Five reasons Denmark should want Britain to stay in the EU

On June 23rd, Brits go to the polls to decide whether to be the first country to leave the European Union after 44 years of membership. With Denmark itself no stranger to Euroscepticism, The Local takes a look at five reasons Danes might hope ‘Brexit’ fails to materialise.

Five reasons Denmark should want Britain to stay in the EU
David Cameron (L) and Lars Løkke Rasmussen, prime ministers of Britain and Denmark. Photo: Mathias Løvgreen Bojesen/Scanpix

This summer, the EU could lose a nation of bacon-loving, football-playing dreary weather sufferers, when Britain votes on whether to remain a member of the EU. But apart from their shared affinity for pork, soccer and rain, why should Danes care about the spectre of the so-called ‘Brexit’? The Local examines five possible drawbacks of Brexit for Denmark and beyond.

1. It will spell trouble for the Danish economy

Britain, the world’s fifth largest economy, exports over 51 percent of its goods to other EU countries. Conversely, Britain is Denmark’s third largest import and export economy, with Denmark importing an average of around two billion kroner and exporting three billion kroner’s worth of goods every month, according to Statistics Denmark.

According to a study by think tank the Centre for European Reform, current British trade with the EU would have been 55 percent lower if the country had never joined the bloc, spelling trouble for Danish and broader EU economies alike. While Britain, in the event of leaving the union, would be keen to retain its access to the single market, the EU would be unlikely to accept this without some concessions – for example, the UK continuing to allow free movement for all EU citizens. This would not be accepted by pro-Brexit politicians for whom better immigration control is one of the cornerstone aims of leaving the union. The logical result is poorer trade relations between Britain and rest of the EU – including Denmark.

2. The Danish krone could crash

An EU exit for sterling could also spell trouble for Denmark's krone. Photo: Colourbox

Back in 2000, Danes voted to keep their traditional currency, the krone, and thereby rejected the new euro in one of the closest referenda in history. The decision has been more or less vindicated in subsequent years, with the krone retaining its value and Denmark’s imports and exports remaining competitive.

Should Britain – which also chose to keep the pound and has never been close to accepting the euro – leave the EU, the prospects of the krone are likely to be affected. The Copenhagen-based Think Tank Europa stated in May 2015 that EU members such as Denmark are likely to suffer should Britain – the strongest voice against marginalisation of the non-euro countries within the union – leave, enabling financial and economic policy within the Eurogroup alone to play a stronger role.

3. If it all goes wrong, other countries might point the finger at Denmark

In December 2015, with Brexit still ostensibly somewhere over the horizon, Denmark held an EU referendum of its own. Danes convincingly rejected a plan to replace its opt-out on EU justice and home affairs with an 'opt-in' model – a resounding rejection of giving sovereignty to the EU in favour of negotiating benefits on Denmark’s own terms.

See also: Five burning questions after Denmark's EU 'no'

Should Britain vote to leave the EU – hereby rejecting the agreements regarding social welfare payments thrashed out between David Cameron and the EU last month – it will look to negotiate a range of new relationships with the EU. Everything from import tariffs to immigration rules to free movement will have to be set out on new terms.

The Danish vote showed that there is popular support – in Denmark at least – for this type of parallel negotiation between the EU and individual countries, which is encouraging for anti-EU campaigners in the UK. Should Brexit have the expected consequence of an economically and diplomatically weaker EU, the Danish referendum outcome may be seen in hindsight as a turning point for EU solidarity.

4. A weaker EU means a less secure Denmark

For all their political sabre-rattling about border control and jewellery confiscation, the attempts by Danish politicians to stem the flow of immigrants into the country have had little real effect apart from sending a strong message about the attitudes of the politicians themselves.

The relation between refugees and security is in itself a subject that should be treated critically, and security is not the only reason cited by the government for its anti-immigration stance. Nevertheless, one thing is for certain – an EU without Britain is far less secure in international diplomacy, which has potential consequences for Denmark domestically.

Russian president Vladimir Putin is known to favour a British EU withdrawal. Photo: SPUTNIK/Scanpix

Britain, a permanent member of the UN Security Council and G7, still has a strong enough voice in international politics for the likes of Russia and the United States to take note of the European Union. With both the Syrian War and an increasingly aggressive Russia sitting right on its doorstep, the EU needs to be as strong and united as possible. For a small country like Denmark, a strong economic and political alliance with Britain is likely to have a significant long-term effect on domestic security and international influence.

5. Tourism and travel

It is conceivable that a Britain frozen outside of the EU may end up forcing visa requirements on visitors from the European mainland. While this is unlikely – other Western non-EU countries like the United States, Canada and Australia do not require EU citizens to have visas – it is possible that the fall-out of an acrimonious Brexit could lead to the type of travel restrictions not seen in Western Europe for decades.

Should, for example, Britain request free movement for its citizens in Western Europe but deny this to nationals of Eastern European member states, an unlikely, but possible, outcome is visa requirements and work permits being introduced in both directions, making Britain far less accessible to Danish students, tourists and professionals.

