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23rd Sep 2019

Danish EU presidency to focus on euro crisis

  • EU ministers will see the Copenhagen mermaid four times (Photo: Valentina Pop)

Denmark's upcoming six months of chairing EU meetings and overseeing legislation in the making will mainly focus on fire-fighting the "worst crisis the EU ever had" and on the bloc's next budget, the Danish ambassador to the EU said Wednesday (23 November).

With at least seven EU leaders having had to resign or being voted out as a direct consequence of the euro-crisis, with bleak growth perspectives and an ever-deepening sovereign debt crisis, the Union is going through its "worst crisis" ever, Denmark's ambassador to the EU Jeppe Tranholm-Mikkelsen told journalists and academics during a briefing organised by the European Policy Centre, a Brussels-based think tank.

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Given the economic situation, the priorities of the Danish government when taking over the rotating EU presidency on 1 January will focus less on what it had hoped for - green growth, energy efficiency - and more on financial matters.

As a non-euro country with a recently elected centre-left government favourable to the EU, Denmark is interested in keeping decision-making as much as possible at 27, even if it recognises that the 17-strong eurozone needs to integrate more in order to save its currency.

"We will whatever we can to keep family of 27 together. We are strong believers in the EU at 27 and the community method," the ambassador said. In recent months, several informal groupings, such as the Frankfurt Group of bankers and key eurozone-states have gained prominence in shaping the decisions for eurozone governance and a possible treaty change.

Poland, the current EU presidency, and Great Britain - both non-euro countries - have been increasingly vocal about the need to keep decision-making at 27 and to respect the so-called community method, meaning the regular institutional process in the EU, where the European Commission proposes legislation, which is then negotiated with the European Parliament and members states, who need to adopt it before it becomes law.

Denmark however does not wish to become a leader of the 10 non-euro countries or to try and box its way into the eurozone meetings as Poland has tried. Instead, it considers that Herman Van Rompuy, who chairs both the 27 EU leaders summits and the eurozone meetings of premiers and presidents is the perfect representatives of the non-euro countries.

A mooted treaty change, pushed forward by Germany, should be "as limited and as quick as possible," he said.

EU's next seven-year budget will meanwhile be "the biggest single item" on the Danish agenda. While no final agreement on the figures is expected during the Danish presidency, the Scandinavian diplomat said his team will try to finish a "negotiation box" with elements of a compromise, while leaving blanks for the figures.

The same applies for some 60 pieces of legislation on agriculture, research, external relations and others which are underpinning the next budget and which will also have to be ironed out as much as possible before the final deal on the figures is sealed.

Transparency and less meetings

True to its Scandinavian spirit of openness, Denmark wants to make ministers meetings as efficient and transparent as possible.

"We were always in favour of transparency and you can count on its full implementation in all council meetings discussing legislative acts," the ambassador said. He noted that an article in the Lisbon Treaty obliging ministers to hold public debates whenever decisions on legislative acts are taken goes back to 1992 when Denmark first rejected the Maastricht Treaty.

Currently, public deliberations are being held, but often they are just a technical sum-up of lengthier talks behind closed doors.

So-called informal ministers meetings - often an opportunity for the country hosting the presidency to advertise its cities and landscapes - are also going to be kept to a minimum under the Danish presidency. If Poland held 20 such meetings, the Danish government so far has planned for only eight - four in Copenhagen and four in Jutland, the Danish peninsula.

Manpower, however, was boosted for the task of dealing with all the various dossiers ranging from fisheries to police co-operation and from financial markets reform to enlargement policy. Even as the Danish government has cut back some staff of its ministries, it doubled the staff of the permanent representation in Brussels from 80 to almost 160.

These extra posts were not hired from outside, but redeployed from other ministries, the ambassador explained. "We are good at moving money, reprioritising. Maybe that is why we are below 60 percent debt," he joked.

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