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21st Jul 2019

Denmark says No to more EU, casts shadow on UK vote

  • Campaign poster: 'More EU? No Thanks' (Photo: EUobserver)

Danish voters, on Thursday (3 December), responded with a clear No when asked to integrate deeper with the European Union.

The referendum resulted in a large majority - 53.1 percent No, against 46.9 percent Yes - refusing to join EU justice and home affairs policies. Denmark opted out from this part of EU policy when ratifying the Maastricht treaty 22 years ago.

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  • Dahl promised that a separate referendum could be held on Europol (Photo: EUobserver)

"People wanted to stay in control, and I have great respect for this,” said Liberal prime minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen.

Loekke Rasmussen phoned EU commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and Council president Donald Tusk on Thursday evening and plans to start talks in Brussels on 11 December to secure a parallel deal regarding future Danish participation in Europol, the EU’s joint police body.

Loekke Rasmussen also invited all political parties in the Danish parliament for one-to-one talks on Monday, in order to digest the referendum result and formulate a new Europe policy.

"I have already indicated my support for [UK prime minister] Cameron and his talks ahead of a British referendum to secure continued membership of the EU. We have a strong ally in Great Britain to reform the EU," the Danish PM said.

Brexit link

The Danish referendum campaign saw little attention from abroad, but the result could impact the Brexit referendum campaign.

"The result opens a completely new agenda in Europe, an agenda of less EU. For the first time, we can have a debate about the possibility of returning sovereignty to member states from the EU," Soeren Espersen, the eurosceptic Danish People's Party's foreign affairs spokesperson, told EUobserver.

"I will recommend Loekke [Danish PM] to contact British PM David Cameron already tomorrow morning and initiate co-operation between a larger group of EU countries that share this agenda of less EU," said Danish MEP Morten Messerschmidt, from the Danish People's Party, which sits with the Tories in the European Parliament.

“I’m sure some will try and use the Danish opt-out vote, but the vote was about deeper integration into the EU on a very specific area, while the UK referendum is about leaving the EU entirely. That is a very different thing," Richard Corbett, a British MEP from the opposition Labour party noted.

"Had the Danish referendum been about leaving the EU, the result would have been very difficult.”

New Europol referendum

The No-campaign was backed by four parties: the People's Movement against the EU, which advocates an EU exit; the red-green alliance; the new, business-oriented Liberal Alliance; and the Danish People's Party.

But the main winner of Thursday's vote is the Danish People’s Party, the second biggest party in parliament and a key ally of the government.

Party leader Kristian Thulesen Dahl wants Denmark to be a full member of Europol, also when it becomes a supranational organisation from 2017 onward.

He promised during the campaign that a separate referendum could be held on Europol if needed and that his party would advocate a Yes.

A large majority in parliament, including the Liberal governing party, as well as the Social Democrat opposition, also say Yes.

Their campaigns, ahead of Thursday, urged Danes to help police battle cyber-crime, paedophilia, and human trafficking by voting Yes and told Danes they would be forced to leave the EU's police co-operation Europol if they voted No.

Many Danes want their country to be a full member of Europol, but the government chose to bundle the issue with the general justice opt-out, and lost.

In general the No-votes came from rural areas, while urbanites voted Yes.

There was also a generational divide, with many young people voting No, while many of the over 60-years of age voted Yes.

The turn-out was high, on 72 percent.

EU offers Denmark backdoor to Europol

Denmark's government and political parties are examining a draft agreement that would secure links with Europol starting May 2017, in a follow-up to a referendum last year that rejected full membership into the EU law enforcement agency.

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