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Denmark’s 2012 EU Presidency and Security and Defense Policy

Submitted by on 16 Sep 2011 – 11:33

Professor Sten Rynning Professor Sten Rynning, University of Southern Denmark

There are many reasons to expect few major initiatives in the realm of EU security and defense under the Danish presidency in the first six months of 2012. The EU presidency has first of all lost leverage compared to 2002 when Denmark last held it because of the creation of permanent leadership posts and institutions, including the EU foreign minister post and an external action service (the EEAS).

Moreover, Denmark has a defense opt-out that renders its activism in a field characterized by civil-military entanglements politically awkward, even if civilian security activism is justifiable. Finally, Europe is engulfed in a monetary and financial crisis that is of primordial importance for the Union, and Denmark, a non-Euro member, will have to spend much energy on this dossier in order to build bridges between what appears to be a progressive Euro-core and the rest.

This does not mean that Denmark will not be a player in the security and defense policy field, though, and Denmark may be well positioned to make small but important advances. While the entire range of Danish priorities for its presidency are still under development and thus unknown at present, especially in the light of September’s general election result leading to a new Danish Government led by led by Helle Thorning-Schmidt, we can be quite certain that Denmark will do much to reinforce the EEAS. As a small country Denmark will benefit from a strong collective diplomacy rather than diplomacy run by major members. It will seek this reinforcement by sometimes working with the EEAS, sometimes deferring to it. It will not contest the EEAS’ authority, as some might think the Polish presidency has been inclined to do.

Denmark does pull some clout in spite of its size. It has been among the most active allies in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, relatively speaking, almost punching above its weight. It operates on the frontline, imposing few if any caveats that can trouble commanders, and it is eager to help rebuild once the fighting dies down.

We will likely see Denmark seek to capitalize on this momentum in relation to the EU-NATO dossier, which is a source of concern to most EU and NATO members and perhaps especially those that like Denmark would like to see NATO embedded in Europe rather than challenged by EU autonomy. The Cyprus controversy which lies at the heart of the institutional dispute is a tough nut to crack, however. Denmark’s option may be to pull in the same direction as NATO’s (Danish) secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, and seek a number of practical improvements in deadlocked relations that permits continued grandstanding (which some nations may need) but advances institutional and substantial cooperation short of full reconciliation.

The exact nature of such a compromise is difficult to gauge but negotiations will be an obvious occasion to offer support to Lady Ashton and the EEAS which run the EU track in the EU-NATO dialogue. It may be welcomed by many EU and NATO members because Cyprus is due to take over the EU presidency after Denmark.

The transatlantic agreement in mid-August to demand of Syria’s president Assad that he step aside may offer a view as to how Denmark will seek to reinforce the EEAS in day-to-day diplomacy. By August 17-18 when it was clear that the United States was gearing up to condemn the Syrian president, the three big European players – France, Britain, and Germany – were preparing to follow suit and issue complementary statements. Had this happened, the EU would have been invisible and the world would have witnessed the type of big power jockeying that did damage to the EU’s capacity to react to the Arab Spring.

Things turned out differently, however, because the EEAS worked overtime to produce a common EU declaration. As the EEAS convinced a number of countries that they should set aside their caveats for another day, it became possible for Lady Ashton to reason with the big 3. In consequence, the EU’s collective declaration on Syria followed the American one, and the declarations of the big 3 came last.

This is the type of EU diplomacy that Denmark would support: a collective will to act and a will to reconcile the needs of the EU collective with those of the big powers. The key is to advance EU diplomacy – and thus the EU’s general ability to cope with a changing and globalizing world – and prevent debilitating dissent and policy disintegration.

This goes also for the Palestinian issue, for instance, where the EU has managed to moderate the coming Palestinian demands for international recognition – demands that will be presented to the UN General Assembly rather than the Security Council and which likely will result in an enhanced UN status rather than full sovereign recognition – and thus minimize the likelihood of fundamental dissent within Europe, which the Israel-Palestine issue traditionally has been apt at generating.

In sum, Lady Ashton and the EEAS have been off to a shaky start, which in some part must be attributed to the reluctance of the big members to delegate decisive foreign policy competences to the EU. Denmark will have no intention of challenging these big members but will try to convince them that it is in their national interest to invest in the EEAS – and the EU-NATO relationship along with it.