Denmark presents united front ahead of EU vote

Regardless of who is sitting in the prime minister’s office, Danes will vote on their opt-outs to the European Union’s justice and home affairs rules no later than March 2016.

Denmark presents united front ahead of EU vote
Helle Thorning Schmidt (centre) was flanked by (l-r) Pia Olsen Dyhr, Morten Østergaard, Lars Løkke Rasmussen and Søren Pape Paulsen at Wednesday's press conference. Photo: Jonas Skovbjerg Fogh/Scanpix
With the prospect of Denmark no longer being a part of Europol's cross-border police cooperation as a result of the country’s EU opt-out, both PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt and opposition leader Lars Løkke Rasmussen pledged to Danes on Wednesday that both leaders would follow through on a referendum on Denmark’s relationship to the EU. 
“Denmark risks no longer being a part of the EU’s police cooperation. That is not particularly good, as that cooperation ensures that we can remain one step ahead of criminal offenders, human traffickers and organised crime,” Thorning-Schmidt said at a press conference on Wednesday, where the Social Democrats’ leader was flanked by Venstre's Rasmussen and the leaders of the Social Liberals (Radikale), the Socialist People’s Party and the Conservatives. 
In a joint statement sent out by the five political parties, they stressed that “Denmark should be as close to the core of the EU as possible.”
“We are in agreement that Denmark’s interests and values are best safeguarded through strong European cooperation,” the statement reads. 
The parties said “it will be a serious problem for the safety and security of all Danes if Denmark is required to leave Europol.”
Concretely, the agreement calls for a referendum that will ask Danes to vote on changing Denmark’s opt-out to an opt-in agreement that will allow Denmark to be part of the Europol cooperation while maintaining sovereignty in immigration and asylum policies. 
Under the proposed arrangement, Thorning-Schmidt said that every time the European Commission puts forth a law proposal, Denmark should be able to choose whether or not it wants to go along. 
Both Thorning-Schmidt and Rasmussen agreed that the referendum would be held no later than March 2016, regardless of who comes out on top in the next parliamentary election, which must be held no later than September.
An opinion poll conducted last month for Jyllands-Posten newspaper found that 55.3 percent of Danes are ready to end Denmark’s EU justice opt-out
Denmark was granted four opt-outs from the 1992 Maastricht Treaty: defence, justice and home affairs, the maintaining of the kroner rather than the euro and an opt-out on citizenship rules that was cancelled out by the Amsterdam Treaty that took effect in 1999. 
Denmark last held a referendum on its relationship to the EU in 2000, when voters once again rejected the euro. 

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Danish union: EU obesity ruling ‘a great victory’

The European Union's highest court ruled that obesity can be considered a "disability" if it hinders an overweight person's performance at work.

Danish union: EU obesity ruling 'a great victory'
Karsten Kaltoft was fired by the municipality of Billund for being obese. Photo: Jakob Dall/Scanpix
The European Court of Justice had been asked by a Danish court to consider the case of a child minder in Denmark who said he was fired four years ago because he is obese.
The employee, Karsten Kaltoft, filed a suit to obtain damages and interest from the municipality of Billund which employed him in the job, claiming he was the victim of discrimination.
The Danish court asked the Luxembourg court whether EU law itself prohibits discrimination on grounds of obesity and whether obesity can be considered a disability.
The EU court ruled on Thursday that "no general principle of EU law prohibits, in itself, the discrimination on grounds of obesity".
But it said the "condition falls within the concept of 'disability' where… it hinders the full and effective participation of the person concerned in professional life on an equal basis with other workers".
The EU court said however it was up to the Danish court to "determine whether Kaltoft's obesity falls within the definition of disability".
'A great victory'
Danish trade union FOA, which was acting on behalf of Kaltoft, described the ruling as "a great victory".
The town of Billund "has said all along that Karsten Kaltoft's obesity could never constitute a disability because it was self-inflicted. The European Court of Justice flatly rejects this argument," the union said in a statement.
Lawyer Jacob Sand, who represented Kaltoft, said the court's decision protected a "vulnerable group of workers" but admitted that obesity could still be grounds for dismissal in cases where the employee is unable to perform the job they were hired to do.
"A person who is dismissed if they are not competent, capable and available for the position has not been subjected to discrimination because it is only reasonable and factual to dismiss such a person," he told AFP.
It was only discrimination if "the person can perform his job but may be in need of some help to do it," he said.
However, Britain's National Obesity Forum said it "opened a can of worms for all employers" by pushing them to adapt to the problem of obesity rather than responding to it as a condition requiring remedial measures.
"They will be required to make adjustments to their furniture and doors and whatever is needed for very large people," said spokesman Tam Fry, who believed member states would challenge the ruling.
"I believe it will also cause friction in the workplace between obese people and other workers," he added.
Matthew Elliott, chief executive of campaign group Business for Britain blasted the ruling as "yet another example of a decision by an EU court with no thought for the consequences or impact on business and the wider economy".
Others said the impact on existing legislation would be limited.
"Obesity in itself has not previously been classed as a disability in British law," said Claire Dawson, employment lawyer at Slater and Gordon in London.
"However, where an obese person has other health difficulties that can be associated with and potentially compounded by obesity, such as mobility difficulties, diabetes or depression, these may give rise to protection against disability discrimination," she said.