European Affairs

Denmark in the Chair: Small Country Faces Historic EU Challenges     Print Email
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Prime Minister

Denmark assumes the Presidency of the European Union on July 1, at a time when it faces challenges of historic proportions. Meeting them will require a focused and dedicated Presidency.

EU enlargement heads the list. Ten candidate countries, mainly in Central and Eastern Europe, may be ready to conclude accession negotiations by the end of this year. My main ambition for the Danish Presidency is clear: negotiations must be concluded with as many candidates as possible - I hope all ten - at the EU summit meeting due to be held in Copenhagen on December 12 and 13.

EU enlargement is an opportunity not to be missed: it will establish the framework for a peaceful, stable and prosperous European future. It is one of the most important events in modern European history. Last time an EU summit meeting took place in Copenhagen, in 1993, the basis for future membership of the candidate countries was established by adoption of the so-called Copenhagen criteria - the economic and political requirements for EU entry. We now hope to complete the circle "from Copenhagen to Copenhagen."

The candidates will be assessed on their own merits. Cyprus, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, the Slovak Republic, the Czech Republic and Slovenia could all be ready if their present rate of progress is continued. No guarantees can be granted to any of them in advance. But those that are ready should be allowed to enter. Countries that fulfill the Copenhagen criteria should not have to wait for countries that need more time.

Whether we shall reach our target is not in the hands of the Danish Presidency alone. We face numerous hurdles, not least in the accession negotiations on agriculture and the EU budget. Equally important, we should not set new preconditions for enlargement. That would not be fair to candidate countries that have carried out difficult reforms to fulfill the Copenhagen criteria.

In particular, decisions on how to reform the existing European agricultural and regional policies, crucial as they are, should not be linked to the enlargement process. They should be dealt with as parallel, separate issues, or in 2006 when the existing financial arrangements expire. Otherwise, we risk delaying the whole enlargement process.

Above all, public support for the enlargement process must be maintained in both member states and candidate countries. This is another reason for keeping to the agreed timetable and offering fair conditions to the candidate countries. At the same time, politicians in candidate countries should be cautious not to create expectations at home that cannot be met.

In spite of the many challenges facing us, I remain convinced that Europe will not fail at this historic moment. There are many grounds for optimism. Progress during the current Spanish Presidency, which ends on June 30, has been good. On recent visits to existing and future member states, I have sensed an understanding of the importance of maintaining the political momentum. The time has now come to deliver on past promises.

The extensive EU agenda in the second half of 2002 also provides many other important tasks for the Danish Presidency. The following are some of the most important internal EU issues to which we shall give close attention:

  • The mid-term review of the Common Agricultural Policy.
  • A new fisheries policy.
  • Continued improvements in food security and environmental protection.
  • A tax package.
  • Improved competitiveness.
  • A more open and transparent European Union.

The external EU agenda also confronts us with important and challenging tasks. European foreign policy is taking on a new, improved form. The EU, an economic giant, is no longer a political dwarf. Today, Europe plays a more active international role than ever.

One reason is the introduction of clearer structures for decision-making in European foreign policy, with the High Representative, Javier Solana, assuming a more visible role. Also, last year the European Security and Defense Policy was declared operational.

A more fundamental reason is the increasingly important role of values in international relations: human rights, democracy, the market economy, free entrepreneurship combined with a modern and effective public sector, care for the weak, and, not least, the unique European model of integration - itself an advanced example of international cooperation.

To have real significance, naturally, the values must be put to practice. After September 11, Europe reacted quickly and unequivocally in full solidarity with the United States to defend common values. The Danish Presidency is determined to strengthen global cooperation in the fight against terrorism.

NATO and strong EU/U.S. cooperation provide the framework for our solidarity. Active American support for a free and undivided Europe helped to bring forward the integration of our continent.

NATO's enlargement process plays an important role in that context. At the NATO summit meeting in November in Prague, we want to see the start of an ambitious new enlargement round. In my view, the position of the three Baltic states is particularly important. Denmark has supported their independence from the outset and has assisted them in many areas, including defense. We consider them ready for Alliance membership.

