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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Danish court convicts suspected pirate for attack on sailors

A Copenhagen court on Monday found a suspected Nigerian pirate guilty of endangering the lives of Danish navy sailors in a firefight in the Gulf of Guinea but did not punish him.

Danish court convicts suspected pirate for attack on sailors

The Nigerian, who has not been identified, was arrested in November last year when the Danish frigate Esbern Snare was patrolling international waters off Nigeria to protect merchant ships.

Its sailors attempted to board a suspected pirate vessel from a helicopter and a firefight ensued.

The suspect received leg injuries and was brought to Denmark to receive medical care, the first time the Scandinavian country has transferred a piracy suspect to its territory.

He was put on trial after needing a leg ampution and had faced up to one and a half years in prison, but prosecutors did not charge him with piracy.

Three other suspects were detained after the fight but later released. Four others were killed and a fifth fell overboard, the Danish authorities said.

The prosecution did not accuse the defendant of firing on the Danish sailors but argued that as a member of the suspected pirate gang, he had “caused imminent danger to the lives of the Danish helicopter crew”.

Defence lawyer Jesper Storm Thygesen argued that his client should be acquitted because the Danish navy had fired first.

The court found the man guilty but ruled against handing down any punishment because of his health and his suspected accomplices had been released.

The individual will remain in custody until at least December 20th when the
deadline for appeal expires.

The Gulf of Guinea, which stretches 5,700 kilometres from Senegal to Angola, has been a troubled area for shipping companies.

In 2020, there were 115 skirmishes in the region, according to the Maritime Information Cooperation and Awareness Center.

That fell to 52 in 2021 and to 20 since the start of 2022.

READ ALSO: Denmark to commence trial of suspected pirate