COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Euro outsider Denmark will strive during its six-month presidency of the European Union to make sure Britain does not stray too far from the fold as the EU grapples with a debt crisis.
Denmark, which takes over the presidency on January 1, is one of nine non-euro EU countries that agreed to support the euro club in drafting a new pact on fiscal responsibility to overcome the crisis, while Britain refused.
Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, a Social Democrat who won an election in September to become Denmark’s first female premier, has pledged to work to bring all 27 together and avoid a split between the 17 eurozone members and 10 non-euro countries in matters affecting all the member states.
“We are going through the biggest crisis of recent times, and all of our actions matter,” Minister for European Affairs Nicolai Wammen told a news conference just before Christmas.
“Great Britain must decide its own course, but it’s no secret that we want to be a bridge over troubled waters, and we would not like to see the English Channel be wider in scope.”
Demark, which joined the European Community in 1973 along with Britain, has historically tried to keep itself on the same side as Britain and its former World War Two occupier Germany.
University of Copenhagen emeritus professor Niels Thygesen, who served on the Delors commission which created the euro, said: “Denmark sees its role alongside Germany as trying to keep the British on board as much as possible.”
“We are in a category of our own because we are not committed (to joining the euro), but unlike the British we actually behave as if we were,” Thygesen said.
Peter Nedergaard, political science professor at the University of Copenhagen, said: “The question is ‘What can Denmark do about it (the crisis)?’ Not very much in my opinion.”
The job of drafting the new intergovernmental fiscal pact is in the hands of European Council President Herman Van Rompuy.
“When it comes to the real issues, it is out of Denmark’s hands,” Nedergaard said.
Danish government officials do not see it quite that way.
“The basic objective for the Danish presidency will be to contribute to getting Europe out of the crisis,” said Wammen, who is the first to hold Denmark’s new post of minister for European affairs.
Joining the euro fiscal pact is not entirely unproblematic in Denmark, which guards its four opt-out outs from EU cooperation in the areas of monetary union, home and justice affairs, defence and EU citizenship, and whose citizens have a habit of voting in referenda against closer integration.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has said that non-euro states would not be subject to the same sanctions as euro members for failure to meet criteria for the euro zone.
That has enabled Thorning-Schmidt to tell her countrymen that the planned fiscal pact fully respects Denmark’s euro opt-out so it is unlikely to be put to a referendum.
This will be Denmark’s seventh presidency of the EU. It last had the job in the second half of 2002 when the EU worked to complete accession talks with 10 new members in Eastern Europe and to open membership talks with Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey.
Nedergaard said that unlike 2002, this Danish presidency lacks a “Grand Theme” except for the eurozone crisis. “It will be efficient, low-key, and relatively unproblematic,” he said.
Denmark will work for progress on the EU’s long-term budget known as the Multiannual Financial Framework and to complete the single market in its 20th anniversary year.
Denmark will also seek to put a green stamp on the EU by promoting investment in eco-friendly technology, green jobs and measures to boost energy efficiency and curb carbon emissions.
Further enlargement too is part of the picture when Denmark becomes EU president after Poland and before Cyrpus.
“We look forward to continuing negotiations with Turkey and Iceland, opening negotiations with Montenegro in June and granting candidate status to Serbia in February in accordance with decisions by the European Council,” Wammen said.
Reporting by John Acher