Special News Section: The Danish Presidency of the EU
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As Denmark assumes the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union at a critical time, we take a look at the major issues and try and see what lies ahead for Europe
The Danish EU Presidency - Special News Section
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HATEVER Eurosceptics might say, the European Union has brought stability and wealth to a continent that started two world wars in thirty years. The free movement of capital, services and people has helped create the largest economy in the world. And with over 375 million eligible voters, the European Parliament represents the largest trans-national democratic electorate in the world. But now, the Continent is in trouble. Some believe the debt crisis in southern Europe could lead to the end of the euro or even the entire European Union. Eurosceptics are raising their voices, saying they had predicted this all along, while European leaders scrabble to put together a solution and avoid an economic depression that could bring the world to its knees. All this is coming to a head as Denmark takes the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union – the institution composed of the ministers from each of the 27 member states. For the next six months, Danish civil servants and ministers will be setting agendas and coordinating meetings on everything from agricultural to asylum policies in the EU. And if the Danes are lucky, they might just be able to push their own agenda while they’re at it. So what is the Danish agenda, and is there anything they can do to help bring Europe back on track? This section will
hopefully answer those questions. On page four, we take a look at the four priorities which we think Denmark will focus on, while on pages six and seven we examine how Europe even got into this mess in the first place. And with Denmark’s massive investments in wind energy, it will hardly be a surprise to read on page nine how Denmark intends to encourage Europe’s green economy. But we also need to look at the big picture. Denmark is famously Eurosceptical and secured themselves four opt-outs to the Maastricht Treaty in 1993 to retain some sovereignty. It hardly comes as a surprise then that the most popular Danish MEP in 2009’s European election was Morten Messerschmidt from the Danish People’s Party. We speak to him on page ten, while on page five we asked the opinions of two Danish organisations pulling in opposite directions about their views on Danish membership of the EU. We hope this special section gives you both an insight into the current issues facing Europe and Denmark’s outlook on the troubled continent. There’s no need to read it all at once – put it aside and pick it up when you need explaining exactly why the Danish opt-out on justice and home affairs is such a headache or why Denmark is rushing to finish the next EU budget before Cyprus takes over (hint, they might not be up to it).
The secret to Danish success: speak softly and build big bridges How much is the rotating presidency worth?
Priorities of the Danish presidency
Point: There is no alternative to the EU Counterpoint: Say no to the new EU pact Single currency, multiple opinions
A short summary of the sovereign debt crisis
EU 2.0 – The Merkozy method
Slow going for green growth as euro crisis swells
Morten Messerschmidt: Denmark’s man in Brussels Just another six months in an imperfect union
The Danish EU Presidency - Special News Section
The secret to Danish success: speak softly and build big bridges
chair those meetings, but not participate. But not everyone agrees that the opt-outs are the death knell for Danish influence. “Poland isn’t a Eurozone member either and it managed to chair the EU finance ministers’ council just fine,” Constant Brand, a Canadian journalist at the Brussels-based newspaper European Voice, said. “It’s a misconception that all the work happens at the crisis table.” “They will still be called upon to play an important role as president to make sure new fiscal discipline rules for all 27 member states, which were recently adopted by the EU, are properly implemented. Those rules are part of a package of measures meant to ease the Eurozone debt crisis.” To that end, “building bridges” between states inside and outside the Eurozone will be a priority for the presidency, Nicolai Wammen, the European affairs
minister, said as he unveiled the government’s priorities for the coming presidency. Because the Eurozone group already has a permanent chairman, the role of the presidency in the area of financial affairs will stay the same regardless of whether a country uses the currency, he said. “What Denmark really wants is to be known as a compromise maker,” John Frølich, a EU lecturer at the Danish School of Journalism and Media, said. “And I think we have what it takes to be a good compromise maker.” Efficiency and consensus building are important tools for a presidency, and being small is not always a drawback, Thomsen agreed. “Because they’re a small country, they have to be pragmatic and very flexible to get results,” Thomsen said, adding that bigger countries, by contrast, may limit their embassy’s autonomy
AMID THE cacophony of squabbling French, Germans, Brits and Greeks, Danish voices rarely rise above the din. So as the EU seeks to plot a course away from disaster, it would seem unlikely that this nation of five and a half million on the fringe of Europe could find common ground among these in and outside the Eurozone. But as Denmark assumes the EU’s presidency, many in Brussels remain undecided about what to expect from the Danish presidency. “Denmark is a very small country in a very awkward position because of the opt-outs,” said Jens Thomsen, a former EU correspondent for financial daily Børsen, and now head of communications company Impact Brussels. As a non-euro country, Denmark is “on the margins” of the major issue in the EU, he said, while opt-outs on home affairs and justice means Denmark will
DSB NOLA FLICKR
ESPITE being a small country, Denmark may prove a good negotiator at a tense time for Europe
in Brussels, or always be looking out for their vested interests. Denmark is also large enough to handle the demands on the civil service and has experience from past presidencies. The country enters the presidency with a backlog of goodwill from its last term in 2002, when it helped push through the ‘big bang’ en-
has a permanent official in charge of heading meetings of the government of all the member countries. In the area of foreign affairs – formerly another of the presidency’s primary responsibilities – the union now has a high representative responsible for foreign affairs and security policy. Catherine Ashton, who currently holds the post, has in effect become Europe’s foreign minister. She’s also head of the European External Action Service (EEAS), the equivalent of a European foreign service. The spots were intended to give coherence and continuity to the roles formerly held by the head of government and the foreign minister of the country holding the presidency, but they also scaled down the responsibilities of the rotating presidency. Now, “they don’t Denmark has have anything to do,” previously held the said Peter NederEU presidency in gaard, an expert on 1973, 1978, 1982, the EU at Copenha1987, 1993 and 2002 gen University. “They have to participate, but they don’t have a specific role.” Still, even if the visibility of the top spots has been cut, there is still plenty of work and a lot to learn, according to Nedergaard, especially for members of the cabinet. The presidency gives countries, especially smaller member states, the opportunity to network, get to know the EU’s institutions better, minister of the presidency country and feel invested in the union, he said. “There’s never been talk of abolishtraditionally held the top spots. But since the expansion of the EU in 2002 ing it completely.” Cabinet members will be more – during Denmark’s previous term as president – and the signing of the Lis- than busy chairing meetings for their bon Treaty in 2009, the presidency has respective portfolios. The climate minister will be occupied with the had a makeover. The biggest change has been the environmental meetings, while the ficreation of an EU ‘president’ and ‘for- nance minister will be occupied with eign minister’. With the nomination the EU’s seven-year budget, which the of Herman Van Rompuy as president government hopes will be ready to pass of the European Council, the EU now through parliament in the second half
How much is the rotating presidency worth?
HE LISBON Treaty may have diminished the role of the EU presidency, but it still has some vital functions
IT’S CALLED the presidency, so it must be important. This basic logic comes with a shiny new logo, a big staff, lots of publicity and a chance to rub shoulders with the big names in Brussels. All key selling points to an audience at home – but does the influence match the fancy title? The rotating presidency was introduced to give every country the chance to share the glory, and the administrative burden, of running the European Union.
The rotating presidency heads the Council of the European Union, also known as the Council of Ministers. During the presidency, each Danish minister will chair meetings in the area of their respective portfolio, which will be attended by all their counterparts from the other member states. For example, the Danish agriculture minister will chair the agriculture meetings. When the rotation started in 1958, the prime minister and the foreign
largement that saw the addition of ten new member states. And even if it doesn’t carry the name recognition of ‘Merkozy’ (see page 7), Denmark has its own popular face in Brussels. Helle Thorning-Schmidt is a former MEP and knows how to work the union’s institutions. Despite not having a formal role
under the presidency, “it’s quite obvious that she’s a strength,” said Thomsen. “She’s a known face.” But it will take more than goodwill to successfully captain the EU during its darkest hour. The question remains whether Nordic efficiency and compromise will be enough.
of 2012. This means they’ll have limited time to be at home in Denmark. “During these six months, it’s difficult [for ministers] to play on their own ground,” Nedergaard said. Before the Lisbon Treaty, the responsibility and the workload was actually too much for many countries, especially the small ones. Even now, the position is mainly about administrative heft. “It’s a big strain on most countries,” Nedergaard said. “They’re not gaining much.” The size of the staff at Denmark’s embassy in Brussels has almost doubled to 160, according to the Brussels-based newspaper EU Observer, and since the 2002 enlargement, the workload has increased. Even in foreign affairs, where the presidency has no prerogative, Denmark will occasionally step in to lend a hand upon Catherine Ashton’s request. And Helle Thorning-Schmidt, a former MEP herself, will lend a well-known face to the presidency. Ultimately, it’s about cohesion and efficiency, according to Nicolai Wammen, the European affairs minister. And a successful presidency isn’t merely about the strength of the EU – the government also has Danish interests squarely in mind. “Holding the presidency is also a useful opportunity to brand Denmark as a nation abroad,” said Wammen. “The presidency will trigger European and international attention, which we will use to focus on Denmark’s strengths and which may ultimately support growth and employment in Denmark.” The role of the presidency has changed, but the government, at least, still thinks the position is worthwhile. At home and abroad, it brings attention and prestige to Denmark, and for this term – the seventh time Denmark has held the position – they’re well prepared, Wammen said.
The Danish EU Presidency - Special News Section
Priorities of the Danish presidency
“DENMARK needs to be a bridge over troubled water.” Nicolai Wammen, the Danish minister for European affairs,
Tackling the Eurozone crisis – a working presidency
RECENT analysis by the Economist magazine rated the chances of the euro breaking up at 40 percent. If this were to happen, Europe would undoubtedly suffer a terrible economic depression – a scenario that must be avoided at all costs. Speaking to The Copenhagen Post, Nicolai Wammen said that the overall goal for the presidency will be to help lead Europe out of this crisis. “Europe needs to react to both the immediate and longterm consequences of the debt level in Europe’s economies, or we are jeopardising Europe’s economic possibilities in the future,” Wammen said. “We are strongly dependent on the economic situation in the Eurozone. Denmark therefore has a strong interest in the Eurozone countries taking the necessary steps to ensure greater financial stability. A central task for the presidency will therefore be to act as a bridge between the countries that are inside and outside the Eurozone.” As EU president, however, Denmark won’t be calling the shots or making proposals on how to fix the crisis. But don’t underestimate the importance of good administration. The primary role of the presidency is to chair and organise meetings
turned to Simon and Garfunkel to describe what Denmark’s role will be while holding the EU presidency. With the Eurozone
of the Council of the European Union – the EU body consisting of ministers from each of the 27 EU member states – as well as deciding upon the order of the agenda and trying to work out compromises. Being an efficient administrator can only increase Europe’s chances of finding a solution. Sources from within the Danish permanent representation in Brussels confirmed to The Copenhagen Post that the main criteria of success for the presidency will be to ensure that the administration is conducted efficiently. While Denmark won’t be chairing the meetings of the Eurozone members – called the ‘Euro Group’ – it will chair the meetings of all 27 finance ministers. Called the Economic and Financial Affairs Council (ECOFIN Council), it is here that Denmark will be “acting as Wammen’s ‘bridge over troubled water”. “There’s a fear that Denmark and other non-euro countries will be left behind and the whole construction of the EU will change. We are standing in a historic situation where we already have a Europe divided in two,” Wind explained. “An important role for Denmark is to make sure Europe does not fall apart.” ECOFIN Council meetings
crisis threat looming, it will be Denmark’s job for the next six months to make sure the union sticks together.
will be especially important during the process of solving the European debt crisis, as this is where all European countries will negotiate the decisions made by the Euro Group about how to solve the debt crisis. The latest proposal – the Fiscal Compact Treaty, proposed this December and due to come into effect in March – is designed for Eurozone countries but can be implemented by any of the EU’s 27 countries. The more countries that sign up to the fiscal union, the greater the sense of European cohesion and the lower the chance that Europe will formally split into euro and non-euro zones. “If there’s a Eurozone that has its own legal regimes it will break up the entire internal market and that’s in nobody’s best interests,” Wind said. Wind acknowledged, however, that Denmark’s role in building a bridge between euro and non-euro countries is not yet clear, though there is a general understanding in Brussels that the negotiations require a strong mediator. In this case, Danish prime minister and former MEP, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, may find herself in an important position. “Helle Thorning-Schmidt will be very busy trying to convince the Eurozone that they should involve the ten non-euro countries. They will in turn be pressing her to keep them informed and to try and convince the Eurozone countries to let them be observers at their meetings,” Wind said.
Multiannual Financial Framework
HE MULTIANNUAl financial framework (MFF) is a seven-year spending plan for the EU and it’s one of the most important pieces of work that needs to be done. While it is not technically a budget, the MFF sets out the maximum amounts of money that can be dedicated to the EU’s various institutions and commitments. The MFF runs in seven-year cycles, with the next due to start in 2014. Work starts well ahead
of time, however, and it was hoped that Denmark would be able to complete it within its sixmonth term. “But it’s become evidently clear that this won’t happen: the hope now is for the second half of 2012,” Jeppe TranholmMikkelsen, the permanent representative of Denmark to the European Union, said in June. The problem is that the relatively inexperienced Cyprus is set to take over the presidency
in July and, while The Copenhagen Post’s sources in Brussels say Cyprus has already reached out to Denmark for assistance, the fear is that Cyprus is not up to the task. Having already proved itself capable in its handling of the EU expansion during its last presidency in 2002, there is no such fear regarding Denmark, which hopes to get as much work done on the MFF as possible before handing over to Cyprus.
There are other issues facing Europe however, and ahead of taking over the presidency, Wammen outlined four general priorities Denmark hoped to focus on to maintain “a responsible, dynamic, green and safe Europe”. But while the Danish permanent representation in Brussels has said they will expand on these main goals in January, it might not be in Denmark’s best interests to announce ambitious goals. “If they explicitly state their goals and it fails, it doesn’t look so great,” Marlene Wind, an EU ex-
Creating a green economy
HILE Denmark will have to handle the Eurozone crisis as a matter of course, the priority that the government would most like to push for is the development of a green European economy. The current government has ambitious plans for turning Denmark into a European leader in sustainable energy, as outlined in their recent energy plan, ‘Vores Energi’ (‘Our Energy’). The hope is that investing in green technology will stimulate economic growth and create jobs, not only in Denmark but also in the rest of Europe. “The Danish presidency will prioritise that we not only contain the repercussions of the economic and debt crisis, but also lay out the foundation for future growth in Europe,” Nicolai Wammen said. “And this growth needs to be green and sustainable. The presidency therefore wishes to put an emphasis on the further greening of European economies
pert from Copenhagen University, said this December. “The point is to put things on the agenda that cannot fail. So you communicate those sure areas and the more politically sensitive subjects won’t be sold as parameters for success.” An accurate representation of Denmark’s role will be one of an ‘honest broker’, a go-between and a mediator who will ensure that critical negotiations run as smoothly as possible. For that reason it’s not in Denmark’s best interests to always have a strong opinion.
and promoting green growth.” Denmark obviously has an interest in pushing the green agenda. It’s a European leader in wind power, a factor which led to electric car company Better Place choosing Denmark as a testing ground for their nationwide battery swapping infrastructure. Our Energy imagines a Denmark producing all of its energy sustainably through wind turbines and carbon-neutral biomass. “The government wants to invest in new technologies and underscore the importance of climate and environmental problems,” Wind explained. “Creating jobs through green growth is high on the agenda.” The importance of sustainability to the Danish government was illustrated in December when foreign minister Villy Søvndal argued that the current concept of growth, as measured by gross domestic product (GDP), was inadequate for not factoring in the environmental
Justice and home affairs
USTICE AND home affairs (JHA) is the area of EU co-operation that deals with cross border security and law enforcement. Denmark has said they wish to make progress on the Stockholm Programme – the protection of fundamental rights, privacy and the rights of minorities – as well as strengthening the Schengen co-operation. Most importantly, however, is the need to create a wellfunctioning common European asylum system to more fairly distribute the asylum burden. This is currently an important issue given the ongoing conflicts in north Africa due to the Arab Spring. Since the spring of 2011 record numbers of asylum seekers have been streaming into southern Europe, placing enormous strain on the countries most affected by the debt crisis. But while Denmark will be
chairing these meetings, JHA is one of its four opt-outs from the Maastricht Treaty. Denmark can only participate in particular policies on an intergovernmental basis. Despite promises from the former government to have a referendum on abolishing the JHA opt-out and the joint defence opt-out, it has never materialised, placing Denmark in a tricky position. “Denmark is not bound by joint EU rules in these areas, which on the one hand provides Denmark in some cases with the possibility to carry out a more independent policy,” a 2007 report by the Danish Institute for Institutional Studies on the implication of the JHA opt-out writes. “On the other hand, this opt-out means a loss of influence, since Denmark does not have the right to vote and has a significantly reduced opportunity to influence
“As president you have to be careful what you say on big issues and delicate matters,” Wind said. “You don’t want to seem to be interfering, only reacting when decisions are made.” But while Denmark might not be immediately forthcoming with their priorities, there will be areas that they will have to handle as a matter of course, and others Denmark will wish to pursue for its own interests. Here are four predictions about what the Danish presidency will focus on.
