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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

Danish authorities can send sirens to phones with new alert system

A new digital warning system takes effect in Denmark from April.

Danish authorities can send sirens to phones with new alert system

Each May, Denmark tests the physical sirens that authorities can use to warn the population if there is an emergency situation.

That system will next month be supplemented by a digital version that will enable Danish authorities to send siren sounds and warning messages to smartphones, broadcaster DR reports.

With the new system, which is named S!RENEN, authorities will be able to send emergency messages to all phones within a selected local, regional or national area without those phones needing any specific apps to receive them.

“With this system we have a way to send out warnings that goes straight to the individual’s mobile phone and as well as being able to hear the physical sirens, the message will state what’s happened,” director of the Danish Fire Services (Beredskabsstyrelsen) Laila Reenberg told DR.

The messages will be one-way and so it will not be possible to reply to them. The siren noise they will make can be switched off by tapping the message.

The text of the messages can include safety advice and instructions as well as information about the situation.

Authorities do not receive data about mobile devices or their locations when the messages are sent.

“You don’t go in to the individual’s phone. It’s just a signal that goes in and not a registration of any kind,” Reenberg said.

The launch of the system will mean Denmark comes in line with a 2018 EU directive requiring the ability to warn all residents within the EU via their mobile phones in the event of a crisis or catastrophe.

Denmark’s version of the system will enable foreign SIM-cards within the affected area to receive an English-language version of the message.

The messages will go through to telephones even if they are set to silent or flight mode.

Because children with phones will also receive the messages, parents should consider speaking to kids about the possibility of receiving one, according to the head of the national parents’ association FOLA.

“You should start by saying to them that this was decided a long time before the war in Ukraine broke out, so remember to underline that it’s not because a war has broken out close to them that they are getting this alarm,” Signe Nielsen of FOLA, which provided input in the development of the system, told DR.

“We asked ourselves if we would be happy if our children didn’t get these messages, and we wouldn’t. They also need to know if there’s something like poisonous smoke and they have to go inside and find an adult,” she said.

An information campaign for the public, including children, is set to take place before the system launches in April.

READ ALSO: Danish authorities issue information to Ukrainians ahead of annual siren test

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