Why Denmark is losing an EU ‘big brother’ with UK exit

Why Denmark is losing an EU 'big brother' with UK exit
Members of European Parliament react after ratifying the Brexit deal on Wednesday. Photo: Yves Herman/AFP/Ritzau Scanpix
Long-term alignment with British interests within the EU means the UK’s exit from the union is leaving Denmark shorn of its closest ally.

Britain says goodbye to the EU at midnight on Friday, Danish time, three and a half years after a majority of the UK population voted to leave the union and 47 years after they joined – on the same day as Denmark, January 1st 1973.

As the transitional phase of Brexit begins, the Withdrawal Agreement comes into effect from Friday.

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The near five decades of British EU membership have seen regular overlaps of policy interests with Denmark, as national broadcaster DR sets out.

“It will be sad. We are losing a very, very central ally in a large number of areas, whom we have been able to shelter behind a little. For example, with regard to making the EU more efficient and a little less federal than some of the other countries would like. That is something we’ll really notice,” Social Democratic MEP Christel Schaldemose told DR.

Another MEP, Morten Løkkegaard of the centre-right Liberals, called the UK a “political big brother” to Denmark in the EU.

“We are losing a political big brother in the European cooperation. Throughout the years, we’ve been able to place ourselves in the Brits’ slipstream and let them do the hard work in key areas like free trade and the Single Market,” Løkkegaard said to DR.

“We’re losing that bulldozer now, and politically, that will be a big problem for us,” he added.

Trade interests as well as a similar shared scepticism in relation to the EU have been factors in the two countries’ alignment during the years of the UK’s membership, according to an analyst.

“Both countries have been sceptical for years about a centralized and federal Europe. Both believe that the EU should be a trade market first and foremost,” Josef Janning, a senior researcher with think tank European Council of Foreign Relations, told DR.

The UK’s importance to Denmark in EU politics has left many in the Scandinavian country feeling “betrayed” over Brexit, Janning also said.

Løkkegaard said that British presence had helped Denmark by acting against “French protectionism and German hesitation”, but that, in the end, the British were acting in their own interests rather than due to any particular affection for Denmark.

“In an EU context, size matters,” he said.

Denmark will now have to turn elsewhere for a close and strong EU ally, but no single country stands out.

“Denmark lacks close allies [in the EU]. Denmark looks towards Sweden, but they don’t have the same interest in us. They look more towards Finland. Denmark can also look towards the Netherlands. But although the Dutch are interested in us, they have other priorities too,” Janning told DR.

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