What’s different about Denmark?
November 15, 2021 7:07 PM   Subscribe

Why is Denmark so ambivalent about its EU membership compared to other countries, having the most policy area opt-outs of any member? Why is Denmark the only one that fully opts out of the Area of Freedom, Security, and Justice, for example? I realize the UK had even more opt-outs, but the reasons for that seem a lot more obvious to me.
posted by theory to Law & Government (6 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Denmark is actually like the UK (and Ireland) in an important way: those three countries were the first non-founding states to join, in 1973.
posted by kickingtheground at 8:22 PM on November 15, 2021 [5 favorites]

I lived in Norway and in the immigration office there was a special line for the Nordics. I think that factors in a lot. They have a lot of cooperation and cohesion with Sweden and Norway, with their language, social security, and online shopping etc. and obviously Norway has opted out of the EU all together… I think they feel strong as a community of countries themselves and don’t feel they need to be a blind member of the EU.
posted by pairofshades at 8:59 PM on November 15, 2021

Response by poster: I assumed the Nordic aspect might go some way toward explaining it, but compared to Sweden it seems Denmark participates much less in EU policy areas.
posted by theory at 9:22 PM on November 15, 2021

Best answer: It may be at least partly down to the fact that Denmark seems to be one of the EU countries that at least sometimes requires a referendum to ratify EU treaties. This gives the public more of a say in things - and allows the government to go back to the EU with a concrete demand. Something similar happened in Ireland with respect to the Lisbon Treaty - the referendum failed on the first round, but some modifications were made on the particular issues at stake, and it passed the second time.
posted by scorbet at 1:57 AM on November 16, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I don't know that it is necessarily that much more obvious why the UK had more opt outs. After all, the only opt-out the UK had that Denmark doesn't was to the border provisions of Schengen and there is a geographical reason for that one.

Don't underestimate the path dependency of opt-outs either. It's not like Sweden and Denmark joined at the same time under the same conditions and then made different decisions in parallel. Sweden joined much later, at a time when stronger EU federalist ideas were more prominent than in the 1970s when Denmark joined and may well not have been offered opt outs on the same basis. The nature of EU institutions makes it almost impossible to enforce unwanted new requirements on existing members (since they can block the treaty negotiations required to put them into place) but very easy to impose on prospective new members.

Sweden, like all recent joiners has a legal obligation to work towards joining the euro the same way that Poland and the Czech Republic do. Except that Sweden maintains that one of the pre-requisites to joining the Euro is joining ERM II and that joining ERM II is voluntary. So it is obliged to do something when a pre-requisite that it refuses to meet is met.

Denmark on the other hand has a permanent and unconditional opt-out of the Euro as did the UK. That is purely a product of timing and is definitely not on offer for new members. I suspect that some of Denmark's other opt-outs have the same character.
posted by atrazine at 2:29 AM on November 16, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: atrazine is not wrong but scorbet is very right. In a sense, the opt-outs are kind of random. In Denmark, every new treaty requires a referendum because of the constitution. The Danes voted no to Maastricht for reasons that in most cases made no sense, and the politicians, both in Copenhagen and in Brussels invented some opt-outs that might push a tiny part of the electorate from no to yes and it worked. Most politicians in the parties who participate in government coalitions want to get rid of the opt-outs if you ask them in private, but no one wants a new referendum. That might change though, because after Brexit, only 20 % of the Danish voters are anti-EU, while just a decade ago, there were about 47 % anti-EU voters.
Apart from the grisly spectacle of Brexit, what has changed is the current more progressive stance on workers rights and the climate in the Commission. Before, there was a huge leftist anti-EU movement, but now it has all but died out, and the "Dexiteers" are mostly to be found on the far right, which is loosing influence by the hour (literally, see below).

About the reasons. I am not mocking my countrymen. I voted no to Lisbon because the wording on the ballot was so idiotic, in a lame attempt to fool less educated voters. I know that is a nonsense reason, but I hated the government we had then, and wanted to punish them.
Other reasons have been opposition to austerity, mainly because most Danish governments before Brexit blamed the EU for all unpopular decisions. Some people feel the same about Brussels as some Americans feel about DC, it's far away, bureaucratic, arrogant, etc. Another thing that is like the US is that the participation is quite low by Danish standards at EU elections. In general, Danes vote. It's Election Day today, actually, and I was a bit worried because there were no lines at the site where I voted, but many people have voted by mail because of COVID-19. In Copenhagen where I am right now, it is a very interesting election and I'm sure most people are very engaged in it.
But when it comes to EU, the people who voted have traditionally been those who have strong opinions for or against EU, and rarely about any specific policy. It changed a bit at the last election, because many people had realized that the climate cannot be a national issue.

The reason today's local elections are interesting is that that the far right is expected to loose all over the country, ending 25 years of racism as a significant force in Danish politics. And in the two municipalities that constitute central Copenhagen, a hard-left turn is predicted. I Copenhagen proper from Social Democrats to the party made up of former Communists, and in Frederiksberg from Conservatives to Social Democrats. As everywhere, national and EU politicians take note of what is happening at the local level, since it might develop into a national trend too. If the far right parties loose big today, as predicted, they will have even less influence in parliament, regardless of their numbers there.
posted by mumimor at 9:56 AM on November 16, 2021 [10 favorites]

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