Denmark and the 1973 Enlargement: The Dual Impact

Thorsten Borring Olesen |

Evolving-Europe-timeline-graphic-webAs part of the Evolving Europe project, UACES asked participants at the 40 Years since the First Enlargement conference to respond to the question ‘What have been the most significant changes in the 1973 accession states as a result of EU membership?’

Here, Thorsten Borring Olesen (Aarhus University) shares his view:

The question ‘What have been the most significant changes in the 1973 accession states as a result of EU membership?’ is highly relevant, but also one-dimensional as it does not address the other side of the bilateral relationship, namely the changes in the EU as a consequence of the 1973 enlargement. This answer therefore will include both sides of the relationship, and it will concentrate on the EU-Danish relationship.

Put in very short form the greatest impact on Denmark from her EC/EU membership has been the growing impact of Europeanization. The concept, however, is elusive and as stated by the Norwegian political scientist Johan P. Olsen more than ten years ago, it is both fashionable and contested.[1] Despite its trendiness the concept is mainly contested because it is very difficult to measure the precise size and impact of Europeanization. When Robert Ladrech in a recent book concludes that, ‘Europeanization has not produced any seismic shifts in the operation of national policy-making and institutions’,[2] this is probably also valid for Denmark.

But what does it take to reach ‘a seismic shift’? This is unclear, and it is even unclear precisely how much of present Danish legislation originates with the EU system. But all sound estimates suggest that a large and growing part directly or indirectly originates with or is made with reference to Brussels. What we can also observe is that the organization of the Danish state bureaucracy has been deeply affected by EU membership, and such organizational impact has also been felt within the legislative process itself, recently in a new and very strong way as can observed in relation to how the yearly budget procedure linked to the European Semester and the Euro Pact deeply affects the budget prerogatives of Parliament. At the policy level Europeanization has also penetrated into all policy areas from welfare state and gender issues to environmental and competition policy and very recently after the big enlargement of 2004 the labour marked for unskilled workers and some skilled trades within construction has been also highly Europeanized. The irony here is that on the surface of things Danish politics and the Danish media pay very little attention to this. Politics still pretends to be politics as in the ‘old days’.

On the other hand, the 1973 enlargement has also to a certain extent been accompanied by a process of ‘Denmarkization’. The use of this less ‘fashionable’ concept finds its logic in the argument that it may be employed to designate general responses by member states and their citizens aimed at controlling, contesting or even curbing EU-Europeanization. We might also have employed concepts such Irelandization or even UKnization because all the three new member states of 1973 have been particularly active in checking the impact of Europeanization. However, the use of the concept ‘Denmarkization’ is legitimized by the fact that Denmark in three important respects has been a pioneer in devising mechanisms or negotiating policy outcomes with the ultimate aim of retaining democratic-parliamentary control over EU policy and safeguarding national sovereignty over key policy areas. The pioneer metaphor comes in because these mechanisms and policy solutions have later been emulated by other member states. These three mechanisms and policy solutions are: (1) The Danish Parliament’s, Folketinget’s, European Affairs Committee, (2) the referendum institution, and (3) the opt-out policy solution.

One may argue that there is further historical irony involved here, namely the fact that ‘Denmarkization’ may also be perceived of as element of Europeanization, and a very ambiguous one, namely one that has the capacity to contribute to undermining, redesigning or recasting the process of European integration EU style. Thus, at the one end it has contributed to enhancing the serious decision-making and legitimacy problems with which the EU is presently fighting, but at the other end it may also help trigger a process whereby the legitimacy problems are addressed by creating new democratic and institutional openings which will allow European citizens a more direct role in EU politics. It is thus indeed a double-edged legacy.


  1. Johan P. Olsen, ‘The Many Faces of Europeanization’, in Journal of Common Market Studies, Vol. 40(5) 2002, pp. 921-952.
  2. Robert Ladrech, Europeanization and National Politics, Basingstoke 2010, p. 206



This blog has been published as part of the Evolving Europe project which is funded with support from the European Commission. The views expressed are those of the author, and the Commission and UACES cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.