The Foundation is Crumbling

COPENHAGEN/HELSINKI/LONDON/THE HAGUE |

COPENHAGEN/HELSINKI/LONDON/THE HAGUE (Own report) - Demands to halt EU expansion and even begin to scale it back are being raised in several northern and northwestern European countries. In last Thursday's referendum, the Danish population rejected the proposal for Denmark to adopt EU domestic and judicial policies. Denmark will therefore retain its "opt-out," obtained following its "No"-majority in a referendum on the Maastricht Treaty, in 1992. There is also little chance that Denmark will join a common EU foreign and military policy, in the near future, as favored by Berlin and Brussels. Because the single currency is perceived as the reason for Finland's economic crisis, that country's parliament will soon debate whether to hold a referendum on leaving the Euro zone. Great Britain will hold a referendum on exiting the EU by 2017, at the latest, with already a majority in favor, according to recent polls. In the Netherlands, demands are being raised to reduce the Schengen Zone to a "mini-Schengen." Following the convulsions in Southern Europe, the EU project - the foundation of German global policy - is also beginning to crumble in the North.

Danish "Opt-Outs"

Last Thursday, the Danish population clearly rejected their government's proposal to end the country's opt-out from EU domestic and judicial policies. Following the rejection of the Maastricht Treaty in a referendum on June 2, 1992, Denmark obtained four "opt-outs," to induce the population to accept an - abridged - treaty in a second referendum on Mai 18, 1993. These "opt-outs" pertained to the single currency, the EU's foreign and security, domestic and judicial policies, as well as naturalization laws. Denmark has not joined the Euro since, does not participate in EU's military policies, and has preserved a certain margin of maneuver for its domestic policies beyond EU directives. The vast majority of the political and economic elite still promotes Denmark's complete adherence to EU policy. This is why, in October 2014, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Prime Minister at the time, announced a referendum to abolish the "opt-out" concerning the domestic and judicial policies.

"Ignorant Voters," "Wrong Decision"

The referendum was held last Thursday. With a 72 percent turnout, 53.1 percent rejected the government's proposal that was also largely backed by the opposition. Another referendum was scheduled soon to follow on the "opt-out" from EU foreign and military policies. However, with last Thursday's resounding "No," that seems no longer feasible. Berlin is not content. "I would have preferred another outcome," the German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière is quoted saying.[1] German media is sharing the political elite's dissatisfaction, using formulations such as "the Danish No to a more intensive cooperation with Europe hurts," or the decision is "wrong." The strong turnout in the referendum is "a sign of living democracy," the population's rejection, however, can only be explained as ignorance. "Many voters did not understand what they were voting for."[2]

Euro Exit?

In Finland as well, dangers are beginning to loom for the EU project. A citizen's initiative, campaigning for a referendum on exiting the Euro, has had an initial success. It has garnered more than 50,000 signatures in favor of this demand, which means that next year, the parliament must debate on returning to the Finnish Mark. This is the result of the Finnish economy not having recuperated since the 2008 financial crisis, and remaining for the past four years in a recession. The GDP dropped 0.6 percent in the last quarter of this year - more than in Greece. Finnish economists point out that without the Euro, the crisis could have been prevented. The devaluation of a national currency would have made imports more expensive, but, at the same time, made it possible to avoid recession. The southern Euro countries are well aware of this problem. The fact that that neighboring Sweden - which has not joined the Euro zone and is still using its national currency, the Swedish Kroner, permitting it a margin of maneuverability - is economically in very sound condition is being watched very closely in Finland. Even though 64 percent of the population in Finland still favors maintaining the Euro, this approval rate has fallen five percent over the past year. Experts calculate that abandoning the Euro would cost in the vicinity of 20 billion Euros, but reckon that the long-term advantages would far surpass the expenses.[3]

EU Exit?

The mood in Great Britain, where, a referendum on whether to remain in the EU will be held, at the latest, by 2017, is also developing to the disadvantage of Berlin's EU strategists. For a long time, those favoring EU membership have been in the majority, but a tipping point now seems to loom. Following an initial opinion poll in September, with a majority in favor of exiting the EU, several polling institutes have also found that the "No" has taken the lead. In addition, Prime Minister David Cameron has announced, he would demand radical changes in EU policy, for example, curbing benefits to EU migrants. If he is unsuccessful, he would personally campaign for leaving the EU. Over the weekend, it was reported from within EU-critical circles that Cameron had privately conceded he will have to campaign to leave the European Union, if he finds the results of his renegotiation with Brussels to be negative.[4] Even if it is taken into consideration that this statement is meant to increase pressure on Brussels, it, nevertheless, shows that the forces in Great Britain favoring remaining in the EU are now on the defensive.

Mini-Schengen

Concrete recommendations for scaling back the EU are also being advanced by the Netherlands, where it has already been suggested that the current Schengen Zone be replaced by a "mini-Schengen." The government of The Netherlands discussed this suggestion in mid-November, subsequently leaking the information to leading media organs of the country. The plan is aimed at warding off the entry of refugees, and foresees a union comprised of the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg, Germany and Austria for the purpose of sealing their borders in unison. Sweden could eventually also be included. In late November, the Netherlands' Minister of Finances and President of the Euro Group, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, officially made the suggestion public in an interview with seven dailies of EU countries - including Germany's "Handelsblatt." The German government rejects this idea, but cannot prevent them from doing it. (Map: "Mini Schengen" according to the concepts of the government of the Netherlands.)

Alone, Too Insignificant

Following the convulsions in the south, particularly in Greece, the EU project is now beginning to crumble, also in the north. This is also placing the foundations of Berlin's currently favored variation of global policy in jeopardy. "Alone, Germany is too insignificant to effect global policy changes" - is the conclusion drawn last year by a German government advisor of the main results of a debate on the question of Germany's future foreign policy, organized by the German Foreign Ministry with a broad cross-section of elite participants. "Only if the member nations (of the EU - editor's note) pull together in integration and foreign policy, will Europe have the political significance that Germany (!) needs to satisfy its interests."[5] Currently, the unity within the EU that Berlin is calling for seems more uncertain than ever.

[1] Enttäuschung über dänisches Nein zu mehr Sicherheitszusammenarbeit. www.dw.com 04.12.2015.
[2] Björn Dake: Die Angst regiert in Dänemark. www.deutschlandfunk.de 04.12.2015.
[3] Finnen debattieren über Abschied vom Euro. www.faz.net 16.11.2015.
[4] Peter Dominiczak, Matthew Holehouse: David Cameron may campaign for Brexit, allies say. www.telegraph.co.uk 04.12.2015.
[5] Annegret Bendiek: Abschied von der Juniorpartnerschaft. Für mehr deutsche Führung in und durch Europa. Internationale Politik September/Oktober 2014. See Leadership In and With Europe.