Exposing a leaky Danish defence

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Last week’s Nordic Travel Retail Seminar in Copenhagen   was another solid regional conference with plenty of strong content from across the industry. But the biggest talking point was probably the contribution of Marianne Jelved (above), who will forever be remembered as Denmark’s Economics Minister when her country struck the fatal blow that consigned intra-EU duty free to abolition ten years ago.

While the rest of the then 15-member state EU voted in favour of an extension of duty free, Denmark was the sole voice against, and used that vote to consign intra-EU duty free to history. Ten years on, the Nordic Travel Retail Group marked the anniversary by inviting Jelved back in front of an industry audience – and her arguments last week sounded as hollow as they did ten years back.

She said: “Duty free was a subsidy provided by EU governments,” she said, and “although leaders such as Blair, Jospin and Schroeder were Social Democrats and had no problem with state subsidies, in Denmark we did.

“I was, and remain, a strong believer that successful business relies on the free movement of goods, people and services across borders. Duty free was an anomaly in achieving that goal.”

Yet, when challenged about the intended goal of creating a single market within the EU, including a cross-border harmonisation of tax regimes (a key rationale behind the move towards abolition), Jelved, admitted that little had been achieved – nor did it appear likely to happen soon in today’s 27-member state EU.

She praised the power of the campaign, and the industry’s right to fight it – “It’s not very often that a Danish Minister appears on the front page of a British Tabloid, so I thank you for that,” she said – but she remained unrepentant about the decision.

Asked if she had any regrets, Jelved answered with a firm ‘No’. Yet duty free remains a part of her life today, even as she withdraws from the political arena.

“I still love buying my Irish whiskey, and I’m still a customer.” Had Jelved supported the trade with her ministerial voice a decade back, and duty free been retained, that bottle of whiskey might look a lot better value today.

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