and social costs of the economy such as deforestation or the burning of fossil fuels. So while a green industry in Europe could create jobs, knowledge and technology that could be exported across the globe, Europe could also be at the forefront of a global sustainable movement. “Europe needs to work hard and agree on new initiatives if we are to maintain our comparative advantage over other regions of the world,” Wammen said. “Other countries already see the long-term potential in transitioning to a greener and more sustainable economy and creating growth without increasing the consumption of resources and energy. This means that we risk knowledge-intensive jobs and high-tech research capabilities moving out of Europe. It is therefore essential that Europe upscales its investments in green technologies, renewable energy and energy efficiency, if we are not to be left behind.” But while the green economy is a noble priority, the question is whether it’s realistic to expect any serious headway during the six-month term or if that time will be mostly spent staving off the breakup of both the euro and the EU. the development of EU policy in these areas.” Basically, the JHA opt-out means Denmark has the flexibility to pick and choose which policies it wishes to implement, though it does not have any influence over how these policies are formulated. “Justice and home affairs are going to be a big thing,” Wind said. “There will be over 200 legal initiatives on a European level over the next six months – many of these issues Denmark cannot be part of because of the opt-out. Many of these issues are high priority for Denmark – fighting child pornography, human-trafficking, money laundering – and other things Denmark will not participate in.” All is not lost, however, and with a referendum promised for the autumn by the centrist government party, the Radikale, the presidency may be a perfect opportunity to help shape some of JHA’s most important policies of recent years just before they are adopted.
The Danish EU Presidency - Special News Section
Point: There is no alternative to the EU
ET ME START by asking a question: What are the alternatives for Denmark, if not the EU? While the Danish presidency begins, even the youth wings of the centre-right parties are becoming more sceptical. So if the presidency is not to become an embarrassing illustration of Denmark as a bunch of EU-haters, it is essential that the Danish politicians recognise the need to kickstart Danish EU-optimism. Let me start out by talking about Danish industry. Roughly 450,000 Danish jobs directly relate to the EU and about 60 percent of the Danish exports go to the Internal Market. I don’t think most Danes know that the EU has such a big influence on Danish industry. When talking about the euro, the Danish minister of economic and internal affairs, Margrethe Vestager, herself has expressed a wish for a full Danish membership. As Denmark does not use the euro, we lack influence, as most political agreements are formed during the meetings of the 17 Eurozone countries.
the use of electronic invoices, so they are just as valid as paper versions. Initiatives like these save a lot of money for companies in paper waste alone. To give an example of how the EU helps consumers, it was recently decided to standardise mobile phone chargers. So if you are in Italy and your phone charger breaks, you can just borrow your friendly Italian neighbour’s charger, even if your phone is a HTC and his phone is a Sony Ericsson. All phone producers are included in this agreement, even Apple, who usually denies co-operating with others. Because Denmark is such a small and open economy, we simply cannot make it on our own in a more globalised world. Some are afraid that we will be crushed in the EU because we are a small country. But look at Luxembourg: they have managed to become one of the most influential countries in the EU, in spite of their size. Why should this not be possible for Denmark as well? And yes, we could choose the Morten Messerschmidtmodel and have a relationship with the EU like Norway does. But do we have the same amount of money in our bank account as the Norwegians? No. Therefore this model will simply not work for us. And anyways, even Norway has to follow EU’s rules and regulations when dealing with the Internal Market. So if you ask me, Denmark definitely has to remain in the EU, because as I see it, we do not have an alternative. Erik Boel is president of Europa Bevægelsen (The Danish European Movement)
Counterpoint: Say no to the new EU pact KARL-JOHAN HJERTSTROM
Therefore Denmark has no influence on, for example, the working conditions of our companies. And as a result of the financial crisis, the European community will move even closer together in the future. When this happens, Denmark will be left completely alone if we do not eliminate the opt-out to the euro. Looking at the real estate market and technical areas such as investment and re-financing, foreign investors will start investing much more in the Danish market if the euro is introduced and investment barriers are removed. This will make it much easier to find commercial potential for Danish estate agents as they will have a much wider investor range to choose from. Besides this, a new regulation is coming into force this year, stating that an investment deficit has to be covered in the same currency that the deficit is made in. When this happens, Danish sellers of Danish bonds will have a hard time selling them to foreign investors, as a deficit in the Eurozone hardly ever includes kroner. The EU is also the way out of the crisis for Denmark. We cannot only stimulate the internal consumption and demand and hope that five million people will save our economy. We have to bet on a larger consumer base for our companies to recover fully. In which case, the EU is the best bet. In fact, I don’t think that Danes know how much influence the EU actually has on their everyday life. Eighty percent of Danish legislation is framed between Denmark and the other member states in the EU. To give an example, the EU has secured
RINA RONJA KARI
HE EU recently decided that it would be a good idea if they had more control over member states’ economies. The idea is to give EU the opportunity to intervene in the individual countries’ budgets in order to ensure a higher level of integration of the separate Eurozone economies. It is my opinion that in doing so, the EU is attacking some of the most fundamental aspects of democracy – the right for countries to decide how and what to spend their money on. This is a crucial point in a democratic country – it’s the national parliament that decides the budget. And why? Because the national parliament is elected by the voters in that country and its members can be voted out in the next election if the electorate disagrees with their priorities. Who are we – the voters – supposed to hold responsible if it’s the EU who dictates the budget? When it is the EUcommission, we do not have the chance of selecting others because the commission is not elected by voters, but appointed.
