Denmark’s man in Brussels

The country’s most popular MEP is also one of the harshest critics of the way the EU conducts its business

Morten Messerschmidt was the most popular candidate in the 2009 European Parliament elections, amassing 284,500 votes – 70,000 more than his closest rival. A representative of the Euro-scepitical Dansk Folkeparti (DF), he says the reason he got involved in European politics was due to a “strong sense of indignation about the sovereignty of the EU over European states”.

What do you hope to achieve in the European Parliament?

I have a divided approach to my work. On the one hand, I regard myself as the opposition, the one who fights the system and the creation of a super state created through treaties – such as the border control Schengen Agreement and the new treaties related to the Eurozone crisis, that give new powers to European institutions.

I try and tackle the fundamental questions of whether the EU should have the power it has today. But the EU is not going away simply because I don’t appreciate the way it works, so I have to be pragmatic and be part of the legislative procedure.

If you could change one thing in the EU, what would it be?

It would be time to renegotiate our connection to the EU, especially in regard to the new financial instruments, where national budgets have to be approved in Brussels for example. There are attempts to make common regulations for the labour market and taxation on a much larger scale than today and I would very much like to limit the EU’s influence on the inner market and the free movement of goods and capital and labour so that it doesn’t compromise the systems of individual member states.

I would prefer a way of co-operating in the EU on par with Norway, which can decide not to adapt individual directives. The Labour government in Norway recently stated they didn’t want to be part of the directive on the liberalisation of postal matters, for example. This is a right Denmark doesn’t have. There are many directives in many areas where it would be a help if Denmark had the right not to implement them when we disagree.

But if countries could simply opt-out wherever they wanted, wouldn’t that be hugely counterproductive?

What’s the point of having a union that the members are hugely critical of? You could have a union where there was a core of matters that everyone had to be part of, such as the inner market, but in addition to that core there were regulations on other matters such as social affairs and foreign policy that countries could choose to put to voters.

Hasn’t Denmark benefited enormously from being in the EU?

The idea of having an inner market and fighting back protectionism and improving trade has indubitably been very good for Denmark’s economy and we shouldn’t give it up.

What about the euro? Shouldn’t Denmark join to gain more influence, seeing as the krone is already pegged to it?

Eurozone countries have no influence over the euro; only those that hold power in Berlin and Paris do. It’s impossible for any pro-euro spokesperson to point out the fingerprints of the smaller Eurozone countries on euro policy because the euro policies are 100 percent controlled by the two major countries.

And I certainly don’t believe in jumping on the Titanic after it hit the iceberg so the solution of going in is non-existent. Denmark has been tied to a strong currency for the past 30 years. Before the euro it was the D Mark and, remember, we never applied for membership of Germany.

I don’t have a problem with Denmark following the euro, but looking at Sweden it could benefit Denmark to float the currency on the market. Their currency dropped in the market due to the financial crisis but that kept their exports high and unemployment low. So we need an impact study to assess what would happen to Denmark if it gave up the current politics.

Does nationalism get in the way of co-operation?

I believe that nationalism has completely failed and thank god for that. Nationalism, where the nation state turns into an ideology, is awful and we’ve seen in the past century what that can lead to.

Nationalist projects have failed and thank god, because they were awful. But what we are seeing now is the development of a Europe with lots of different types of people. There’s a lot that keeps us together, but there are also things that make us different. Look at the Eurozone crisis. It’s all because the general economic behaviour in the southern European countries is different from Germany and these differences don’t go away just because we’ve started a new project.

People still speak Danish in Denmark and in the south of Europe they still have their special way of doing politics because culturally and historically we are different and I think these differences aren’t something we should fight. It’s what makes Europe brilliant. But we’re still competing with each other in the EU and that’s good. It’s good to compare so we can be inspired by each other. But I think having a centralised government that says it has the right recipe for all countries, I think is distasteful and anti-European.

Who decides what is Danish? Can one be Danish in one’s own way?

The West after the Renaissance shares some fundamental views such as rationality and the belief in freedom rights. That’s something that keeps us together. But deeper down there are variations, such as the Protestant north and Catholic south and the way the church operates politically in people’s everyday lives.

What makes Denmark special?

By having a common history, language and traditions, the population feels a unity and that is strongly connected with the conception of democracy because as long as a population has its own language and history, and thereby its own institutions, then it will be less likely to give up the right to govern themselves.

Have you become more sympathetic to the EU since you started as an MEP?

Actually, no. I have a background as a national politician and in the Danish parliament we have the view that being a part of the EU is good but we must have limits. That’s, broadly speaking, the consensus. But in the European Parliament it’s a different world. When you go through the doors, the vast majority want to have a stronger union with a stronger federal structure and more power given to federal institutions. They talk about us living in a post-national world where the concept of the national state has disappeared.

Can’t we have our own identity? What does cultural identity have to do with it?

It has everything to do with politics. In a democracy you can’t have a system that’s not accountable to the people who give it power. It’s necessary for there to be a relationship between the representatives and the voters. These two bodies cannot be split. Culture plays a huge role because you have differences between the EU member states. You have differences in the way you live your everyday life.

But now the Greeks have to realise their economy has to be judged in the same way as the German economy, and that’s tough. Their attitudes are just very different from how we do things in the north. I’m not saying it’s worse, there are many charming things about Greece and I love the country. I’m just saying we should have kept a system where Greeks could still be Greeks instead of forcing them into changing their entire economic mentality because of the euro.