EU Forum

Social Europe

Denmark and the EU: support for a sober and pragmatic membership

06 Jun 2016 - 13:30
Source: © European Union, 2015

An ‘awkward’ but increasingly steady partner?
Denmark is often regarded as one of the European Union’s awkward partners due to its EU opt-outs from the euro, defence, EU citizenship, and supranational cooperation in justice and home affairs (JHA). Denmark gained a reputation for being one of the most eurosceptic member states following the Danes rejection of the Maastricht Treaty in 1992. This reputation was confirmed when Danes opposed the single currency in 2000 and voted against the Danish Parliament’s suggestion to replace its JHA opt-out with an “opt-in”-model in 2015.

Despite of these events, the EU enjoys high levels of public support in Denmark. The Eurobarometer of 2015 shows that 75 pct. of Danes are convinced that their country would not fare better outside of the EU. The Danes rejection of EU-membership, or hard Euroscepticism, has dropped from 35 pct. being against EU membership in 1974 to 22 pct. in 2015. This change is grounded in a pragmatic perception that the EU is necessary for the economic growth and trade of a small, continental country. However, recent Danish polls show that support for continued EU-membership in Denmark is declining, although the remain-camp is still ahead of the leavers. This suggests that the British EU-referendum – which is highly discussed in the Danish media - may have influenced on Danish voters’ EU sentiments.

Danish people have been, and continue to be, amongst the most eurosceptic populations in the EU when it comes to questions of ceding sovereignty to Brussels. Danes, for instance, react the most negatively in the entire EU to the Eurobarometer question surveying attitudes to the idea of federal union. In 2014, when this question was last polled, 74 pct. in Denmark were against this prospect, compared to a EU-average of 34 pct. Eurobarometer constantly show that Danes are critical of the possibility of majority voting in the Council and of moves towards more “Social Union”.

Political parties support current EU opt-ins, yet voters are highly sceptical
The Danish mainstream parties are more pro-European than their voters.  In December 2014, the five main Danish parties signed an agreement on Danish EU-politics, stating that they wanted to move Denmark as close to the core of the EU and to reduce the number of Danish EU-opt-outs. Fast forward to December 2015, when the Danish rejected to change their JHA opt-out to an opt-in model, the prospect of reducing the number of Danish EU opt-outs looks bleaker.

The answer to the question “what kind of EU is desired in Denmark” very much depends on whom you ask as the Danes are divided on EU-politics. There is, however, a general consensus among the Danish parties and voters that they want the EU’s single market to be further liberalised and developed as long as it concerns the free movement of goods, services, and capital. This includes attempts to a better implementation of the services directive, developing a digital single market and a capital union, and supporting EU trade agreements.

Regarding the EU’s budget, there is support for paying one percentage of the Danish Gross Domestic Product into the EU’s budget. In the Standard Eurobarometer 83 from Spring 2015, 72 pct. of the Danish respondents agreed that the EU’s political objectives do not justify an increase in the EU’s budget”, compared with the EU-average of 47 pct. There is broad dissatisfaction with the distribution of the EU’s budget across policy areas. Danish parties and voters would like to see a significant reduction in the money spent on the EU’s common agricultural policy and to put an end to the money spent on the European Parliament migrating to Brussels once a month.

When asked to identify four areas they would like the EU budget to be spending on, Danes mention climate change and environmental protection (44 pct.), economic growth (42 pct.), social and employment affairs (39 pct.), and education, training, culture, and media (30 pct.).  When Denmark held the EU-presidency in 2012, the Danish government was strongly in favour of using the EU’s cohesion funds to invest in the energy-efficient refurbishment of buildings and to use the EU’s regional funds to support environmentally friendly projects.

Supporting the European market and the Danish welfare state
Denmark envisages its role within the future EU as one of supporting further liberalisation of the single market. Denmark does not envision its role as one of pushing for a Social Union. Danes are less supportive of the free movement of people, particularly when it comes to EU citizen’s access to Danish welfare provisions. The current Danish Liberal minority government supports British Prime Minister David Cameron’s attempt to introduce stricter rules on the ability to send child benefits abroad.

Danes are sceptical when it comes to the EU’s federal trimmings and its ambition to process standards in social and employment policies. Federalist rhetoric on, for instance, a “European army” or “EU taxes” is also typically opposed. Danish politicians typically try to accommodate voters’ preferences by showing support for proposals that have a predominantly economic focus, such as ways to support and even strengthen the single market; but hesitate on issues with a predominantly political focus, such as endeavours to build a more social Europe or to expand the scope of qualified majority voting. This is unlikely to change in the near future.

Maja Kluger Rasmussen is Senior Researcher at Think Tank Europe in Copenhagen.