The Danes Wax Rhetorical Over Naples

Let’s now go to the reporting of the run-up to that EU IGC in Naples (and its early going) in the Danish press. If you want championship coverage of just what was contained in that omnibus compromise proposal distributed last Tuesday by the foreign ministry of the current-EU president, Italy, the piece to turn to is Politiken’s article Denmark Concerned over Italian Proposal for Constitution.

There it is in the box on the right: A run-down of just what the Italians were proposing. Let’s quickly review:

  • Fiscal and social policy: Really no compromise proposal here: Italy simply offers sticking to what the Constitutional Convention said, namely to make these areas subject to qualified-majority vote rather than the unanimity they now require. The only “concession” is what Politiken calls “softening words” (opblødende ord), that future decisions should still not be allowed to damage unique national approaches to these areas – something that is sure not to be enough to assuage the British who, as we’ll see, are on high alert on these issues.
  • European criminal law and prosecution: The draft Constitution’s proposals to tighten European coordination in these matters is softened by an Italian proposal to establish an “emergency brake” on such tightening, enabling European governments to delay (but not stop) such coordination if it is conflict with national jurisprudence. And the competence of the European prosecutor’s office would be restricted to “offenses against the Union’s economic interests.”
  • Defense: No concession here: the Italians stick with the proposal that a self-selected core of EU lands can proceed with defense cooperation under EU auspices. Of course, NATO is once again genuflected to as the basis for Europe’s collective defense. (But you’re probably already aware that there was progress on defense out of Naples; I’m not covering that here.)
  • Common Foreign Policy: No concession: Italy still proposes a “strong” EU foreign minister; only “technical changes” offered.
  • Religion: The Italians do propose to have some reference to Christianity in the Constitution. (And they would: They have to live with the Pope in their midst, after all.)
  • Future Amendments/Changes: A proposal that future attempts to go from unanimity (in those areas still left where unanimity will be required) to qualified-majority voting will be able to be blocked by official protests from a certain number of EU national parliaments. And future amendments to the Constitution itself can be approved by a qualified-majority vote of the Council (and then, presumably, submitted to the national legislatures, which would still have to approve them unanimously).

Much of this is way too ambitious for Denmark, the article relates, especially the proposal to drop unanimity when it comes to Council decisions over social policy. “Just think,” it begins, “if ever any citizen from Poland or some other, less well-off EU land could one day gain the right to fly to Denmark and immediately demand Danish redundancy pay, or some other, taxpayer-provided social benefit” – and Denmark would not be able to do anything about it, having lost its ability to veto such plans in the Council. Still, as we have seen, that’s the Italian (and the Constitutional Convention’s) proposal.

And these are supposed to be the less controversial issues, which this foreign ministers meeting in Naples is supposed to clear up so that the heads-of-government can have their agenda clear to tackle the really tough ones at that summit in two weeks’ time in Brussels.


As other coverage relates, that foreign ministers meeting got going in an atmosphere that was anything but good, as in Jyllands-Posten’s article Tough Opening for EU Treaty’s End-Game. First of all, Holland was still sore about the French-German escape of earlier in the week from punishment for violating the Stability Pact. Then the Spanish foreign minister, Anna Palacio, arrived at Naples threatening to obstruct all proceedings; in her view, the overall effect of the Italian compromise proposals was to weaken Spain’s influence in the EU across-the-board. Let’s talk about that, she warned, or we won’t talk about anything else.

(By the way, I need to correct a point in my last post about IGC coverage in the French press, brought home to me by Jyllands-Posten’s other article, Meeting on Volcanoes: the question of a reference to Christianity in the Constitution is not among those “hard-core” issues that are to be left for resolution in Brussels on 12-13 December, it rather is to be discussed at Naples. And, from the JP coverage, it seems that those wanting some such reference will lose, i.e. that the IGC will ultimately go with what the Convention provided (and what Denmark, Sweden, Belgium, and France have pushed for): just the general reference to European values that is in the draft. Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Møller thinks so; but who knows, that’s just the Danish Foreign Minister reporting back to a Danish newspaper, in a language he thinks no one else in Naples can overhear and understand.)

