Ambassador: Denmark's Niels Pultz

Friday 16 November 2012 16.15
Denmark's Ambassador to Ireland Niels Pultz shake hands with former President Mary McAleese
Denmark's Ambassador to Ireland Niels Pultz shake hands with former President Mary McAleese

Attitudes towards the euro have hardened in Denmark, according to the country’s Ambassador to Ireland, Niels Pultz. He said recent opinion polls have shown approximately 80% of the Danish population against joining the euro

The country has always been sceptical about the common currency. They initially rejected the Maastricht Treaty and voted against joining the euro again in 2000.

However, the current crisis within the European Union - exacerbated by poor fiscal infrastructure - has moved Denmark further away from the day it may join the common currency.

Mr Pultz said there is even a divergence of opinion among the political class regarding the euro, though they are generally supportive of the European project in a broader sense.

Cormac Ó hEadhra interviews EU Ambassadors about the euro crisis, member states' relationship with the EU and relations between Ireland and the country they represent.

However, he added Denmark is the non-euro country which follows most closely the monetary policy of the ECB.

“Yes we are in a very close relationship with the centre of Europe, with the eurozone...but we are not to take the final step yet, to say yes we’d like to be a member of the euro,” Mr Pultz said.

Denmark’s Dilemma

Traditionally, Denmark has had strong links with Germany and Britain. However, it seems to be causing unease in Denmark that both countries are on divergent paths within the union – Germany veering towards closer eurozone integration and Britain on the sidelines.

Is Denmark concerned by the seemingly divergent paths pursued by Britain and Germany?

“We’re not the only one having a problem or difficulty or concerns [about that scenario]...we and Ireland joined the European Union 40 years ago with the UK and therefore whatever the UK is doing is having political significance in both countries...and also has significance in other countries, smaller countries especially, in Europe,” Mr Pultz said.

Despite reports that non-euro countries attempted form a block within the EU, parallel with the eurozone, the Ambassador said his country is not interested in being part of such a block.

However, he admits non-euro countries held meetings at the start of the year, but this has since ceased, he said.

“I know there have been some meetings, some informal meetings among the non-eurozone members of the European Union. We have been participating but we certainly don’t want to see it as a block, we don’t want to be part of a block.”

EU Presidency

Ireland will hold the EU Presidency from January. Denmark – a small member-state with a population of over 5 million – held the Presidency at the beginning of this year. He agrees with the observation that negotiations on a multi-annual EU budget will present a challenge, unless it’s settled before the end of the year.

Another challenge to Ireland’s Presidency will be the ongoing fiscal crisis and maintaining solidarity among partners.

“If you move into a situation where you have more power simply because you’re big and can be seen to behave to divert from these fundamental rights that us small member-states have, then we are not so happy about it.”

He said Germany finds itself in a dominant position but thinks the country is unhappy with this.

“They (Germany) are not very happy about it, but somehow it has just happened.”

He insists Germany has preferred to find its position in Europe in accordance with the treaties of the European Union, and added Germany has been very good neighbour to Denmark.

Mr Pultz also noted the democratic deficit, which is pointed to by some commentators as a problem in the European Union.

President of the European Central Bank Mario Draghi, President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso and President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy are not directly elected, but have significant roles in resolving problems affecting 500 million Europeans.

“It could be argued that they are not democratically elected, and there is a democratic deficit in the Union,” the Ambassador said.

Referendums

In a European context, Ireland and Denmark share a history of saying ‘No’ in EU-related referendums.

But the recent Children’s Referendum here has thrown up various questions about campaign funding.

The Supreme Court held the Government’s information booklet and website was “not fair, equal or impartial”. The Government’s campaign cost €1.1m.

Things are done differently in Denmark. The Ambassador said all bona fide interested parties are funded by the exchequer in Denmark, including civil groups. There is no independent body like the Referendum Commission, but the Government presents a white paper to explain the main themes of the referendum.

Another stark difference is the turnout rate. Only 33% of eligible voters participated in the Children’s Referendum. Minister Frances Fitzgerald made the point on the day of the result that low levels of participation in referendums are not uncommon in Irish referendums.

“We have a tradition of high turnouts for all elections and all referendum campaigns,” Mr Pultz said. “We have had six referenda on EU matters since 1972, and the lowest participation rate has been 75%. We find it as an obligation as citizens to participate.”

Future for Denmark

Mr Pultz links Denmark’s future with that of the union and mentions “sustainable growth” or “green growth” as a driver of economic activity. He believes Europe can be a world leader in energy and climate change policies.

Investment should be prioritised in areas like innovation, technology and education where “future jobs will be found,” according to the Ambassador.

“If we do that and if we stick together...I’m pretty sure Europe will be much better off five years time.”

The series continues next week with Portugal’s Ambassador to Ireland.

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