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Comment: We little people, retiring in a cozy corner

The latest 'no' to the EU is from a self-defining and self-sufficient Denmark, oblivious to the common vision, argues Solgerd Just Mikkelsen

In 1972 I voted against joining the European community despite some hard and heavy reproaches from a family rooted in the Danish farming population. I imagined these people were driven by expectations that our society would enjoy an abundant European system of redistributing monetary aid to farmers (at the time Denmark was closer to its past of a dominating agricultural labor force).

On my part, being a new student of political science on the Danish peninsula I was only dreading my country was going to become a part of a rich club building shortsighted custom walls against poor African farmers.

Well, the tolls against sugar from Africa did come anyway but during the 70’s and 80’s other aspects of the European project became visible to me. Politicians (in other countries) were expressing visions of Europe addressing economic and societal problems that were similar in many countries, some talking of aspirations for higher aims than those attainable by any single country.

Are we so uninterested to participate in a game of giving and taking and seeking influence in setting common rules for larger groups, ourselves included?

In the EU Commission and Parliament, matters were discussed like labour markets, protection of consumers and environment, democracy and local influence, human rights, and research cooperation. Themes were raised like educational goals, movements of people across national borders, energy production, exchange of ideas, and synergies. As I came to see it, the European Union – no matter how big and bureaucratic (please mention to me a big organization without these characteristics) – developed into a kind of an ambitious public enterprise struggling to set high standards in a number of the mentioned fields.

Politicians dragging their feet

Ever since 1972 it seems to me that Danish politicians have become ever less eloquent on the perspectives of the European cooperation project. On the contrary, I noticed instances of hesitation on part of Danish politicians and authorities in implementing some common European decisions resembling sheer foot dragging, or the worse.

The best example might be rule of 6 November 2014 by the European Court against the Kingdom of Denmark for having broken the treaty of the European Union by not having implemented common decisions as of 23 October 2000 to develop and publish a national plan for protecting Danish water resources and ground water.

3 December 2015 we had a referendum in Denmark concerning relations to the European Community. How did Danish politicians encourage voters to decide on the questions? Well, what I mostly noticed among political arguments were statements like ‘Nobody should dictate us to letting in more refugees’, or simply ‘We want to retain the Danish sovereignty’ (no more, no less).

Disappointed by EU referendum

Because of these impressions of mine I agree with Professor Marlene Wind that the Danish population at large seems to be mere passengers, or free riders in the European project. It was a disappointment to me and I realized that the referendum reminds you of a phrase from an old song – ‘Du Pusling-land som hygger dig i smug’ (‘You country with your little people, retiring in a cozy corner’). Are we so uninterested to participate in a game of giving and taking and seeking influence in setting common rules for larger groups, ourselves included?

This passivity is astonishing in a world where everybody is moving closer to each other, where mutual dependency is growing and a need for international (global?) solutions are becoming increasingly urgent. Day by day.

Or is the situation in my country telling me something else? There is a limited number of politicians with a relatively great influence (I remember the definition I was taught in the very year of 1972 that politics is the distribution of values legitimate for a society). Is this a (too) small society dominated by mainly one ruling elite that nobody wants to question or challenge at the risk of being left out? In order to learn, there is no other elite around you can connect to.

Does this situation contribute to a sort of self-defining and self-sufficient society being in risk of desynchronizing from the surrounding world? After all, how many brilliant instances can I find of, say, good solutions to welcoming and including citizens from other countries into the Danish society? Which smart solutions did we invent to ease formal and bureaucratic barriers in order to speed up interchanging of knowledge and ideas with people rich in other cultural experiences? What is the use of resources from Danes returning from months and years of living and working abroad? What do we require from foreign citizens with valuable skills before we offer them a permanent stay in this country?

Danish politicians feeding the skepticism

To get back to the idea of sketching visions for future societies in a smaller world: as I grew older, I found that the European project seems to have been producing a number of impressive agendas and allocating large amounts of resources to accomplish preliminary goals single European states would never be able to approach.

However, I am not sure that many Danish politicians bother to engage with such common goals as the ones raised by European politicians. Often these goals are farsighted, which is impractical when remembering the short periods of office. The goals may also be based on values and ideas necessitating their spokesperson to see a point in defending them, which, probably, is too much to hope from many politicians in this kingdom.

Did a number of Danish politicians actually contribute to the skepticism concerning the EU in the Danish population? Either by actively scaling down perspectives of the European cooperation or by passively omitting to mention news and ideas from the European stage? Or did an uninterested Danish population forget to ask its politicians about opportunities of international influence and cooperation in our time? Or to ask about ways to tap into networks of knowledge and inventiveness comprised of individuals in other European countries? (On the other hand, why take up extra space? Networks like COST – closely aligned with the EU – may survive excellently without the participation of Danes.)

Two questions puzzle me, though: a) How do Danish politicians perceive their audience when showing a lukewarm interest in the branching cooperation project under auspices of the EU? Are they talking to their possible voters, easy to mobilize fast by simple messages, or do they address the interested population that they are inspiring and interacting with? And b) does any such thing as a political responsibility for history exist?

No matter which came first, the egg or the chicken. No matter whether anyone is to blame. Shouldn’t we just remain as cozy Danes in our corner? Shouldn’t we just hope nobody will disturb us from the outside world?

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