Denmark to take over EU presidency

2011-12-29 08:26

Copenhagen - Non-euro country Denmark takes over the European Union presidency on Sunday, determined to solve the crisis in the 17-member eurozone by cultivating consensus among all 27 EU members.

The Scandinavian nation of 5.6 million, one of the few countries in Europe run by a centre-left government, will have to face the euro crisis head-on even though it risks being marginalised along with the nine other EU members, including Britain, that have not adopted the euro.

"I understand perfectly that the 17 members of the eurozone need to take some decisions amongst themselves," Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, a Social Democrat, has said.

But it is in the interest of core EU members France and Germany "to keep the 27 together" and consult all EU member states "when these decisions concern them", she said, because "in times of crisis, we have to believe in our institutions."

After Denmark rejected the Maastricht Treaty in a referendum in 1992, Copenhagen negotiated four opt-outs to European cooperation, including one on the single currency.

These exemptions "will of course be fully respected," Denmark's European Affairs Minister Nicolai Wammen said. But, he stressed, "we will also chair the meetings on these issues."

Thorning-Schmidt said Copenhagen wants to try to "be a bridge between the 17 and the 27" to make sure that the gap does not widen between the eurozone and non-euro countries.

But that task looks increasingly daunting, especially as the authority of the EU's rotating presidency has declined after the Lisbon Treaty created the post of a permanent president of the European council.

Her job is also made more difficult by Britain's decision to leave the negotiating table at an EU summit on December 9, raising fears of a European collapse.

Wammen said he would like to see London remain "a very active member of the European family" and noted that Europe had to "find concrete solutions to concrete problems".

Apart from the euro crisis, Denmark will also have to mediate disagreements in the upcoming discussions on the EU's 2014-2020 budget.

But those sure-to-be-thorny negotiations have not frightened off Thorning-Schmidt, who noted that consensus "is a Danish speciality" and recalled that she heads a three-party government coalition requiring compromise between her Social Democrats, the Socialists and the Social Liberals.

The Danish presidency also intends to focus on renewable energies to bolster job creation and economic growth in Europe.

"We believe part of the answer (to the crisis) is to ensure investment in energy efficiency and green growth. Every euro spent on energy efficiency will go to ensuring European jobs. Every euro spent on oil imports will go out of Europe. This makes the green agenda one of the most important in Europe's future cooperation," Danish Climate Minister Martin Lidegaard said.

Copenhagen also hopes to find new trade opportunities for European companies by negotiating deals with Japan, Canada, India and Tunisia, while improving the EU's border controls and controlling immigration are other priorities.

Denmark has one of the most restrictive immigration policies in Europe, introduced by previous centre-right governments under the influence of their ally, the far-right Danish People's Party.

Thorning-Schmidt has only slightly rolled back those policies since her election in September.