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

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

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

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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Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Brexit really does mean that Britons are no longer EU citizens. Claudia Delpero looks at whether there's any other way they can keep their rights.

Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Britons lost EU citizenship when the UK left the EU, on 1st February 2020. 

It is the first time the EU’s top court has rules on the matter, after a number of legal cases challenged this specific Brexit outcome. The decision also sets a precedent should other countries decide to leave the bloc in the future. 

What has the EU Court decided?

The Court of Justice decided on a case brought by a British woman living in France.

Before Brexit, she could vote and stand as a candidate in her town of residence, Thoux. But after the UK withdrawal from the EU, she was removed from the electoral roll and excluded from the municipal elections that took place in March 2020, during the transition period.  

As the mayor refused her appeal to restore the registration, she took the case to the regional court in Auch, which agreed to request an interpretation of the rules to the EU top court. 

Julien Fouchet, the barrister supporting her and several other cases on the EU citizenship of British nationals, argued that the loss of EU citizenship and voting rights was disproportionate. It would also be contrary to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, given that the woman also lost her voting rights in the UK, having lived abroad for more than 15 years.

Alice Bouillez, who has lived in France since 1984 and is married to a French national, could have applied for French citizenship, but did not do so because she said “this was not necessary” before Brexit and, as a former UK official, she had taken an oath of allegiance to the Queen.

On Thursday the Court of Justice announced the decision about her case. The court ruled that the “possession of the nationality of a member state is an essential condition for a person to be able to acquire and retain the status of citizen of the Union and to benefit fully from the rights attaching to that status.”

The court therefore confirmed that British nationals automatically lost their EU citizenship as a result of Brexit and, as a consequence, Britons also lost their voting and electoral rights in municipal elections in the EU (unless the country where they live set different rules). 

What is EU citizenship?

EU citizenship was introduced by the Treaty of Maastricht of 1992, when borders were opening and the bloc was integrating economically after the end of the Cold War. 

Under the treaty, every person holding the nationality of an EU member state is a citizen of the Union. EU citizenship is additional and does not replace nationality, the treaty specifies. But this creates the first form of a transnational citizenship that grants rights across borders.

EU citizens have the right to access each other’s territory, job market and services under the principle of non-discrimination. If they are economically active, they have the right to reside in other EU states and be joined by family members, access healthcare at the same conditions of nationals (for emergency treatment also when travelling temporarily), obtain social security benefits and see their professional qualifications recognised.

Beyond free movement, at the core of EU citizenship there are also political rights, such as participating in the European Parliament election, voting and standing as candidates in municipal elections when living in other EU countries, receiving consular protection from other EU states outside the EU, and taking part in European Citizens’ Initiatives asking to the EU to legislate on certain matters. 

Which EU citizenship rights have Britons lost with Brexit? 

For British citizens who were living in the EU before Brexit, the Withdrawal Agreement protects some of these rights. Britons covered by deal have their residence, access to work and education, healthcare, social security and qualifications secured, but only in the country where they were living before Brexit.

But the right to free movement in other EU states, consular protection in third countries, and the political rights attached to EU citizenship were lost, the Court confirmed. 

For British citizens in the UK, the trade and cooperation agreement has preserved some social security rights and, in theory, the possibility to have professional qualifications recognized when moving to an EU country. These provisions however lack details and may take a long time before they work in practice. 

As the “European Union” no longer features on British passports, the possibility to access EU lanes at airports to skip passport control queues has also vanished. 

“The loss of those treasured rights has been clear to those of us living in the EU from the early days of Brexit. But for Brits in the UK, the realities of life outside the EU, and the consequences of Brexit, are only just dawning. Long queues at the borders, roaming charges, obstacles to working abroad, etc. are the new reality,” said Sue Wilson, Chair of the group Remain in Spain. 

While she said the court’s decision was “no real surprise,” she argued that “this is not the Brexit the public were promised, or that the majority voted for.”

Can British citizens get some of these rights back?

Julien Fouchet was disappointed at the Court decision and promised to continue the legal fight, bringing the case at the European Court of Human Rights (which is not an EU institution). 

Other two cases on the matter of EU citizenship for British nationals are still pending at the Court of Justice of the EU. One of them aims to determine whether EU citizenship is a “fundamental status” that cannot be removed but Thursday’s decision could have already provided the answer.

Another option to reconsider some of the rights is the renegotiation of EU-UK trade agreement, when it will be reviewed in 2025. 

Meanwhile, the EU is revising the rules for non-EU citizens living in EU countries on a long-term basis, making it easier to move across borders. 

Applying for citizenship is so far the only option to regain voting rights, although not all EU countries allow dual nationality. 

Sue Wilson, who has long campaigned for the UK to stay in the EU, said: “There is only one way to restore the loss of our rights, and that’s to rejoin the single market, rejoin the customs union, and eventually, rejoin the European Union… Until that day, we will continue to be second class citizens whose rights have been diminished for the sake of an ideology.”