British Prime Minister David Cameron has received advice from Denmark’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, warning him that copying the Danish model of opt-outs from European Union law has given the Scandinavian country “nothing but problems.”
Cameron, now leading a majority Conservative government, is in the process of fulfilling his party’s manifesto pledge to attempt to renegotiate Britain’s membership terms with the EU and to hold a referendum on continued membership before the end of 2017. He has stated that in the absence of reform he will campaign for Britain to leave the EU in that referendum.
The process of negotiation began at the EU summit in Riga last weekend when Cameron used the opportunity to speak with other EU leaders about a renegotiated membership. ITV reported that he said:.
“These talks will not be easy. They will not be quick. There will be different views and disagreements along the way. But by working together in the right spirit and sticking at it, I believe we can find solutions that will address the concerns of the British people and improve the EU as a whole. After all we are not alone in wanting to make the EU work better for people across Europe. And that is what I’m determined to do.”
Cameron has stated that his proposed changes to welfare benefits for migrants are an “absolute requirement.” He wants EU migrants to wait four years after arriving in Britain before being able to claim in-work benefits such as tax credits and social housing and to stop migrant jobseekers claiming any benefits. He also wants the ability to deport EU migrants who have remained out-of-work after six months.
The problem Cameron faces is that some of what he wants may require treaty changes. Not only does such a proess take a long time, but also several other EU governments have explicitly rejected the idea. As such he may be directed to follow Denmark and negotiate a range of new opt-outs for the UK. Denmark negotiated four opt-outs before it joined the EU in 1992 covering citizenship, the euro, defence and justice. This is where the Danish Minister for Foreign Affairs steps in.
“I don’t know if this is something I would really want to recommend, because I think we have had so many problems with these opt-outs, but this is not a discussion we have yet had with the British.”
The opt-out relating to justice matters has caused some isses for Denmark in recent years. In 2014 it had to hold a referendum to join the EU’s Unified Patent Court, while that was passed it was used by The Danish People’s Party to speak against membership and demand domestic reform. Denmark now has to hold another referendum in 2016 on whether to opt-in to some EU justice rules that it is exempt from but must adopt to remain part of Europol, the law enforcement agency of the EU.
Lidegaard did, however, offer qualified support for the prime minister’s mission. Identifying potential areas of agreement such as measures curbing ‘benefits tourism’ and allowing countries outside the eurozone to influence policies within, he said:
“We are of course open to what Cameron has to say. There might be things that the UK wants which we would agree would be a good thing… It’s not an impossible journey, but it’s going to be a road full of rocks.”