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30 January, 2012  ▪  Zhanna Bezpiatchuk

An Unassuming Moderator

With Denmark presiding over the EU, the Union could put the problems of Ukraine and Eastern Europe on the back-burner but will still keep a close eye on political prisoners in Ukraine

Denmarkholds the presidency of the Council of the European Union in the first half of 2012. Some time ago, the Scandinavian country, following the will of its citizens, distanced itself from the EU as much as was possible for an EU member. This hospitable kingdom did not join the eurozone and opted out of common defence, justice and home affairs policies. When the entire EU signs one multilateral treaty on information exchange with the USA, Denmark must sign a separate bilateral one; when the EU dispatches its observers to Georgia, the Danes cannot participate in the mission, and so on.

DRAWING BRIDGES

A “bridge over troubled waters” is the leitmotif of the Danish presidency in the EU, according to Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the current Prime Minister of Denmark and leader of the Danish Social Democrats. Moderator and intermediary – this role fits Denmark best, considering its special status in the EU. The Danish political style is hard to compare with that of Poland, for example. During their presidency in the second half of 2011, the Poles were full of initiatives and on the offence as they promoted their own agenda. For example, they hosted the Eastern Partnership summit which brought all EU leaders to Warsaw at the peak of the debt crisis.

In contrast, the Danes would rather go with the flow. The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development will be held in Rio de Janeiro — so they will prepare for it. The EU Financial Framework 2014-2020 has to be agreed upon and prepared for signing by the end of 2012 — so they will work on this document, too. In the six months of their presidency, they also plan to coordinate nearly 80 legislative initiatives to be considered by EU institutions.

However, it would be wrong to view the Danes as impersonal intermediaries with no independent views. The European press spread a rumour that the French president spoke to Thorning-Schmidt during the debates about the EU’s financial woes and told her behind closed doors: “You are outside our policies. You are a small country; you are nobody.” The premier, of course, denies in public that her French counterpart slipped into such political incorrectness. But there is no smoke without fire: the Danes have their own views, and they are voicing them.

Moreover, they will approach their EU presidency in a serious manner. It is quite possible that when the eurozone shakes off the crisis, the Kingdom of Denmark will hold another referendum on accepting the euro or joining the common defence policy. Thus, the country is sincerely interested in having a positive reputation in the EU. This may explain why it turned down Great Britain’s offers to oppose the euro together, so to speak. As the EU presiding member, Denmark vowed to facilitate fiscal responsibility inside the EU in every way possible. In short, it has sided with those who want to keep and, in the future, expand the eurozone. Mind you, Great Britain is Denmark’s long-time friend and ally. Thorning-Schmidt’s husband, Stephen Kinnock, is the son of Neil Kinnock, former leader of the British Labour Party. But on eurozone issues, Denmark has followed the lead of its other strategic partner — and chief trading partner – Germany.

NO FREE RIDES TO EUROPE

Denmark's presidency will have to show our country what it means to miss a train that comes only once in five or 10 years. If we could only get a second-class ticket with the prospect of changing to a different train along the way, where we would find a more comfortable carriage! Poland was trying to obtain this ticket for Ukraine. The Eastern Partnership, negotiations and initialling the Agreement on Association with Ukraine were high-priority topics during its presidency, voiced everywhere and mentioned again and again in various program documents. Poland’s next turn to preside in the EU will not come for a long time. There was a period for Eastern Europe to be on the EU's agenda, and now no-one can say when a new window of opportunity will open.

Denmarkmentions the importance of developing trade relations with Canada, Peru, Colombia and Malaysia in its presidency program. And a mere two lines speak about relationships with the EU's eastern neighbours, while there is a lot more written about the problems of preserving biodiversity or eliminating traffic jams in European cities. The only “neighbourhood” topic Denmark suggests considering is the issue of liberalizing migration and trade with the EU's southern neighbours, in light of the political changes taking place there. That is, the program targets an entirely different geographical region and expresses a different vision and priorities.

Nevertheless, we should not overestimate the importance of an EU presidency. Now when there is the office of the President of the European Council and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, as well as the External Action Service, a six-month EU presidency affords very limited room for self-realization.

The issue of human rights has always been prominent in Denmark's foreign-policy. This is, in fact, one of its foreign-policy focus points, and it has serious ambitions along this line. Who knows, the cases of Yulia Tymoshenko, Yuriy Lutsenko and other former Ukrainian officials may have prompted the inclusion of the following passage in the Danish presidency program: “The Danish Presidency will therefore continue the work on strengthening the procedural rights of suspected and accused persons in criminal proceedings.” The Danish Helsinki Committee for Human Rights has prepared three critical reports on the criminal cases and criminal proceedings against former Ukrainian officials. This committee is consulting the Danish government on high-profile violations of human rights abroad.

Moreover, the Danish presidency is also a chance for the EU to take a deep breath before Cyprus takes over on July 1, 2012, which may add geopolitical problems to the continent's economic woes. Turkey has already threatened that it would suspend its relations with the EU if this island state, torn apart by a long-time conflict, is allowed to preside in the Union. Against this background, the peace-promoting six months of the Danish presidency may look like golden times in retrospect.

PRIORITIES OF THE DANISH PRESIDENCY

A responsible Europe

By responsibility the Danes mean stronger fiscal discipline and the development of economic governance which calls for the budget and economic policies of the EU members to be closely coordinated. To this end, Denmark promises to work to implement the decisions taken at the European Council on December 9, 2011, including a draft agreement to strengthen the economic union under which the member states will not be able to conceal illegitimate manoeuvres with their public finances. Comprehensive coordination, numerous consultations, meetings and reports on bond issues and the condition of the national budget balance – this is what the Union should look like in the future. And Denmark wholeheartedly subscribes to this view.

A dynamic Europe

Dynamics is conditioned by the economic growth rate and the employment. The Danes promise to address these issues by fostering e-commerce and lobbying for increasingly accessible capital for small and mid-size enterprises and physical persons. They are also going to initiate a revision of the EU’s patent practice; promote a program for research and innovation called “Horizon 2020”; and hold the European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations, which is set to draw attention to the social problems of the elderly. In 2012, the EU will also mark the 20th anniversary of the Single Market. Denmark promises to resume the discussion of its prospects.

A green Europe

Denmarkis one of Europe’s most environmentally-conscious countries and is faithful to its green maximalism. The EU must reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2020 and by 85-90% by 2050. Denmark also promises to put such issues as stricter control over the use of chemicals, the development of renewable energy sources, improving the quality of food products in retail and reforming the EU fisheries policy on the EU agenda. The Danes are concerned that fisheries catch a lot of unnecessary fish that could otherwise remain and reproduce in the sea.

A safe Europe

Denmarkpromises to address the issues of illegal migration, foster relations with the EU’s southern and eastern neighbourhood regions and participate in monitoring the security of the EU’s external borders. The Eastern Partnership Program is not mentioned is this part of its Presidency Program.


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