Scandinavia & the EU

The Danes might have to vote in a new EU referendum at the beginning of the next year, government spokespeople have confirmed. But the referendum will be on something less important than one of the four Danish opt-outs, which include Justice, Euro cooperation, Defense and Citizenship.

The new referendum, which technically comes under the Justice opt-out, is about the EU’s patent legislation and patent court.

Under Danish law, 80% of the parliament members have to vote ‘yes’ whenever Denmark gives more sovereignty to the EU, or else a referendum is needed. In this case making a newly established EU court determine Danish law falls under ‘giving up sovereignty’.

On the patent court issue, the two EU skeptic parliament groups, the semi-communist Red-Green Alliance and the right-wing nationalist Danish People’s Party, have already flagged that their members will vote ‘no’, making a referendum look unavoidable.

A common European patent court is supposed to make a patent application easier and cheaper as companies would only have to apply in one place instead of in 25 countries. The arrangement should increase Europe’s competitiveness against for example the U.S.

The patent court has been one of Denmark’s priorities in the past years. After 30 years of discussions where the headquarters of a new potential patent court should be located, EU leaders finally agreed during the Danish EU presidency in June 2012 to set up the headquarters for a new patent court in Paris with two departments in Munich and London.

Government spokespeople have already said that they would prefer the referendum at the beginning of 2014 and not make it part of the European Parliament elections in May next year. A separate referendum would cost the taxpayers around €15 million. Furthermore, if the turnout of the referendum will be less than 40%, the outcome will be considered as rejected.

Commentators have said that Denmark, despite its opt-out, could still technically come under the patent legislation without a referendum. The only thing where the Scandinavian country will only be left out on having national judges making court rulings in Paris (a truly laughable problem as national identities of judges shouldn’t have an effect on the outcome of a ruling in theory nor practise, no?).

“I really don’t want to start speculations on when an EU referendum should take place. I just think this is a principal discussion of when it really is necessary to disturb the Danish population on something which has such a technical character and at the same time is so unambiguous in Danish interests,” Camilla Hersom, EU spokesperson for the government party the Social-Liberals, told the daily Politiken.

The newspaper, Denmark’s biggest, also wrote in a column: “The politicians from the Red-Green Alliance and the Danish People’s Party really owe us an explanation on, why they want to use voters’ time on a referendum on an issue which clearly lives up to one thing which should be something they prioritise: job creation.”

The only word I can think up to describe the situation and the potential referendum is “ridiculous”.

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