Denmark’s EU Presidency: At work for growth in Europe
Dark clouds hung over Europe on 1 January 2012, the day Denmark took over the EU Presidency. The economic situation and the continued escalating debt crisis in Southern Europe created a situation where tensions were running high. Could our European cooperation remain strong at a time of such colossal challenges? We did not know the answer in advance, but approached the task with great enthusiasm. And now, six months later, there is reason to look back with satisfaction.
A Europe that acts in an economically responsible way
During the Danish EU Presidency we have adopted a new and tougher set of common ground rules in the EU cooperation that will provide the framework for tackling the crisis, for helping to prevent future crises and for restoring confidence in Europe.
The enhanced cooperation and the new ground rules aim to ensure that each EU Member State exercises due diligence in relation to economic imbalances such as competitiveness and balance of payments difficulties.
On top of this is the Fiscal Compact, which was adopted at the European Council in March. The Fiscal Compact undoubtedly represents a milestone in European cooperation. Through the Fiscal Compact, Member States have committed themselves to introducing national legislation that ensures their respective national budgets to remain in balance, thus keeping their economy in order.
Indeed, the enhanced rules regarding economic governance have for the first time also been used in practice during the Danish Presidency. Within the framework of the European Semester, the national economy of each Member State has undergone a review, concluding with the adoption of specific recommendations regarding what action the particular Member State should take to tackle their respective economic challenges. This enhanced cooperation has begun to bear fruit: the average public deficit in EU Member States has dropped from 6.9 per cent of GDP in 2009 to an expected 3.6 per cent in 2012.
However, Europe needs not only tight fiscal governance, but also growth.
A Europe that ensures dynamic and sustainable growth
The last couple of years have been poor for European growth and employment. No one in Europe is against growth. The challenge lies in creating growth without the continent falling deeper into debt. It is a question of ensuring responsible growth, and it is this approach we brought to the negotiating table.
We were therefore pleased that we could conclude our Presidency by securing agreement in the European Council on 28-29 June on the adoption of a Compact for Growth and Jobs. This growth package represents the culmination of the Danish EU Presidency’s efforts to promote growth and employment in the EU.
Throughout the Presidency, we also worked tirelessly to modernise the common driver for growth - the Single Market – to the benefit of European businesses and citizens in the age of globalisation. The results we have achieved have, for example, reduced the administrative burdens on European businesses, enabled small and medium-sized enterprises in particular to gain increased access to capital, and led to the introduction of common European standards that will facilitate innovation and commerce across the EU’s internal borders.
A Europe that goes green
It is no secret that the Danish Presidency has assigned high priority to the green agenda. We fought tenaciously for our case, because Europe will need to keep its position as standard bearer for the environment and climate agenda. This is partly in order to prevent the climate and the environment from going under, but also because there are quite simply several million potential jobs within green growth, and these are jobs that Europe can ill afford to lose in the competitive global market.
Indeed, one of our greatest results was achieved within the green agenda. We reached agreement with the European Parliament on the Energy Efficiency Directive; an agreement that can create several hundred thousand jobs in Europe and reduce energy consumption by approx. 17 per cent by 2020.
A Europe that ensures the safety of citizens and ideals
Citizens’ rights are and will remain one of the cornerstones that European cooperation must safeguard and continue to promote – also in the rest of the world.
During the Danish Presidency, we have achieved several results in the area of justice and home affairs that contribute significant progress, benefiting both EU and third-country citizens. For example, we have brought about changes to the rules concerning the conditions for asylum seekers whilst they wait for their application to be processed, and we have created greater clarity regarding which Member State is responsible for processing an asylum case.
Within the foreign policy sphere, the Danish Presidency has engaged in close and strong cooperation with the European External Action Service and, among other things, ensured that human rights have been assigned a significantly more prominent role in the common foreign policy. In addition, we were able to secure the adoption of historic sanctions against the regimes in Iran and Syria, which emphasises the EU’s wish to put pressure on the parties to seek negotiated solutions.
A Europe that still functions
Altogether, the Danish Presidency achieved more than 250 concrete results, a number of which I have here tried to highlight and explain. These results demonstrate that the EU cooperation functions even in the most difficult of times.
Even though the crisis is far from over, we have taken the first steps on the path to exit the crisis and introduced rules and mechanisms designed to prevent Europe from being thrust into a similar situation in the future. With this in mind, I look back with satisfaction on a successful Danish EU Presidency.
By Nicolai Wammen, Danish Minister for European Affairs