Five burning questions after Denmark’s EU 'no'

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Justin Cremer - [email protected]
Five burning questions after Denmark’s EU 'no'
A People's Movement Against the EU poster. Photo: Nils Meilvang/Scanpix

After Danes solidly rejected the idea of dropping one of their four European Union opt-outs in a referendum held on Thursday, The Local looks at the possible ramifications of the result.


1. Just why did Danes say ’no’?
On Friday, there was plenty of blame to go around among the five pro-EU parties that supported replacing Denmark’s opt-out on EU justice rules with an ‘opt-in’ model. One of the biggest criticisms is that the referendum was simply too complicated and technical. 
Nearly everyone – voters and parties that backed the 'no' vote alike – agrees that Denmark should remain a part of Europol, the EU's law enforcement agency that tackles organized crime, trafficking and terrorism.
But the ‘yes’ camp, led by Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen, was forced to admit on Friday that by making the referendum about the adoption of 22 specific acts of legislation, they may have gone too far. 
“I can see and hear from Danes that if we had just asked about Europol, they would have said yes. But the Danes were afraid that a ‘yes’ would be a slippery slope [toward accepting other EU policies],” the PM said on Friday morning. 
Many Danes simply did not believe the assurances of the PM and others that the referendum wasn’t a back door to Copenhagen ceding more and more power to Brussels. 
2. Will Denmark be able to remain a part of Europol?
The answer to this question depends very much on who you ask. The parties who advocated a ‘no’ in the referendum believe that Denmark will be able to strike a parallel agreement allowing it to remain a part of Europol. They argue that the other 27 EU countries will find it in their interest to keep Denmark a part of the agency. 
The pro-EU parties that wanted Danes to vote ‘yes’ in Thursday’s referendum don’t completely rule out the idea that Denmark can strike a parallel agreement on Europol, but they warn that it will be such a long and complicated process that the Nordic nation risks being on the outside looking in – at least for a period of time – when the agency begins operating on the supranational level on April 1st 2017. 
3. Could the ‘no’ lead to the Danish People’s Party joining the government?
A difference in opinions on the EU played a large part in the anti-immigration Danish People’s Party (DF) not joining the Venstre government despite becoming the largest ‘blue bloc’ party in June’s election. 
Now that Danes have handed PM Lars Løkke Rasmussen and Venstre a resounding defeat, there is speculation that his party will have to move closer to DF on European issues. DF leader Kristian Thulesen Dahl has floated the notion that if the two parties can find common ground there, DF would be open to joining Rasmussen’s cabinet. Whether the PM wants to bring DF on board is another issue, particularly after debates between the two parties in the run-up to the election bordered on ugly. 
4. What will this mean for Denmark’s immigration and asylum policies?
Although immigration and asylum were not technically part of the referendum – the five ‘yes’ parties made it clear that those areas would continue to be handled by Copenhagen and not Brussels – the current refugee situation nonetheless played a major role in the referendum. 
The ‘no’ camp argued that by scrapping the EU justice affairs opt-out, Denmark would ultimately end up adopting European asylum policies, including the potential participation in a quota-based redistribution plan. 
Although Rasmussen gave Danes a “guarantee” that any acceptance of European asylum polices would result in another referendum, DF was able to tap into fears that Denmark could be forced to accept obligatory EU refugee quotas as Europe struggles to cope with a massive influx of people fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia.
Rasmussen had argued that with Denmark’s opt-out, the Nordic nation risks being on the outside looking in if and when the EU renegotiates the Dublin Regulation. If those talks end with a plan that includes a redistribution of refugees, Denmark’s parallel agreement on the regulation would leave it with a take it or leave it option. If Denmark goes along with plans for a revised Dublin Regulation, it could receive more refugees. If it were to reject a revised Dublin Regulation, it would be unable to send refugees back to other European countries. 
5. What does this mean for Denmark’s relationship with the EU?
Henning Bang Fuglsang, a legal expert on EU affairs at the University of Southern Denmark, said the nation faces a “giant” diplomatic dilemma after the referendum rejection, as Denmark will now need to convince the other EU nations to accommodate its wish to remain in Europol.
“We really need to find some friends in the EU, because if the EU Commission doesn’t want to go along with negotiating a parallel agreement, we won’t get anywhere. We’ll be finished,” Fuglsang told Ritzau. 
With Europe’s outer borders under pressure and a growing sense that the Schengen cooperation and the Dublin Regulation have essentially broken down, Denmark may face an EU that doesn’t feel like bending over backwards to accommodate a small, Eurosceptic nation. 
“One can easily imagine that the EU will look at Denmark and say: This is your own problem,” Fuglsang said. 
The idea of ending Denmark’s opt-out on defence affairs had also recently been floated, but the clear no from Danes on justice affairs has almost certainly killed off that idea for the foreseeable future.   
Denmark was granted four opt-outs from the 1992 Maastricht Treaty: defence; justice and home affairs; the maintaining of the kroner rather than the euro; and an opt-out on citizenship rules that was cancelled out by the Amsterdam Treaty that took effect in 1999. 


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