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26th Feb 2024

Stop criticising Merkel, Danish PM says

With Denmark taking over the EU presidency in January PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt has said she will fight to make sure that fellow non-eurozone countries are involved in all discussions concerning the internal market, as the eurozone crisis drives a potentially major wedge between those in and outside the single currency.

"I have no problems understanding that the 17 need to discuss certain things themselves. I think that is natural. But when we are discussing things that concern the internal market, we should all 27 be around the table," she told EUobserver ahead of a key summit of EU leaders.

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She added that she would have "huge difficulty understanding" if the 10 non-euro states were excluded from general issue debates.

Thorning-Schmidt's comments come as a Franco-German paper, feeding discussions in the summit, suggests that eurozone countries should meet once a month during the crisis to discuss competitiveness and growth issues - topics that non-euro states believe pertain to the EU club as a whole.

The split between the Ins and the Outs, as they are colloquially known, has deepened alongside the eurozone crisis.

While single currency countries, led by France and Germany, are pressing ahead with tightening economic governance rules, non-euro countries are worried that they will have no control over decisions that could potentially affect the single market.

The rift has seen the non-euro states conduct their own meetings in parallel to eurozone meetings.

“It is very important in a time of crisis that we stick to the 27 member states, our common method, our acquis [EU laws] - all the things that we have built up over the years,” said Thorning-Schmidt.

The Danish premier refused to criticise Berlin’s leadership in the crisis, despite the fact that Germany’s approach has raised hackles in some quarters both on substance and style.

“Anyone who criticises Chancellor Merkel for taking too much responsibility would have to see the opposite situation where Germany did not take that kind of responsibility,” she said.

With most member states considered reluctant to open the EU treaty to enshrine tighter budgetary surveillance, Thorning-Schmidt gave unequivocal backing to the idea.

“We can accept treaty change. We want to discuss with our partners what kind of treaty change is needed.”

She also indicated she supported a full-blown negotiation process, involving MEPs and MPs, so long as it is limited in “time and scope.”

“The reason why we involve the European Parliament is because we want to have a widespread European debate about these treaty changes.”

Any treaty change would not see Denmark attempt to change its policy on the euro, however. "We have an opt out on the euro and we are not intending to put that to the vote," she said.

Highlighting the constructive role that non-eurozone countries can play, Thorning-Schmidt said Denmark's central bank would be stumping up €5.3 billion to the EU's contribution to the International Monetary Fund.

"For us, this is a gesture as well. We want to show that we are taking our responsibility seriously. I come here today with not only our backing of our central bank being involved but also a positive attitude towards treaty change."

Aware that treaty talk can take over EU discussion to the exclusion of everything else, Thorning-Schmidt pledged to keep the Danish presidency focused on more concrete policy issues too.

"We will deal with the crisis, but we will also try and take some solid decisions for Europe," she said, referring particularly to Copenhagen's focus on green growth.

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