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How Europe’s population is changing and what the EU is doing about it

The populations of countries across Europe are changing, with some increasing whilst others are falling. Populations are also ageing meaning the EU is having to react to changing demographics.

How Europe's population is changing and what the EU is doing about it

After decades of growth, the population of the European Union decreased over the past two years mostly due to the hundreds of thousands of deaths caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The latest data from the EU statistical office Eurostat show that the EU population was 446.8 million on 1 January 2022, 172,000 fewer than the previous year. On 1 January 2020, the EU had a population of 447.3 million.

This trend is because, in 2020 and 2021 the two years marked by the crippling pandemic, there have been more deaths than births and the negative natural change has been more significant than the positive net migration.

But there are major differences across countries. For example, in numerical terms, Italy is the country where the population has decreased the most, while France has recorded the largest increase.

What is happening and how is the EU reacting?

In which countries is the population growing?

In 2021, there were almost 4.1 million births and 5.3 million deaths in the EU, so the natural change was negative by 1.2 million (more broadly, there were 113,000 more deaths in 2021 than in 2020 and 531,000 more deaths in 2020 than in 2019, while the number of births remained almost the same).

Net migration, the number of people arriving in the EU minus those leaving, was 1.1 million, not enough to compensate.

A population growth, however, was recorded in 17 countries. Nine (Belgium, Denmark, Ireland, France, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands and Sweden) had both a natural increase and positive net migration.

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: Five things to know about Germany’s foreign population

In eight EU countries (the Czech Republic, Germany, Estonia, Spain, Lithuania, Austria, Portugal and Finland), the population increased because of positive net migration, while the natural change was negative.

The largest increase in absolute terms was in France (+185,900). The highest natural increase was in Ireland (5.0 per 1,000 persons), while the biggest growth rate relative to the existing population was recorded in Luxembourg, Ireland, Cyprus and Malta (all above 8.0 per 1,000 persons).

In total, 22 EU Member States had positive net migration, with Luxembourg (13.2 per 1 000 persons), Lithuania (12.4) and Portugal (9.6) topping the list.

Births and deaths in the EU from 1961 to 2021 (Eurostat)

Where is the population declining?

On the other hand, 18 EU countries had negative rates of natural change, with deaths outnumbering births in 2021.

Ten of these recorded a population decline. In Bulgaria, Italy, Hungary, Poland, and Slovenia population declined due to a negative natural change, while net migration was slightly positive.

In Croatia, Greece, Latvia, Romania and Slovakia, the decrease was both by negative natural change and negative net migration.

READ ALSO: Italian class sizes set to shrink as population falls further

The largest fall in population was reported in Italy, which lost over a quarter of a million (-253,100).

The most significant negative natural change was in Bulgaria (-13.1 per 1,000 persons), Latvia (-9.1), Lithuania (-8.7) and Romania (-8.2). On a proportional basis, Croatia and Bulgaria recorded the biggest population decline (-33.1 per 1,000 persons).

How is the EU responding to demographic change?

From 354.5 million in 1960, the EU population grew to 446.8 million on 1 January 2022, an increase of 92.3 million. If the growth was about 3 million persons per year in the 1960s, it slowed to about 0.7 million per year on average between 2005 and 2022, according to Eurostat.

The natural change was positive until 2011 and turned negative in 2012 when net migration became the key factor for population growth. However, in 2020 and 2021, this no longer compensated for natural change and led to a decline.

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: One in four Austrian residents now of foreign origin

Over time, says Eurostat, the negative natural change is expected to continue given the ageing of the population if the fertility rate (total number of children born to each woman) remains low.

This poses questions for the future of the labour market and social security services, such as pensions and healthcare.

The European Commission estimates that by 2070, 30.3 per cent of the EU population will be 65 or over compared to 20.3 per cent in 2019, and 13.2 per cent is projected to be 80 or older compared to 5.8 per cent in 2019.

The number of people needing long-term care is expected to increase from 19.5 million in 2016 to 23.6 million in 2030 and 30.5 million in 2050.

READ ALSO: How foreigners are changing Switzerland

However, demographic change impacts different countries and often regions within the same country differently.

When she took on the Presidency of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen appointed Dubravka Šuica, a Croatian politician, as Commissioner for Democracy and Demography to deal with these changes.

Among measures in the discussion, in January 2021, the Commission launched a debate on Europe’s ageing society, suggesting steps for higher labour market participation, including more equality between women and men and longer working lives.

In April, the Commission proposed measures to make Europe more attractive for foreign workers, including simplifying rules for non-EU nationals who live on a long-term basis in the EU. These will have to be approved by the European Parliament and the EU Council.

In the fourth quarter of this year, the Commission also plans to present a communication on dealing with ‘brain drain’ and mitigate the challenges associated with population decline in regions with low birth rates and high net emigration.

This article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK.