Sunday

21st Jan 2018

Danish referendum: Young voters want EU at arm's length

  • The ruling Liberal party created a poster with a blonde police woman (Photo: EUobserver)

Danes head to the polling stations on Thursday (3 December) for their eighth EU referendum since a majority voted Yes to join the club back in 1972.

So far, they voted five time Yes and two times No, with a narrow lead for the No side this time around.

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  • "More EU? No Thanks" read posters from Danish People's Party. (Photo: EUobserver)

A Gallup poll published on Saturday in the Berlingske Tidende daily showed 38 percent intend to vote No, with 34 percent Yes, and 23 percent undecided.

Maastricht Treaty

You need to go back to the Maastricht treaty referendum over 20 years ago to find the reason for this week's plebiscite.

Maastricht was initially rejected by the Danes in 1992.

In order to save the entire treaty, Denmark, at a summit in Edinburgh, was offered a handful of treaty-based opt-outs, preserving Danish sovereignty over EU-policy areas, such as the euro and justice and home affairs.

The Maastricht treaty was then approved together with the opt-outs in a re-run of the vote in 1993.

European Union legislation in the area of justice and home affairs has ballooned in the 20 years which followed.

Today, it includes important areas such as cybercrime, trafficking, data protection, the Schengen free-travel system, refugee and asylum policy, and closer police co-operation on counter-terrorism.

Bound by the old treaty opt-out, Denmark automatically stays out of all the supra-national EU justice and home affairs policies and doesn’t take part in EU Council votes in these areas.

A frustrated majority in the Danish parliament, nick-named “Borgen” (The Castle), in August voted to call the referendum asking citizens to scrap the old arragement.

They wanted permission from voters to opt in to the justice and home affairs policies over time, without having to consult people, each time, in a referendum.

Crumbled Yes-majority

The Yes parties identified 22 existing EU initiatives they want Denmark to join right after a Yes vote.

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

The day after the referendum was announced, Gallup polled that a safe majority of 58 percent would vote Yes.

But something happened during the campaign.

First, the refugee crisis hardened public opinion.

Liberal prime minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen promised there would be a new referendum before Denmark ever joins EU refugee and asylum policies.

The move confused voters, who saw no reason to scrap the opt-out if Denmark was to stay out of key policies anyway.

Then more terror attacks hit Paris in November.

The Yes camp said Denmark must scrap the opt-outs to fully co-operate with Europol.

The Social Democrats chose "Help the Police, Vote Yes,” as their campaign slogan, which was printed on posters and hung on lampposts all over the country.

The ruling Liberal party made a poster with a blonde police-woman and the message: "Strengthen Denmark's police - vote Yes.”

But voters found it hard to believe that Europol would not work with Denmark after a No, since it found a way to work with Norway and Switzerland, which aren’t even EU members.

The undecided

Less than a week before the vote, up to 48 percent of people told Gallup they don’t think they know enough and that politicians have not explained the issues well enough. As many as 23 percent are still undecided.

"I see myself as a world citizen and I don't like the ring-fencing of Europe. But should I then vote Yes or No? I can't quite figure it out,” one voter, Hanne Herlin, told EUobserver.

"I'll vote as the MP I trust the most does, since I don't know myself," said Anders Hesselvig.

Hesselvig is a young man who supports Liberal Alliance, a new business-oriented party, which is recommending a No vote.

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

Both parties are doing well among younger, more global-minded Danes, and it looks like they might tip the balance towards a No on Thursday.

According to the Gallup poll, among Danes aged 18-35, 41 percet plan to vote No and 23 percent plan to vote Yes. In contrast, among Danes aged 60 and over, 47 percent plan to vote Yes and 34 percent plan to vote No.

The Danish Peoples Party, which is eurosceptic and anti-immigrant, also contributes its share of No votes. It has the most loyal voters of all the parties, with 72 percent normally toeing the party line.

Its European Parliament candidate in 2014, Morten Messerschmidt, won an unprecedented 465,758 personal votes in a country of just 5.6 million people.

He was expected to play a prominent role in the No campaign.

But his image suffered when the European Parliament, in November, ordered him to return €16,000 which he allegedly mis-spent on renting a boat for a political summer cruise around Denmark.

“I will ask the EU Parliament’s bureau to immediately go through all the campaigns and adverts of other European parties,” he commented, but so far has refused to publish his full accounts.

Brexit battle

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

With a few exceptions, Brussels authorities have also refrained from getting involved in the Danish debate.

But a No vote in the Danish EU referendum on Thursday could impact the British debate.

"In the UK, we will be very interested in the debate and the outcome,” Nigel Farage, the leader of Ukip, a British eurosceptic party, told Politiken.

An EU summit on 17 December is to discuss in greater detail the UK prime minister, David Cameron's demands for EU reform 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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