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MILITARY

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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MILITARY

Defence minister would welcome Nato troops in Danish port city

Denmark’s Minister of Defence Morten Bødskov said on Friday he wants to increase the viability of west coast port Esbjerg for use by military alliance Nato, including troops from the United States.

Defence minister would welcome Nato troops in Danish port city

Bødskov visited West Jutland city Esbjerg on Friday as part of considerations over a potential extension of the city’s port, the Ministry of Justice said.

The port city, which also played host to this week’s green energy meetings, has been flagged as the site of a new mustering point for Nato and especially United States military forces, according to a press release from the Ministry of Defence. 

“Russia’s terrible attack on Ukraine makes it very clear that Denmark must live up to expectations that we can act as a host country for allies who want to go through Denmark,” Bødskov said in the statement.

The ministry said that the United States in particular has shown interest in making more use of Esbjerg harbour.

Such use would be part of operations in which the city’s port would be used to transport military personnel and hardware to the Baltic Sea region including the Baltic countries.

Esbjerg Harbour has been used by the American military on a number of previous occasions in relation to exercises, while hardware and personnel have previously travelled through the city.

“Esbjerg Harbour has an attractive location in relation to supporting our Nato allies – particularly the United States – with the deployment of things like hardware in the Baltic Sea region,” he said.

“It’s a good opportunity for Denmark to provide support to countries that send reinforcements to maintain security for all of us,” he said.

The exact plans for the harbour – and their cost – are currently unconfirmed.

Preliminary work at the location will include environmental approvals, which must first be prepared. The Defence Ministry did not give clear detail as to what this process entails.

An extension of the harbour is expected to be complete by the end of 2023, however.

READ ALSO: Denmark begins largest military deployment in 23 years

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