COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Historically skeptical of European Union efforts to deepen cooperation, Danish voters on Wednesday will choose to abandon the country’s decision three decades ago to withdraw from the bloc’s common defense policy.
The Danish referendum is the latest example of European countries seeking closer defense ties with allies in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It follows historic bids by Sweden and Finland to join NATO – something that will be discussed at a summit next month.
Denmark’s membership in EU defense policy would have a relatively modest impact on the European security architecture, especially compared to Sweden’s and Finland’s membership in NATO. But Christine Nissen, a researcher at the Danish Institute for International Studies, said the two movements were “part of the same story” and would boost military cooperation on a continent stunned by war in Ukraine.
She said the main effect of dropping the opt-out decision would be that Danish officials could remain in the room when their EU colleagues discussed defense matters and Danish forces could participate in military operations. of the block.
Denmark, a founding member of NATO, has remained on the sidelines of EU efforts to build a common security and defense policy alongside the transatlantic alliance. It was one of four opt-out measures the Danes insisted on before adopting the EU’s Maastricht Treaty, which laid the foundations for political and economic union.
The 1992 waiver meant that Denmark did not participate in EU discussions on defense policy, its development and acquisition of military capabilities and joint military operations, such as those in Africa and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The Danes have also opted out of EU cooperation in the areas of justice and home affairs, common currency and citizenship. The citizenship opt-out decision, which stated that European citizenship would not replace national citizenship, has since become moot as other members subsequently took the same position. But the other provisions remain intact despite the efforts of successive governments to overturn them.
In a referendum in 2000, Danish voters decided to stay out of the eurozone and 15 years later voted to keep the justice and home affairs exemption.
This time, however, the Danes seem ready to say goodbye to abandoning the common defence.
Social Democratic Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen called for a referendum on March 8, less than two weeks after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine on February 24. She called on citizens to vote ‘yes’ to abolishing the exception, saying it will strengthen our security.”
“I’m voting for scrapping the opt-out,” said Peter Jakobsen, a 61-year-old pharmacist in Copenhagen. “We must not stay outside. We are in the EU and we must be involved. We must make a difference.”
But Sanne Michelsen, a 52-year-old client in Copenhagen, said she saw no point in suddenly joining EU defense policy after years on the outside.
“This is an opt-out referendum that has never been a problem for us,” she said in her native Danish, before turning to English to add. “If it is not broke, do not fix it.”
The “yes” camp is clearly ahead in the polls, with around 40% in favor of abandoning the exemption and 30% against. About a quarter of voters say they are still undecided.
There is broad support for abandoning the decision to opt out of the defense in parliament. Only three small parties want to maintain it, two on the right and one on the left.