For it’s part, Berlingske Tidende is worried that The Ball Can End Up in the Tall Grass: that’s the title of one of its articles. (I assume that means something like “things can get so far gone that they can’t be retrieved: help me out here, Scandinavian experts!) It’s clear that the foreign ministers have come to Naples not prepared for any compromise, even excluding Anna Palacio; in a poetic twist that I personally find rather un-Danish, their positions are likened to the now-solidified lava that a thousand years ago buried the Naples suburb of Pompey. Spain and Poland are unyielding on retaining the Nice Treaty voting arrangements; the small countries are unyielding that each member-state get its own voting Commissioner (and it seems that they have won this point); and Jack Straw, Britain’s Foreign Minister, is unyielding in his insistence that the UK will never accept anything less than required unanimity in the Council for foreign affairs and fiscal and social policy.

Is the ball truly in the high grass? Is the Union headed for disaster at the December summit? German Member of the European Parliament Elmer Brok says, “Everyone knows that we have to achieve a solution for the Constitutional Treaty. If that doesn’t happen, the European Union will be plunged into its worst crisis ever.” But there’s another worry: even if such a disaster is warded off at the last minute, it may be warded off in Brussels by the same sort of marathon negotiations, lasting through the night, that happened at the Nice summit in 2000. And everyone knows how that affair turned out: with a sub-par treaty that earned no one’s respect (for instance, you recall that the Irish rejected it in their first referendum, before they gave the “right answer” in their second – although, as usual, this doesn’t mean that that first rejection really had anything to do with the treaty itself). Indeed, some of the problems which the IGC is struggling to deal with now (most notably Council voting-weights) basically amount to cleaning up the mess that the Nice Treaty created.


In any event, the Danish can be glad of one thing (even as they fight shoulder-to-shoulder with the British to retain unanimity in taxation and social affairs): they have gained the right to retain the four “opt-outs” (forholder) that they were granted in the past even as the EU’s legal basis makes the transition (presumably, if it is ever ratified) to the new Constitution, as JP reports in Per Stig: I’ve Brought the Danish “Opt-Outs” Home. (Yep: “Per Stig.” It looks like in Denmark they have no problems with simply referring to their foreign minister by his first names. It’s herre Møller to the rest of the – non-Scandinavian – world, mind you.) Sorry, I can’t remember right now what these four “opt-outs” are, but I recall that they were granted to Denmark after its June, 1992, referendum rejecting the Maastricht Treaty, so that it could be persuaded to vote again and give the “right answer.” I know that one such “opt-out” involves the euro: Denmark will never have to take up the euro, it will always be the Danes’ choice, whereas, in contrast, all of the ten countries joining the EU in May have the legal obligation to adopt the euro whenever they satisfy the economic and fiscal requirements. (If they ever satisfy: some of the budget deficits in those countries are way, way high. I haven’t heard of any of them objecting to this obligation to take up the euro, though.) Another such opt-out must involve border-control, since Denmark likes to have stricter controls on its border with fellow EU-member Germany than, for example, with Norway, which is also Scandinavian but not an EU-member. (“Border”? OK, maybe I’m talking about border formalities on the Denmark-to-Norway ferries.) But I can’t recall the other two opt-outs. Anyway, Denmark gets to keep them all – a sign of what a little recalcitrance at the right time (i.e. voting “No” in a referendum) can get for you.

Finally, as I write this on Sunday the Danish commentary newspaper Information has already published its retrospective and evaluation of the Naples meeting, namely A European Duckling?, as in “ugly duckling” – remember, that was one of H.C. Andersen’s children’s fables! I’m running out of steam and time to read/write about this long commentary now – anyway, it’s time for bed. If it’s worth discussing, I’ll do so in another entry in the near future.


There’s one other article I really wanted to read, from Jyllands-Posten: Nervekrig om EU’s Forfatning. I did get an initial look at it when I was gathering up the Danish URLs for this weblog entry – but, when the point had come to write it, I was reminded – to my anguish – that JP articles disappear behind the paid-access barrier after a few days of being available for free on-line. I should have cut-and-pasted a copy when I had the chance! – but I didn’t. Anybody else out there actually have access to JP’s past on-line articles, so you could e-mail it to me?

(If you can help me out, you probably read Danish already, and that’s why I gave the article’s title in Danish above. For the curious, it translates to “War of Nerves over the EU’s Constitution,” and that seems to me about as accurate a description of the situation as any.)

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