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Friday, March 14, 2014

EU free movement: Denmark is in an almighty mess

After the UK, Denmark is now the country in which the intersection of the single market, social security and domestic politics looks the most complicated and contentious.

EU migration has become front-page stuff in Denmark. We're talking papers publishing a comprehensive list of the benefits EU migrants are entitled to, complete with the cost to the Danish taxpayer (2 billion Krona or €270m per year - according to Ekstra Bladet).

The reason is that Denmark has hit a bit of a perfect storm involving the complex interaction between EU law and three separate subsidies: child benefits, student grants and unemployment benefits. Basically, Denmark is accused of breaking EU law in all three areas:

Child benefits: In 2010 the then centre-right Danish government introduced a requirement for EU citizens to have worked in the country for two years before being entitled to claim benefits for their children (the "børnecheck"). The European Commission said last year this practice violates EU law, forcing the Danish minority government to seek to bring the rules in line with EU law. However, the opposition has so far refused to support a proposal to make EU migrants eligible for child benefits from day 1.

Student grant: In Denmark, students pay no tuition and are eligible for a grant while they study. In a ruling last year, the European Court of Justice said EU students must also be eligible for the grant - a very controversial ruling for various reasons (not least since few students from elsewhere in the EU seem interested in sticking around once they are done studying).

Unemployment benefits: According to figures from the Danish government, EU migrants are less likely to claim social benefits than the national average, but more likely to claim unemployment compensation (though the margins are small). The perception that EU migrants claim more of this benefit than natives is political dynamite. In response, the Danish coalition is planning to tighten access to unemployment benefits, by requiring Danish language courses, a mandatory call for availability to work and stricter requirements to be domiciled in Denmark.

The European Commission has hit back against these changes, calling them "illogical". And to add fuel to the fire, Copenhagen may soon be forced to change its existing rules on unemployment benefits (Under Danish rules, EU citizens must have worked three of their past 12 months on Danish soil before being eligible for the "dagpenge").

In a case likely to set a precedent for Denmark, the Commission has taken Finland to the ECJ over similar rules. The Danish government this week submitted its own defence in support of Finland but diplomats in both countries think they might well lose, meaning the rules have to change.

All of this is creating a very awkward situation for Danish Statsminister Helle Thorning-Schmidt. So far she has insisted on EU law needing to be respected - but Danish voters are aware she's also eyeing a top EU job in the EU institutions later this year and cynicism is growing.

Needless to say, the Danish People's Party has had a field day, saying stuff like:

“Either our entire welfare system collapses or the EU rules are changed. I would prefer the latter.”

DPP (DF) is now at over 20% in some polls and could win the European elections. 

So what does this mean for David Cameron? Well, he can take heart in the fact that one country faces a greater legal - though certainly not political - dilemma over EU migration than he does. Logic would suggest that Denmark is a strong, potential ally to the UK in reopening, say, the EU Social Security Regulation (which regulates access to a number of benefits, including child benefits).

Worryingly for Cameron, this is not quite how some people in Copenhagen see it though. But, we must say, it would be an accomplishment for the UK government to fail to sign up the Danes' support on this issue.

The Danish situation is seriously messy. 

8 comments:

DICK R said...

The dane should tell the Euro commissars to pissoff

Anonymous said...

@Dick R:+1

It is the EU that is mess.
Fortunately the problem is easy to solve:
1. Organize a referendum
2. Vote to leave

I don't understand why people go through all this garbage with the ECJ, EC, whatever. What's the point?
The EU is useless!

Denis Cooper said...

And yet according to Hague the accession of a new member state to the EU does not involve any transfer of power from the UK to the EU and so it is not a matter which should trigger a referendum in the UK, an obviously false proposition which he has quietly embedded in Section 4(4)c) of his "referendum lock" law, the European Union Act 2011:

http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2011/12/section/4

"A treaty or Article 48(6) decision does not fall within this section merely because it involves one or more of the following ...

...(c)in the case of a treaty, the accession of a new member State."

Which fine print Hague then invoked last February to block a referendum on whether we wanted Croatia to be allowed to join the EU.

Rik said...

From a reform pov this is basically an optimal scenario.

The best platform for reform is national governments from especially the richer countries pushing for it.
This (EU immigration rules) looks imho simply the by far best way to achieve that shorter term.
Immigration the visible, larger scale, 3rd world kind thereof is almost certainly the best thing to get voter attention. Also seen the fact that it has a history of gross mismanagement and a rubbish (namecalling) defence. Economics and the influence of the EU thereon is much more diffuse. Therefor will very likely take longer to see results in the ballotboxes.

This is the stuff more than anything else that can cause a massive electoral move. Which in its turn via elections or polls will move to the national political agendas.

With as added bonus the fact that if in one country the situation becomes electorally unbearable it is on the agenda and on top of that. The set up of the EU simply would demand that.

Basically what the EU especially the Commission is doing is taking a rather extreme view. That will move the issue in nearly all richer memberstates on top of the agenda.
Huge strategic miss imho.
On top of that it is increasingly digging itself in on it and often with a lot of hogwash. Especially Mr Farage's big friend Ms Reding , Malmthing and the Hungarian guy appear frequently in the press with bad PR moves often based on a bogus argumentation on top of that.
A bit like the Milliman, iso getting it out of the spotlight, digging himself more and more in. And makes a 180 degrees turn increasingly more difficult.
Never start a battle you are likely to lose one way or another.

Danemark already has its populist, Eurosceptic alternative. So basically the problem for the EU will start from day one (or better election one).

Anonymous said...

|Denmark is not is a mess; it is the EU that is - as almost all the time. When will people get it into their heads that the EU is an organisation whose ethos is undemocratic and socialistic. Why on earth do we accept dictation from an unelected commission?

I give up!

Anonymous said...

just leave--no referendum--it will be stitched up

Anonymous said...

Freedom of movement we are told is one of the strongest and best pillars of the eussr constitution, and was there form day one so it can't be changed, well only 6 nations were there at day one so why can't it be altered it wasn't designed for the amount and diversity of the current set up. However if it can't be altered that leaves just one choice a clause 50 exit from the whole rotten edifice.

Freedom Lover said...

Surely Open Europe can see that the simple solution for Denmark, & any other EU country in a similar situation (eg Finland, Britain etc), is to immediately invoke Article 50.

The big mistake is to treat Article 50 as a member country's last act of desperation with the EU in general. But it should be the FIRST, but NOT the ONLY, remedy for dealing with arrogance of the EU Commission's bureaucrats, or any un-cooperative fellow member states. Other remedies include: WITH-HOLDING annual budgets (all or in part), punitively fining any local NGOs which accept EU money to run pro-EU programmes within the country despite many of its citizens being deeply opposed to the EU, REFUSING to agree to ANY treaties EVER until the EU & its other members approve the complaining country's OPT-OUT demands, threatening extra-territorial legal sanctions (including some very very EXTREME ones!!) against any number of EU bureaucrats ranging from specific individuals right up to ALL of them if need be - & then following them up Tyburn Tree-style.

WOW! That's made me feel so good writing all that. Why? Because it's been TABOO for so long to be able to display such real REJECTION of the awful EU as that!

No: the simple solution is to call the EU's bluff - & be prepared to BLOW it's whole structure UP if need be. Do that on a daily basis, & the EU will soon become the co-operative little poodle that it should be. Rather than the evil empire & enemy of democracy that it has so clearly become!