Not quite in, not quite out

While Denmark’s four opt-outs to the Maastricht Treaty were designed to retain a degree of sovereignty on certain issues, they are now keeping the country outside of influence in policy areas where cooperation could prove beneficial

Denmark sits on the fringes of Europe, not only because of its geographical location, but also due to the opt-outs to Maastricht Treaty which it was granted in order to keep Denmark in the union. But while the opt-outs were designed to offer Denmark a degree of sovereignty over certain issues, some are now outdated and could restrict Denmark’s involvement in Europe, particularly the plans to create a tightened fiscal union.

The Maastricht Treaty marked some major changes to the structure of European institutions, but most importantly led the way to the introduction of the Euro which Danes were, and still are, adamantly opposed to. In order to come into effect, all EU member states had to ratify it, so when a referendum on the Maastricht Treaty narrowly failed in 1992, there was widespread fear that Denmark would have to pull out of the union entirely.

To keep Denmark in the union, it was granted four opt-outs by the Edinburgh Agreement, which was accepted by voters in a second referendum the following year with 56.7 percent in favour. The result did not go down well with all Danes, leading to one of Copenhagen’s most violent riots ever. Eleven protestors were treated for gunshot wounds after police fired 113 bullets after being instructed to shoot at their legs.

While the opt out-on European citizenship – Danish citizenship could never be replaced – has become redundant after the Lisbon Treaty, the other three are now becoming a bit of a headache for Denmark. The opt-out on the Euro, which allowed Denmark to keep the krone, has been criticized in recent years for not limiting Denmark’s ability to set its own fiscal policy. This is because the krone is pegged tightly to the euro, and is it fluctuates in the currency markets, so too does the krone. Not being part of the euro means that while the krone is affected by European fiscal policy, it does not have any say in the decisions which affect the policy. Having a fixed-exchange rate while sitting outside the euro has been described by some experts as the worst possible arrangement for Denmark.

Denmark isn’t likely to adopt the euro anytime soon however, with many polls placing support for joining the common currency at about 25 percent. A referendum on abolishing the two remaining two opt-outs, however, is less likely to happen if centrist government party Radikale get their way. The referendum has been a long time coming, however, and was promised by former government without ever materializing. With Denmark now taking the presidency, the two opt-outs only make their job more difficult.

The third opt-out on Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), means Denmark does not have to participate in defence initiatives resulting from European foreign policy. This means Denmark makes no decisions and contributes no forces in any actions mandated by the European Union. But speaking at a press conference in Brussels this December, the defence minister, Nick Hækkerup, bemoaned delay in holding a referendum.

“We’re in a situation in Denmark where we have to save a lot in our defence budget, so one of the ways to get through this and have a defence that can solve the problems we want it to solve internationally, is to undergo binding agreements with other countries and we can’t do that with the EU right now.”

Denmark’s valuable shipping industry has been the target of repeated hijackings of the coast of Somali and maintaining a constant pressure in the Indian Ocean is prohibitively expensive. Joining common defence projects would enable Denmark to share the burden. Poland will continue chairing the CSDP meetings during the presidency.

The final opt-out on justice and home affairs (JHA) will place Denmark in an awkward position during the presidency as they will chair meetings but won’t be affected by the decisions. Currently, Denmark can only join particular initiatives through inter-governmental treaties, though it is at a disadvantage as they cannot shape the policies. While Denmark may not choose to abolish the JHA opt-out completely, the 2009 Lisbon Treaty allowed Denmark an opt-in option that allows it to sign on to specific policies instead of being forced to join everything.

Voters here are still strongly against further integration into Europe, especially after the sovereign debt crisis took hold. Many political parties have another view however, and regard abolishing all of the opt-outs as a chance to regain influence in policy areas that end up affecting the country anyways.

“ EU civil servants have told me that when they are negotiating issues in justice and home affairs, they forget Denmark has an opt-out and won’t be covered by the legislation because Denmark acts like any other country just speaking their voice,” EU expert from Copenhagen University, Marlene Wind, said. “It’s a dilemma for our civil servants, as they have to be loyal to the Danish people who don’t want to fully take part, but on the other hand the civil servants have to do what’s best for Danish interests.

“It’s a schizophrenic position.”