­ship terms, opin­ion polls were under­tak­en in Den­mark, where half of the pop­u­la­tion want­ed to fol­low the British exam­ple.

How­ev­er, the cur­rent gov­ern­ment and a large major­i­ty of the Dan­ish polit­i­cal par­ties are pro-Euro­pean and have reject­ed a poten­tial rene­go­ti­a­tion of Dan­ish EU mem­ber­ship. In fact, the pol­i­cy line of the gov­ern­ment is that Den­mark should rather aim to be as close to the core of the EU as pos­si­ble, imply­ing a strong wish to get rid of the exist­ing Dan­ish opt-outs. At the same time, there is wide­spread scep­ti­cism towards parts of EU coop­er­a­tion in the Dan­ish pub­lic, which makes it dif­fi­cult for any gov­ern­ment to fol­low through with its ambi­tion of get­ting clos­er to the EU’s core.

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This sur­vey was con­duct­ed on the basis of a ques­tion­naire that has been elab­o­rat­ed in March 2014. Most of the reports were deliv­ered in June 2014. This issue and all pre­vi­ous issues are avail­able on the EU-28 Watch web­site: www.eu-28watch.org.

The EU-28 Watch No. 10 receives sig­nif­i­cant fund­ing from the Otto Wolff-Foun­da­tion, Cologne, in the frame­work of the ‘Dia­log Europa der Otto Wolff-Stiftung’, and finan­cial sup­port from the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion. The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion is not respon­si­ble for any use that may be made of the infor­ma­tion con­tained there­in.