Why Denmark won't try to follow the UK out of the EU

The Local Denmark
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Why Denmark won't try to follow the UK out of the EU
Photo: Bjørn Wylezich/Iris/Scanpix

With Brexit a reality, many point to Denmark as being the next country to follow suit but Danish experts say they are wrong.


As Europe woke up to the reality of Brexit on Thursday, much of the chatter centred on which countries might follow suit. Denmark is often suggested as a likely candidate, but a recent survey has shown Danes are far more positive about the EU than many believe.

The survey, carried out by broadcaster DR’s Undersøgende Databaseredaktion (Investigative Database Editorial Team), collated results from 40 years’ worth of annual opinion polls carried out by Eurobarometer in EU countries.

Even though Danes have a record of voting against the EU in referenda – most recently in December 2015’s vote on retaining exemption from legal clauses – the survey shows that their overall view of the EU is becoming more positive.

The study results show that, since the beginning of the 1990s, most other member countries have become more sceptical while Denmark has become more positive towards the EU.

In 1990, only 40 percent of Danes responded positively to Denmark’s membership of the EU, while this number was up to 60 percent in 2015.

See also: Five reasons Denmark should want Britain to stay in the EU

“This change in the Danish viewpoint is generally an unnoticed success story for the EU,” Catharina Sørensen, head of research with the Think Tank Europa (Tænketanken Europa), which was founded by the Danish Chamber of Commerce and trade union association CO-industri, told DR.

“It is characteristic of political debate to always say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the EU [...] but voters have moved away from that debate,” Sørensen continued. “We are certainly still sceptical, but that hard form of scepticism relating to membership has evolved since the 1990s. Politically, we are locked into a yes-no debate. But voters left that behind a long time ago.”

Jørgen Goul Andersen, a political science professor at Aalborg University, told DR that while Danish EU-scepticism does exist, its form is fundamentally different from that seen in the United Kingdom. This means it is unlikely that Denmark will follow the UK's lead and vote to leave the union, he said.

The potential of Denmark being encouraged to leave the EU by a British ‘yes’ vote, given the Scandinavian nation’s form for voting against pro-EU motions in its own referenda, has been cited as a possible knock-on effect of Brexit.

Nigel Farage, leader of the nationalist and strongly anti-EU UK Independence Party, has claimed that Denmark would be at the head of the queue to follow the UK out of the EU should the ‘Leave’ campaign prevail.

Meanwhile, anti-Brexit voices have voiced concerns that the EU would be unlikely to give Britain favourable trade deals or free movement agreements after Brexit for fear of countries like Denmark following suit.

Last week, former Danish PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt expressed opposite views to Farage, saying that she believes most Danes want to remain in the EU, even if they generally vote against closer ties.

“Everyone knows that the EU is not perfect, but deep down I think a lot of Danish know how much we gain economically, culturally in terms of our freedom by being part of the EU,” Spectator magazine reports Schmidt as saying at an event in London.

Andersen told DR that underlying attitudes towards Europe partly explained the difference in Danish and British perceptions of the EU.

“The British and Danish are often compared [with regard to the EU],” said Andersen. “But the British are chronically incorrigible. They will never be good Europeans. But Danes are actually good Europeans. There was a shift during the 1990s, when many of the old EU countries became more negative. But we have made big steps forward and become significantly more positive.”

“It’s gone unnoticed. It’s completely impossible to get through to mainstream debate the fact that Danes – compared with others – are very good Europeans,” continued Andersen.


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