Tuesday

22nd Jan 2019

Danes to vote on EU relations in December referendum

  • To be, or not to be part of Europol? (Photo: Ray Forster)

Danish PM, Lars Loekke Rasmussen, announced on Friday (21 August) a referendum on replacing Denmark's “opt-out” on EU justice and home affairs with an “opt-in” model, similar to the one used by Ireland and the UK.

The decision to hold the referendum - on 3 December 2015 - follows a political agreement between five parties in parliament - the Liberal Party, the Conservative Party, the Social Democrats, the Social Liberals, and the Socialist People's Party - from 10 December 2014.

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  • Announced on a hot Friday afternoon, the public debate on the referendum is yet to start in earnest (Photo: quietdangst)

Under its opt-out, which dates back to 1993, Denmark automatically stays out of all supra-national EU justice and home affairs policy and doesn’t take part in EU Council votes in these areas.

The EU dossier was slim in the early 1990s.

But it has ballooned since then, including on EU police and judicial co-operation and on migration, with Denmark still on the outside.

A Yes vote in December will let Denmark, in future, choose which home affairs policies and laws it takes part in.

It will also let Denmark agree specific legislation in the area without the need for further referendums.

The Yes-parties have already identified 22 existing EU initiatives they want Denmark to opt into.

They’ve also promised Denmark won’t take part in 10 other EU initiatives - including the hot-button issue of asylum and immigration.

Big shift

The Yes would mark Denmark’s first important shift in EU relations since Danes, in a referendum, soundly rejected eurozone membership.

In a less signigicant step, Danish voters, at the same time as the EU elections last May, agreed to join the EU's Unified Patent Court.

Announced on a hot Friday afternoon, the public debate on the referendum is yet to start in earnest.

But the last opinion polls, from June, show Yes on 53 percent, No on 24 percent, and 23 percent undecided.

For its part, the second largest party in the Folketinget, the Danish People's Party, is to campaign for a No.

It is critical of the EU and hostile to immigration. It sits with UK tories in the European Parliament and will be the major force in the No-side.

Trump card

It also has a trump card: Its European Parliament candidate in 2014, Morten Messerschmidt, won with an unprecedented 465,758 personal votes in a country of just 5.6 million people.

The leftist Red-Green alliance will also campaign on the No-side, saying Denmark must have full sovereignty on divorce, child custody, and criminal sentencing, among other topics.

Its EU spokesperson, Pernille Skipper, noted that Denmark doesn’t share values with some other EU states.

"The European Union includes countries banning abortion or so-called homosexual propaganda. The vote is thus about much more than Europol, contrary to what the EU-rave parties claim”, she said.

The Yes side has chosen Europol as the corner stone of its campaign.

The pro-Yes parties’ compromise agreement says: “Currently, the Council is negotiating a revision of the regulation on Europol. Once adopted under the new rules of the Lisbon Treaty, Denmark can no longer participate in this co-operation”.

"The perspective of Denmark having to leave Europol is the main reason behind the agreement to hold a referendum”.

Norwegian model

But the No side says Denmark could continue Europol co-operation via a voluntary parallel agreement, on the Norwegian model.

Europol is the European Union’s joint police agency.

Headquartered in The Hague, it works closely with law enforcement bodies in EU member states, as well as in Australia, Canada, Norway, and the US.

By choosing to have the Danish poll on 3 December, the PM, Loekke Rasmussen, will, for the most part, avoid getting the campaign mixed up with the UK’s referendum on EU membership.

An EU summit on 17 December is expected to discuss in greater details the UK prime minister, David Cameron's demands for EU reforms in the run-up to the British vote, due at the latest in 2017.

Populist surge topples Danish PM

Thorning-Schmidt has stepped down as Denmark's PM after elections Thursday saw the right-wing bloc win, and a surge in popularity for the populist Danish People's Party.

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