University Post
University of Copenhagen
Independent of management


Expert: Danish decision on euro soccer is OK

A decision by the Danish Prime Minister to send a representative to Ukraine for the soccer championships despite a boycott by other nations is justified. So says a Copenhagen political scientist who is an expert on coercive diplomacy

Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt has defended the government’s representation at the Euro Football Championship in Ukraine. This is even though Sweden, Germany, France, Holland and the EU Commission have boycotted the tournament in protest at Ukraine’s poor human rights record, report and

In this case, the government’s decision to go ahead may be partially justified according to a University of Copenhagen expert who has specialised in political boycotts.

Ukraine is accused of human rights violations and the alleged mistreatment of former Prime Minister Julia Timosjenko. Culture Minister Uffe Elbæk has affirmed his intention to travel to the Ukraine to attend Denmark’s opening match at the European Football Championship on Saturday.

Ministry working ‘flat-out’

In response to strong criticism from former Foreign Minister Per Stig Møller, who accused the government of failing to live up to the EU’s democratic ideals, Helle Thorning-Schmidt said:

»As well as watching Denmark’s matches our culture minister will be holding meetings with human rights and opposition groups whilst he’s there, which in many ways will be more beneficial than a boycott. I believe it’s important for a representative of the government to show our support for the Danish national team but obviously, when there are major human rights problems in the Ukraine we have to talk to human rights organisations.«

Culture ministry civil servants are now working flat out to arrange meetings with activist and opposition groups, but have refused to say which for fear of retribution, according to media sources.

Split over boycott, a failure

A Danish ministerial boycott would have little effect on Ukraine, according to Peter Viggo Jacobsen, an associate professor at the University of Copenhagen who has studied political boycotts. Even though Denmark is currently chairing the European Union’s rotating presidency.

»It would end up being an empty gesture,« says Peter Viggo Jacobsen.

He adds that even if the Danish government boycotted the event, the fact that the EU remained split on the issue as Denmark had not been able to engineer a consensus, would still be considered a failure.

Focus will be on the matches

Boycotts can have an effect on the country that is boycotted, says Peter Viggo Jacobsen: »It had a psychological effect on South Africa during Apartheid. It contributed to a feeling of isolation, that helped undermine the legitimacy of the regime.«

However, an uncoordinated boycott by some governments’ representatives will have little effect. German chancellor Angela Merkel has opted to let her government and representatives stay home, but the national team is still taking part.

»I know what I am going to concentrate on when the European championships start, and it is not whether or not Angela Merkel or any other government representative is sitting up on the stands«.

Stay in the know about news and events happening in Copenhagen by signing up for the University Post’s weekly newsletter here.