Single currency, multiple opinions
ETRACTORS and proponents both say Denmark should change its relationship to the euro. But that’s where the agreement ends
WITH THE Eurozone being sucked down by the massive debt issues facing Greece, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Ireland, adopting the single currency would – as MEP Morten Messerschmidt puts it – (see page 10) be like jumping on the Titanic once it had already hit the iceberg. But many experts are arguing for just that. The first suggestions that Denmark adopt the euro began in November, but the question has taken on new precedence after European leaders decided in December to forge even closer ties between Eurozone members. While such proposals would appear to defy political and economic logic, they are one way for the country to move out of a euro no-man’s land where Denmark has no influence over the euro, yet is very much affected by it. The essential problem for Denmark is that is that while the krone is pegged
to the euro, Danish decision-makers do not have any input into the decisions which affect its value. The Danish central bank, Nationalbanken, has set a target exchange rate of 7.46 kroner but allows it to fluctuate by 2.25 percent either way – a setup that leaves Denmark tied to the euro’s fate without having much say. The other argument, championed by Euro-sceptics, but with support in the pro-EU camp as well, is that Denmark cut all its ties to the euro. “I think Denmark should have chosen to have a floating exchange rate like Sweden,” Zsolt Darvas from Bruegel, a Brussels-based think tank said. “Having a fixed exchange rate while not sitting on the inside is the worst possible monetary arrangement a country could have.” Darvas is not alone with this assessment. According to John Bo Northroup, managing editor of the weekly econom-
ic newsletter Økonomiske Ugebrev, Denmark is in an unfortunate situation. “We obey all the rules but we don’t have any political influence. We saw this in the aftermath of the crisis when Danish civil servants and politicians were physically excluded from the negotiations,” Northroup said. “This came as a shock because so far Danish politicians have been used to being on the outskirts of the negotiations and used to knowing what’s going on. But now we lack any political influence.” And the situation might just get even worse. The new fiscal compact treaty which was agreed upon this December will pave the way for closer fiscal integration of Eurozone members. The treaty is designed to tackle several things, but most importantly it will set limits on government deficits with automatic penalties for countries who violate the new rules.
And it only gets worse if we dency. Over the next six months, take a look how the EU proposes the big discussion will be the to tackle the economic crisis by economic crisis and the proposal cutting the public sector and for some kind of new pact or putting people out of work. They treaty. It is my hope that the govare already carrying out some ernment will keep Denmark out of their plans in Greece, where of the new pact, but at the time we can already see some of the of writing we do not know yet consequences. Many ordinary where the government stands. people – who are not to blame The only thing we do know is for the crisis – are left unable to that there are big discussions afford medical care and other and that a lot of us believe that necessities. if Denmark were to join the pact The problem is that if your then we should at least have a only solution is to referendum first. cut public expenses Beside the ecoand raise taxes, then nomic crisis, the it is the ordinary People’s Movement people who pay the Against the EU Who are we bill. would like the EU The People’s – the voters – presidency to work Movement Against on making the EU’s the EU believes that supposed to hold spending more there is a better so- responsible if transparent. It is a lution. We find that serious democratic there is a fundamen- it’s the EU who problem that so littal flaw with the tle is known about dictates the euro and that this how the EU uses is reflected in the budget? its money. What rising inequalities we do know is that between Eurozone countries. We they cannot account for around do not think the solution is to ten percent of it. This probgive more power to the EU, rath- lem has been discussed several er we would like to give Greece times, yet no progress has ever – and other countries– the op- been made. As a result, we think portunity to leave the Eurozone that as EU president, Denmark and go back to having their own needs to step up and take serious currency. This should happen action. under controlled conditions enBut I must confess I have litsuring that Greece would be able tle hope of seeing a more open to devalue and thereby secure and democratic EU, regardless of a better competitive position, who has the presidency, and I am giving them a better chance of quite worried about the ongoing selling Greek products in other development towards a fiscal uncountries, which in turn could ion. I do not think the people of stimulate job growth and ulti- Europe will gain from it. maely get their economy back on track. Rina Ronja Kari is spokesperson And that brings me to the for Folkebevæglsen Mod EU (The next topic, the Danish EU presi- People’s Movement Against the EU)
Non-Eurozone countries can choose to enact the reforms, and after the meeting in early December, all EU member states, except the UK, appeared prepared to do so. In doing so, their governments hope to send the signal to the financial markets that they are prepared to do what it takes to keep the economies in check. For Denmark, though, there’s a hitch: its euro opt-out might mean the country would have to hold a referendum in order to pass the reforms. With voter support for anything related to the euro at all-time lows, a referendum on the opt-out would be unlikely to pass. That would leave Denmark in the position of not being able to implement the reforms and it would send financial markets an unclear message. To some, however, the tight spot that Denmark is in is only makes the argument for staying out of the euro even more compelling. “I think it would be foolish to join. As it stands now, [German chancellor] Angela Merkel is basically in charge of the European economy, so even if we did join now and get a voice, it would only be a small voice,” Rina Ronja Kari from Folkebevæglsen Mod EU (The People’s Movement Against the EU) said. “We would lose a lot of influence
Even if we did join now and get a voice, it would only be a small voice over our own economy.” Kari agrees with Darvas that Denmark ought to un-peg from the euro and have a floating exchange rate like Sweden. Some economists have argued that this would allow Denmark to devalue the kroner and stimulate its economy by making its exports cheaper. According to Darvas, though, Denmark would ultimately be best served by joining the euro. But no matter what the economic arguments are, if it can’t be sold to the electorate then that’s an unlikely scenario. “I don’t think Danish voters are going to change their mind. They were against the euro before and I think the management of the Eurozone crisis makes them believe their decision was the right one,” Darvas said. “There’s no way to convince Danish voters. “
The Danish EU Presidency - Special News Section
A short summary of the sovereign debt crisis
OW THE EU entered one of the most challenging times in its history, and why ‘solidarity’ and ‘discipline’ will be the buzzwords of this generation
WITH EUROPE’S ministers calling meeting after meeting and making complicated proposals while the media warns there’s only weeks to save the euro, it’s hard not to notice Europe’s in a state of crisis. But what exactly is going on? Whose crisis is it and how are we going to fix it? In a nutshell, the crisis in Europe has to do with the fear that some countries may be unable to pay back their debt. But debt in itself is not always considered a problem and European governments often use more money than they earn. Governments were able to borrow so cheaply in the past decade that running a deficit was often used to stimulate economic growth. One of the ways governments can raise money is through selling bonds, which are bought back after a number of years with interest added. Interest on government bonds has been low for most European countries because bonds were considered secure investments. The market worked on the assumption that governments would always be able to afford buying them back. But what if a country can’t pay back their loans? If a business or individual is in this position, they default and are found bankrupt. But countries can also default on their loans. Argentina defaulted on almost $100 billion of debt owed to the World Bank
in 2002. Unemployment soared to 25 percent, GDP dropped by over 10 percent and the Argentine peso lost half its value overnight. This is the scenario that European leaders wanted to avoid when in 2009 concern started to mount over Greece’s ability to pay off its debt. Should Greece default, it would probably be forced to pull out of the euro with unknown but potentially grave consequences for the global economy.
According to Zsolt Darvas from Bruegel, a Brussels-based think tank, Greece’s problems started when they decided to hide their actual level of debt in order to be allowed entry into the Eurozone. “Not only before the crisis but during the crisis the management of the public finances was horrible,” Darvas said. “Greece was just fiscally irresponsible. They lied about their numbers, they lied to get inside the Eurozone and they didn’t use the good times to prepare for an economic The bad apple downturn.” Greece followed a global GREECE never had a good grip trend when its economy shrank on its finances and in 2008 as a result many feared what of the financial crimight happen when sis. But unlike some it was allowed to countries that tightadopt the euro when ened their belts to it was introduced Banks are losing cope, Greece was in 2001. Since its trust in each unprepared, and as move to democracy its income shrank, its in 1974 the country other again. debt rose relatively. had run a high gov- They don’t know By 2010 its debt had ernment deficit to risen from 100 to 145 pay for a large public who has enough percent of its GDP sector that offered this is forecast to assets and credit and high wages and genincrease to over 170 erous pensions. But markets are percent by 2012. despite maintaining Greece’s rising a debt level close to freezing up debt troubled the 100 percent of its markets from whom GDP (its debts were worth as it borrowed. Raising more monmuch as the value of its entire ey became difficult and expeneconomy), Greece witnessed sive and despite pledges to cut healthy economic growth. public spending it was eventually
forced to start accepting bail-outs in 2010. Despite accepting over €110 billion in loans to balance its books, European leaders took the drastic decision this October to forgive half of Greece’s debt. Effects of a Greek default MANY ECONOMISTS have argued that Greek should default and pull out of the euro. But according to a study released this September by UBS bank, Greece would suffer a painful economic
contraction if it were to do so. According to its figures, a weak euro country such as Greece pulling out of the Euro would face a drop in GDP of between 40 and 50 percent, or a per person cost of between €9,500 and €10,500. And it wouldn’t stop there. According to Diego Valiante from the Centre for European Policy Studies, the effects on global financial system could be more severe than we could imagine. “We have discovered that
the financial system is enormous and is just too big and interconnected to fail. We have to save the financial system from a collapse which would have repercussions on the economies and competitiveness of countries.” Valiante argued that if Greece went down, it would inevitably affect the rest of the global economy due to intertwined the relationships of global banks. If Greece defaults, then banks across Europe who bought billions of euros of Greek debt –
The Danish EU Presidency - Special News Section because it was considered safe – would suddenly be left with worthless assets. This is where contagion kicks in. Other banks, unsure of who has bought Greek debt, will then start calling in debts out of fear that they cannot reclaim their loans. This then trickles down to businesses who would then be unable to raise the capital they need and Europe’s economies would inevitably experience another recession. Sigurd Næss-Schmidt, from the think tank Copenhagen Economics, believes this process has already started. “Banks are losing trust in each other again. They don’t know who has enough assets and credit markets are freezing up,” he said at a recent lecture in Brussels. Solutions THE EUROPEAN sovereign debt crisis has many other actors all contributing in their small way to create this frenzied fight to save the euro. But while Italy, Portugal and Ireland all face similar debt problems, the problem with Greece best illustrates the
primary issues – European governments borrowed too much money while times were good, and as the global economy shrank in 2008, those unable to adjust their public finances were left scrambling to pay back their debts. So the problem lies in two places, first with countries such as Greece who need to control their debt, and secondly with the banks for allowing such cheap and risky borrowing in the first place. Tackling the problem with banks is already well underway. Under the package introduced in October that halved Greece’s debt, Europe’s banks were instructed to hold more of their assets as capital to create greater buffers when their investments go sour. Banks also need investment, but if the markets don’t know if a bank is holding bad assets, they aren’t going to invest. According to Næss-Schmidt, European countries need to continually
press their banks to see if they are holding risky assets. “We need the stress tests to make sure that banks lend to
one another but also so that financial markets put capital back into them. There’s no shortage of private capital in European
pension and saving funds and lots of them would be happy to put money into the banks if they knew how solid they are.” But how do we make sure countries are able to pay their debts? Countries with central banks, such as the US and its Federal Reserve, can buy back bad debt from banks if such a crisis approaches. This approach, effectively printing money, leads to increased inflation. The European Central Bank has been proposed as such a ‘lender of last resort’ though this option now seems off the table as Howard Wheeldon, senior strategist at BGC Partners explained to CNN this November. “Once you’ve put that ‘lender of last resort’ thing out there, the perception will be (that cash-strapped countries will) be automatically bailed out,” said Wheeldon. “But financial stability can only occur if countries have discipline.”
Discipline and solidarity THIS DECEMBER, European leaders decided to create a tighter fiscal union. While the details have yet to be fleshed out, it seems likely that budgets of member states will come under increased scrutiny from Brussels with penalties for countries who don’t uphold budgetary discipline. With fears mounting that the decision will lead to a ‘twospeed’ Europe it will be Denmark’s job while it hold the presidency to make sure that countries stick to their agreements while also keeping noneuro countries involved in the negotiations. “The primary objective of the Danish presidency is that decisions which have been made are acted upon,” the economy minster, Margrethe Vestager, told journalists in Brussels in November. “Implementation is the new black – it’s the most important thing to do, to make sure that people and markets and businesses experience that we do what say we’re going to.”
EU 2.0 – The Merkozy method
HE FUTURE of Europe is in the hands of Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy. But while many countries are willing to forego democracy for a solution, questions remain whether their leadership is taking Europe in the right direction
We’re in a special situation and it is not good for democracy if Europe crashes
But while they seem a united front, France is in a far more dire situation than Germany. According to the Economist, France has the largest debt and deficit to income ratio out of all the AAA rated countries in the EU. Their banks own a lot of toxic Greek and Spanish debt, so keeping those countries afloat is vital for its own banking sector and economy. Germany, on the other hand, has the union’s largest and most stable economy. The Economist argues that it’s an issue of leadership. Merkel cannot take the lead alone and needs a strong partner, while Sarkozy needs to be seen as trying to find a solution to the debt problem in southern Europe in order to keep their prized AAA credit rating – being downgraded would make it more expensive to borrow. Not everyone has been happy with Merkozy’s lead. After their summit this October in Berlin, to discuss ways to tackle the crisis, Franco Frattini, the Foreign minister under Silvio Berlusconi, argued that solutions should be found through the European Parliament. “A global problem cannot be solved with a bilateral axis,” Frattini said. Despite the criticism that the Merkozy method is undemocratic, Denmark, for one seems happy to let Germany and France take the lead. “Right now most people can see, not that democracy can wait, but that we’re in a special situation and it is not good for democracy if Europe crashes,” Marlene Wind, EU expert at Copenhagen University said. Indeed, most of Europe seems to be thinking along these lines. All EU member states bar the UK have signed up to
ILLUSTRATION BY ALEKSANDER KLINKE
EUROPE IS at a turning point, and not just symbolically. Whereas in the past 60 years ‘Europe’ grew out from the Benelux countries all the way to the borders of Turkey and Russia, the EU is now on the retreat as it tries to find ways to restore faith in its currency and economy. The past few months has seen EU leaders repeatedly meet to hammer out deal after deal as they try and come to a solution to the debt crisis. It was quickly realised that throwing money at problem countries was not a viable option – unless countries fundamentally changed the way they run their economies, the markets would not regain trust in European banks who hold government debt. And without investment, Europe could face a crippling credit crunch inhibiting any attempt to stimulate growth. Driving the efforts to find a solution is the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy – so influential have they been in leading the pack that they have been dubbed ‘Merkozy’. Running the two largest single economies in Europe, it’s not surprising that they have taken the lead, forcing Greece and Italy to put into place austerity measures in exchange for accepting trillions of euros of bailouts.
negotiate the new fiscal compact treaty, which is currently being drawn up and is hoped to be implemented in March. While the precise details are due to be released in January, the basic elements of the deal would mean increased budgetary and fiscal co-operation monitored by Brussels in order to prevent countries from spiralling into the same debt problems as they have now. While it is only designed for the Eurozone, non-euro countries would benefit from signing up
by sending a positive signal to markets that they are prepared to tackle their debt issues and hopefully prevent their credit rating getting downgraded. But will the treaty really solve the problem? Many have argued that it will end up focussing too much on austerity and too little on growth. The foreign minister, Villy Søvndal, even made this point, saying in mid-December that Denmark would have a hard time signing up if it meant that they could
not run a deficit to stimulate their economy. These are issues that will be tackled over the coming months. But regardless of whether the process is democratic, or the proposed solutions will actually lead Europe out of the crisis, one thing is certain, Europe is at a turning point and things will probably never be the same again.
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The Danish EU Presidency - Special News Section
Slow going for green growth as euro crisis swells UT COULD Denmark’s green agenda be just what the Bfloundering EU economy needs? Green ambitions
WHEN THE financial sky is falling, how much do Europeans want to hear about the weather? That’s the question the Danish presidency will face in the next six months, as the government’s environmental priorities for the six-month term go headto-head with the Eurozone crisis. “Energy and climate, under normal circumstances, would be an issue the Danish presidency would like to promote,” Jens Thomsen, former EU correspondent for financial daily Børsen and current owner of communications company Impact Brussels, said. “But that might be quite difficult now.” The government has announced plans to make ‘green growth’ one of the term’s major themes, which is a natural fit given that Denmark has some of the EU’s most ambitious carbon dioxide reduction goals coupled with a determination to improve its reliance on renewable energy. In a statement this December, after meeting with the European Parliament’s green party bloc, Villy Søvndal, the foreign minister, said having interests in improving the environment while also seeking to stimulate the economy were not mutually exclusive, adding that Denmark had plans to help Europe move out of the crisis in a “green and sustainable” manner. “They want to have an agenda of growth and not just have an agenda of crisis and crisis management,” John Frølich, EU lecturer at the Danish School of Media and Journalism, said.
