Measured on any political or economic scale, Denmark has done well out of its membership in the EU. There are many examples: the freedom of movement of labour, goods and capital, the internal market, the common environmental policy, cooperation on research and innovation, and the fight against terrorism and cross-border crime, to mention only a few.

However, with Europe gripped by crisis for some years now, scepticism towards the EU is growing. Some cautious observers, in Denmark and in other European countries, are worried that the project may not be as wise as was once thought.

It's not the EU, though, that has caused the economic problems. The crisis has been so protracted mainly because some European countries have welfare structures that are too big, too expensive and too inefficient, and that have failed to keep up with the times. Several countries have already made reforms, but the changes have usually been too few and too minor. To overcome the crisis, Denmark and other European countries must prepare themselves for what comes after the crisis. The more reforms to the rigid European welfare states, the better.

Rich paying the most

In these years of crisis, it is the rich countries of the EU who are paying the most for the negligence of the others. That is what has stirred up dissatisfaction among a group of reforming countries, including Denmark, which have made an effort to reduce their budgets and push through reforms to emerge from their own difficulties – and now have to pay to clean up the messes the others have created. The alternative to reforms is to end up in a condition like Greece, and that will be the end of Europe's hopes of becoming a power like the United States or China.

As Danish Minister for European Affairs Nicolai Wammen notes, there are strong reasons to reflect deeply on how Denmark can get the most out of cooperating with the rest of Europe. This is why an agreement on European policy has to be hammered out between the parties. It's an accurate judgment, and any such agreement must contain a clear strategy on how to make the EU more relevant to Denmark.

Need for a new plan

The need for action is urgent, especially as the prime minister [Helle Thorning-Schmidt] has stepped onto the stage with a bold initiative. The great Danish conservative-liberal party, Venstre, though, must also try to come up with some ideas, while recognising that it is the two major parties, the Social Democrats and the Liberals, who will carry the burden.

That is why the Social Democrat prime minister and her challenger, former prime minister and Lars Løkke Rasmussen (Liberal), should quickly reach a political agreement on long-term European policy in Denmark for the years ahead. Then they can bring in the other pro-European parties.

2013 will be a decisive year for the European Union. We just have to be ready with a plan that considers both how to ensure popular support for the EU, and how we can place ourselves at the heart of Europe.