Citizen Dane

4 mins read

Was the Citizenship Opt-Out in the 1992 Edinburgh Agreement the “Rosebud” for Danes?

By Nikita Pliusnin

“Rosebud, dead or alive. It could probably turn out to be a very simple thing”. With these words, young journalist Thompson was sent by his editor to solve the mystery of the last words said by notorious and powerful newspaper magnate Charles Foster Kane, the main character of the namesake American film classic, Citizen Kane. Since 1941, people all around the world have joined Mr. Thompson in his investigation of what the mysterious ”Rosebud” means. 

50 years later, a new puzzle appeared which has been pondered over since then. With 50.7 against 49.3 percent, the Maastricht Treaty was rejected by the Danish population at a 1992 June referendum. The referendum result struck down like a bolt from the blue – it put into question the whole European integration project. To get into force, the Treaty had to be approved by all then 12 member states. This rejection was also a great shock at home: the government and the majority in the Danish Parliament (six out of eight parties represented in the parliament, including the biggest ones) recommended accepting the Treaty, but Danes did not follow the recommendations. It brought up questions of soul-searching in parties, which were not heard by their electorate, as well as questions of whether the government and the parliament reflected the stances of the population and could represent the nation. These sentiments were, however, put aside quickly as both the Danish and European establishments started to work on securing a majority in favour of the Treaty in Denmark.

Firstly, the so-called “national compromise” was accepted by the Danish Parliament, which, among other things, included the famous four opt-outs. Denmark was allowed to opt-out from a common defence policy, from transferring sovereignty in the area of justice and police affairs, from participation in the single currency and from any obligations in connection with citizenship of the Union. Then, these four opt-outs were discussed at the meeting of the European Council in Edinburgh in December 1992, where they provided the base for the Edinburgh Agreement. Amended by the Agreement, the Maastricht Treaty was accepted by Danes at a 1993 May referendum by 56.7 against 43.3 percent. 

One can draw some interesting parallels between Citizen Kane and Danish history. Both Charles Kane and Denmark reached success, high position and power with a small “start-up capital” (Kane, coming from a poor family, managed to become a newspaper magnate who once decided the destiny of the 1898 Spanish-American War; Denmark, occupying a small peninsula and a few hundred islands not particularly rich in resources, created one of the most powerful medieval empires). Then, both went through some serious crises (the failure during the election and the Great Depression for Kane; decline of power and loss of territories in the 16th–19th centuries for Denmark) and withdrew into the shadows, receding from the public eye (Kane withdrawing to his mansion and Denmark being relegated to the periphery of European and global politics). Yet, a “Rosebud” mystery suddenly appeared. For Kane (spoiler alert) the most important thing in his life turned to be a wooden sleigh from his childhood, the symbol of his happiness and freedom. For Denmark and the Danish – the preservation of sovereignty and their identity as Danes over Europeans. Being “en dansk medborgere” (a Danish citizen), to my mind, meant, and still means a lot to Danes. It is their “Rosebud”, something that makes them truly happy and proud. Thus, I find the citizenship opt-out the most interesting to discuss.

Many experts claimed Denmark did not get anything special in Edinburgh, nothing that was not already in the Maastricht Treaty. Moreover, the 1998 Amsterdam Treaty adopted the same wording of the Danish citizenship opt-out for all members. However, would that have happened without the Danish “riot” in 1992? I doubt it. If Denmark had not got anything in Edinburgh, would much ado and fuss about it be only to “fool” Danish voters so that they would accept the Maastricht Treaty? I doubt that as well. If you have been to Denmark, you know how passionate Danes tend to be about their flag. It is almost everywhere, from governmental buildings to small shops. If you have ever watched Queen Margrethe’s II New Year Addresses, the most popular and cherished TV programme each year, you know that she is often discussing what it means to be Danish, what “Danishness” is and who “Danes” are. This topic is always present in the political and social discourse, especially after the rise of the radical right-wing Danish People’s Party. Matador, a beloved Danish series re-shown again and again every other year, is about “good old Denmark”, about “us Danes” and why “we are the way we are”. Having gone through the loss of Schleswig in 1864 and its partial return in 1920, through a miserable Nazi occupation during WWII and a long-drawn Soviet military stay on Bornholm in 1945-46, Denmark persistently protects its sovereignty and national pride elsewhere. Denmark joined NATO on special conditions, then the EEC only after securing a special position of its agricultural sector in the common market, and, finally, they accepted membership in the EU with opt-outs. However, if the other opt-outs are about politics and economics, the citizenship opt-out is about identity – the sentiment being: Danes should be citizens of Denmark and of nothing else. If other member states would revive the idea of a common citizenship, Denmark would still be protected against it by its own opt-out and not by the Amsterdam Agreement.

It would be a mistake, however, to think that Danes are against the European integration project. They are not (and the second referendum proved that). But they are for it as long as it is a common market, not the United States of Europe. As long as their “Rosebud” citizenship sleigh is protected and acknowledged, but still remains a bit of a mystery.

By: Nikita Pliusnin

Illustration: Amelie Lutz

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