There is no sense in hiding the fact that differences of opinion exist between the European Union and the United States on certain issues, for example global climate control, the International Criminal Court, biotechnology and trade issues such as steel. The answer to these differences should be dialogue and cooperation. We must seek pragmatic solutions, starting from the fact that there are no inherent contradictions between us.

Continued close cooperation with the United States is also essential for the urgent efforts needed to help restore the peace process in the Middle East. During the Danish Presidency, EU efforts will continue to halt the spiral of violence, as well as to remedy the growing humanitarian and economic crisis in the Palestinian areas.

EU enlargement and the resulting new external border to the East will mean new neighborhood relationships. The one with the EU's largest neighbor, Russia, is of particular importance. The Danish Presidency aims to strengthen EU-Russian cooperation further.

The focus will be on efforts to better integrate Russia into the EU economy through the common European Economic Space initiative, which will improve the basis for trade and investment, and through future Russian membership of the World Trade Organization. Better cooperation in the energy sector will be given particular attention. We will also work to strengthen the relationship with the European Union's new Eastern European neighbors, Belarus and Ukraine.In recent years, the European Union has also taken on increased responsibility in the creation of peace and stability in the Western Balkans. Through the Stabilization and Association process, the countries of the region have been brought closer to the European Union's economic and political structures.

We have supported them in implementing the wide-ranging reforms that are the precondition for closer affiliation with the European Union. We already have Stabilization and Association agreements with Macedonia (FYROM) and with Croatia. Agreements should be reached with the other countries in the region as the necessary reforms are carried out.

The Danish Presidency will be responsible for representing the EU at important international meetings in the second half of 2002. In September, 25 heads of state and government from Europe and Asia will come together for the fourth ASEM summit meeting in Copenhagen. EU summit meetings with China and Japan will also take place during the Danish Presidency.

The Danish Presidency will also strive for genuine progress at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. It is my firm opinion that we should use this occasion to agree on a global deal on sustainable development.

The objective should be to foster sustainability in economic, social, and environmental terms to the benefit of future generations. To reach this ambitious objective, the deal should build on commitments from both the developed and the developing world.

The developed countries must make real commitments to strengthen their efforts to combat world poverty by opening up their markets to enable freer trade. Development should be a central concern in the new WTO round, initiated in Doha last year.

With the "Everything but Arms" initiative, the European Union has ensured free access for almost all products from the least developed countries, except for arms. As the largest aid donor in the World, the European Union as a whole brings a major contribution to fulfilling our part of the deal.

A global deal will only be struck if the developing countries fulfill their part of the bargain. They must strengthen their commitments to democracy, good governance, the fight against terrorism and the rule of law in order to permit sustainable economic growth and to ensure the effectiveness of development assistance.

The global deal should also emphasize the need for environmentally sustainable development on a global scale. Here, stronger efforts are needed to implement international environmental agreements in national policy and more global environmental cooperation is necessary in many areas.

The challenges facing the Danish Presidency in the second half of 2002 are truly breathtaking, not least seen from the perspective of a relatively small country like Denmark. Yet, the Danish government can build on a solid basis. Many years of international experience and commitments inside and outside Europe provide Denmark with the right background to do the job.

We have carried the burdens of the Presidency several times before. The foreign policy of the current Danish government builds on the same broad parliamentary majority as previous governments and continues the traditional active and committed Danish line.

The European Union allows all European countries - bigger as well as smaller - to wield in§uence regionally and globally. As a smaller country we are well aware that this requires pragmatism and a willingness to compromise and to work hard.

Whether or not we shall be successful is not in our hands alone. But it is my genuine hope and conviction that, by the end of this year, it will be said that the Danish Presidency acquitted itself of its tasks in a credible and efficient way.

 

This article was published in European Affairs: Volume number III, Issue number II in the Spring of 2002.