And while few deny the Eurozone will be getting most of the attention, the government may be well placed to focus on what it does best. Duncan Liefferink, political science and environment professor at Radboud University Nijmegen, has studied Denmark’s environmental policy in the EU and feels the country is ideally placed to push its agenda. “Ideally, Denmark should be one of the motivators for EU policy,” he said. The emphasis on renewable energy is a clear contrast to the Polish presidency, which opposed efforts to increase carbon dioxide reductions to 25 percent by 2020 just before their presidency began. The country relies on coal for 95 percent of its energy and their presidency logo appeared in the pamphlet for a coal lobby group a day after December’s UN climate conference in Durban, South Africa. In contrast, Denmark will be pushing for a large energy efficiency directive. Connie Hedegaard, the EU climate commissioner and a former Danish climate minister, has been asking for a directive to increase energy efficiency by 20 percent to become binding. Its sister policies, to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 20 percent and increase renewable energy by 20 percent, are already binding. Energy industry lobby group Dansk Energi describes the initiative as the one it would most like to see become a reality, along with a strengthened energy emissions trading market. Increased infrastructure for a European renewable energy market is also a priority, according to Ulrich Bang, the organisation’s
head of EU and international affairs. But while Bang said the energy efficiency directive has a high chance of success, he felt that it would probably happen in the shadows. “The euro crisis is on top of the agenda and everything pales in comparison,” he said. Ultimately, he said, it pays to remember that the initiatives are not just for Europe, as they have Danish interests in mind. Denmark’s new energy plan, announced in late November, aims to end reliance on fossil fuels by 2050, replacing them with wind power and biomass. The shift would mean a green economy and more exports to Europe. “There’s a lot of Danish jobs at stake,” Bang said. DONG, the state-owned energy company, said it is looking for a similar vision in an EU program. While there are goals for renewable energy production and carbon dioxide reductions up to 2020, there is little beyond that. The company would like to see planning for renewable energy up to 2050 EU coordinator Trygve Ilkjær said. With so many issues on the table, “the green economy will automatically be an inseparable part of the Danish presidency’s agenda,” Ilkjær said. And just because the euro is in crisis, he added, it doesn’t mean the environment ceases to be an issue. “The political leaders are aware that there’s more going on than the euro.”
A PLAN TO end reliance on fossil fuels and make Denmark a hub for green technology and energy is the most ambitious program to tackle climate change in the EU, according to the climate ministry. Released in late November this year, the plan is a broad blueprint for shifting to renewable technology and cutting out coal and other fossil fuels completely by 2050. The climate minister, Martin Lidegaard (Radikale), said the initiatives will “address three crises at once” – the economic crisis, the resource crisis, and the climate crisis. But it’s an expensive pill to swallow, with major infrastructure needed to update electric car charging stations and introduce smart grids. The government believes the plan is worth the pain though – it will set a “good example” to the rest of the world on how to combat climate change. Targets: • • • •
Half of all energy production from wind by 2020. Currently, more than 20% of the country’s energy comes from wind power 10% biofuels in transport by 2020 A phasing out of coal by 2030 Electricity and heating needs met by renewable energy by 2030 – and all energy needs met by renewables by 2050. In 2010, 27.4% of total energy consumption in Denmark was met by renewables
Cost: • • • •
250 million kroner a year to 2014, then 500 million kroner until 2020, to promote renewable energy 1 billion kroner in grants for green energy research & development. Total financing is estimated to be 0.2 billion kroner in 2012, rising to 5.6 billion kroner in 2020 1,700 kroner per household in 2020
Cuts: By 2020, if the targets are met, the government estimates Denmark’s greenhouse gas emissions will be 35% below 1990 levels
The Danish EU Presidency - Special News Section
Denmark’s man in Brussels 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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Just another six months in an imperfect union
OUNTRIES holding the EU presidency have come to be remembered by how well they deal with the unexpected
ANOTHER crisis, another calamity, another crunch – emergency is the stuff the EU presidency is made of. The euro’s troubles have overshadowed Poland’s presidency, and are expected to do the same for the Danish term. But as history shows, major headaches are the norm, not the exception. Economic scrambling is a long-running theme for the EU – finances have been the big-ticket item for the rotating presidency since the world economy tumbled in 2008, during the French presidency. But crisis can come from anywhere – within the union itself, among indi-
vidual member states, on Europe’s borders or from calamity far from home. In the first half of 2011, Hungary’s presidency got off to a rocky start after Budapest’s government passed a controversial media law designed to restrict “unbalanced” news coverage, setting off alarm bells across the EU over democratic rights. Then, with the dawn of, the Arab Spring, instability spread across North Africa and the Middle East, sending waves of refugees to Europe’s borders. Catherine Ashton, the union’s foreign policy chief, was busy with Libya but Hungary stepped in to co-ordinate
evacuations, using their embassy in Tripoli as a base for the EU. Belgium’s government dissolved immediately before their term began in the second half of 2010. It was only formed again this month. Their term was forced to run on long-term planning and bureaucratic vigour. In the first half of 2010, Spain was left dealing with a new system for the rotating presidency after the Lisbon Treaty went into force at the start of their term. The Czech Republic had an even more colourful presidency in the first half of 2009, when the government of
the anti-EU prime minister dissolved in the midst of the presidency. The country had already drawn ire for a controversial installation depicting member states by their stereotypes – with Bulgaria presented as a squat toilet. At the same time, they had yet to pass the Lisbon Treaty, which would eventually reform the rotating presidency. In the second half of 2008, before the Lisbon Treaty went into force, France had its hands full with international issues. When Russia invaded Georgia that summer, President Nicolas Sarkozy stepped in as the EU representative. The Irish had also voted down the Lisbon Treaty, leading to delays and confusion over the future of the union’s reform. And the expansion of financial troubles intensified that autumn as the
sub-prime mortgage crisis in the US sent markets into freefall. In light of a never-ending series of crises big and small, all a country can do is prepare for the unexpected. An emergency does not necessarily mean a poor report card for the country in the driver’s seat – a calm head and a professional approach means countries like Poland have gained solid reputations, even though much of their efforts may have taken place away from the public’s eye. Denmark has said it’s ready for the position. Only time will tell what requirements that job will entail.