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Denmark to hold referendum on scrapping EU defence opt-out

Danish prime minister Mette Frederiksen called on Sunday for citizens to vote to overturn Denmark’s opt-out from EU defence policy in a referendum to be held on June 1st, following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Danish prime minister Mette Frederiksen signs a 'national compromise' on defence
Danish prime minister Mette Frederiksen signs a 'national compromise' on defence with other party leaders, paving the way for a referendum on the country's EU defence opt-out. Photo: Emil Helms/Ritzau Scanpix

“Historic times call for historic decisions,” Frederiksen told a news conference, adding that the government “very clearly calls on Danes to lift the opt-out on defence”. 

Denmark’s opt-out, one of four EU special arrangements negotiated by the Scandinavian country, has seen it abstain from participation in EU military operations and from providing support or supplies to EU-led defence efforts.

“For me, as prime minister, this is a values-based decision,” Frederiksen said. 

The referendum is part of an agreement reached on Sunday with a majority of parties in Denmark’s parliament. These include the opposition Liberal and Conservative parties as well as the Social Liberals and Socialist People’s parties on the left, along with the governing Social Democrats.

The potential turnaround in the Nordic nation’s defence policy, in place for 30 years, comes as other European nations also overturned long-held positions on defence and security following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine on 24th February.

Non-NATO countries Sweden and Finland have both seen public support for joining the military alliance reach historically high levels since the start of the assault, and this week both governments announced closer partnership with NATO and with each other on defence.

Meanwhile German chancellor Olaf Scholz U-turned on decades of defence policy by announcing a €100 billion defence spending hike and sending weapons to Ukraine.

On Sunday Danish PM Frederiksen also pledged to increase defence spending by 7 billion kroner (€941 million) over the next two years.

Calling it the “largest investment in recent decades”, Frederiksen set out plans to increase spending to two percent of GDP, in line with NATO membership requirements, by 2033.

The Social Democrat leader also expressed a wish to make Denmark “independent of Russian gas as soon as possible”, but did not specify a time frame.

“We will also work towards this in the rest of Europe,” Frederiksen said.

The upcoming referendum will be the ninth to be held in the Scandinavian kingdom since the 1972 public vote on EU membership.

After the public rejected the Maastricht Treaty in June 1992, Copenhagen obtained opt-outs in four sovereign areas: the single currency, justice and police matters, defence and EU citizenship.

In December 2015, the Danes voted no to strengthening their cooperation with the European Union on police and security matters for fear of losing their sovereignty over immigration.

READ ALSO: Denmark initiates talks on boosted military spending

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NATO

Could Denmark benefit from Swedish and Finnish Nato membership?

Turkey has dropped its objections to Sweden and Finland joining Nato, paving the way for the two Nordic nations to join the North Atlantic defence alliance. Could Denmark benefit?

Could Denmark benefit from Swedish and Finnish Nato membership?

Sweden and Finland appear closer to joining Nato after a major stumbling block appeared to be cleared on Wednesday.

Nato on Wednesday evening said that the foreign ministers of Turkey, Sweden and Finland had all signed a trilateral memorandum which addressed “Türkiye’s legitimate security concerns”. 

Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that Nato leaders would as a result now be able to issue a formal invitation to Sweden and Finland to join the alliance. 

Denmark stands to gain political weight and status within the defence alliance once Sweden and Finland are members, a Danish military analyst said.

“From a security politics point of view, this would give a close Nordic alliance within Nato,” Hans Peter Michaelsen, military analyst at the University of Copenhagen’s Centre for Military Studies, told news wire Ritzau.

Swedish and Finnish Nato membership could also benefit Denmark militarily, he said.

“Denmark, Sweden and Finland could now support each other militarily,” he said.

“We can complement each other with our different strengths. We can begin to look at distributing burdens internally between the countries. I’m thinking of areas such as the Baltic Sea region here,” he said.

Sweden has a strong navy which is attentive to the Baltic Sea, he noted.

“That means that Nato will command an area where Russia otherwise perhaps did not feel threatened,” he said.

“That will make the Russians consider their future strategy in the region,” he said.

Stoltenberg also cited the Baltic Sea region following the withdrawal by Turkey of its objections.

“This changes the entire balance of power in the Baltic Sea and Baltic Region,” Stoltenberg said according to news wire Ritzau.

With Sweden and Finland in the alliance along with Denmark and the Baltic countries, Nato countries will control all sea access to the Baltic Sea and thereby Russian ports in the region.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: What is in Sweden’s deal with Turkey over Nato?

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