Denmark’s PM makes appeal over EU opt-out referendum as support for ‘yes’ vote dwindles

Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen on Tuesday urged Danes to vote ‘yes’ in an upcoming referendum that could see Denmark scrap its EU opt-out on defence and military.

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen in parliament on Moarch 22nd 2022
Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen in parliament on Moarch 22nd 2022. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

The government earlier this month announced a June 1st referendum in which citizens will decide whether to overturn Denmark’s opt-out from EU defence. The referendum was called following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

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

READ ALSO: Why does Denmark have four EU ‘opt-outs’ and what do they mean?

Frederiksen said that citizens should vote ‘yes’ to scrapping the opt-out, during debate in parliament.

“These times need togetherness, not opt-outs [Danish: sammenhold, ikke forbehold, ed.]. Partnership and not isolation. The Russia crisis is showing more than anything how important it is for Europe and the West to move closer together and take greater responsibility for our own safety,” she said.

A recent poll conducted by Voxmeter on behalf of news wire Ritzau shows dwindling support for revoking the opt-out amongst the Danish population.

38 percent of eligible voters would vote ‘yes’ to scrapping the opt-out, with 31 percent saying they would vote ‘no’ and 31 percent saying they didn’t know, according to the poll.

An earlier poll put 44 percent in favour of ending the opt-out. That support has therefore dropped by six points between polls.

Voters have twice previously voted against scrapping EU opt-outs, most recently in 2015.

Parliament has, in advance of the referendum, already voted to boost military spending significantly over the next decade.

“Denmark should always be ready to contribute in the future, even without the opt-out,” Frederiksen said.

The significance of the opt-out for Denmark is likely to grow in coming years as partnerships between EU member countries on areas such as military, cyber defence, training and joint purchasing of hardware increase.

The opt-out has been activated by Denmark at least 30 times since it was established in the 1993 following the Danish rejection of the Maastricht treaty. As a result, the country has not participated in various EU military missions in different parts of Africa, or a 2004 mission in the Balkan region, for example.

Frederiksen earlier said that scrapping the opt-out would send a strong signal from Denmark’s side and that this was a more important factor than the specific missions the country could participate in.

Denmark is already a NATO member.

Of the other political parties, only the far-right Nye Borgerlige and Danish People’s Party, and far-left Red Green Alliance are against scrapping the opt-out.

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Moderate party downplays importance of joining new Danish government 

After another round of negotiations with acting Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, Moderate leader Lars Løkke Rasmussen says it’s beside the point if his party joins Frederiksen’s vision of a ‘broad, central’ government.

Moderate party downplays importance of joining new Danish government 

Rasmussen, who was Prime Minister before Frederiksen when leader of the Liberal (Venstre) party, led the newly-formed Moderates into parliament in their first election on a platform of installing a centrist government.

The Moderates have a relatively strong hand in the negotiations with their 16 seats from 9.3 percent of the vote share in the election, which took place one month ago.

“For us, it’s not a separate ambition to be part of such a government,” Rasmussen said outside of the prime minister’s official residence at Marienborg on Wednesday.

“Whether we are in or not is less important. But we want to put ourselves in a position where we can influence the content. That’s what matters,” he said. 

“It strikes me that Mette Frederiksen and I go a long way towards sharing the analysis of what’s good for Denmark,” he added.

READ ALSO: What does Denmark’s Liberal party want from government negotiations?

Rasmussen has previously backed a potential government involving the Social Democrats and Liberals along with the Moderates, calling it an “excellent starting point”.

But he said on Wednesday that his party could lend support to a central coalition without being part of the government itself.

The Moderates could be influential “by forming the parliamentary basis for a government which consists of parties from both sides of the infamous political centre,” he said.

Although the centrist party is heavily involved in talks led by Frederiksen, it does not have decisive seats which could give either the left or right wings an overall majority. The left wing ‘red bloc’ took a single-seat victory in the November 1st election, meaning a left-wing government could be formed without the support of the Moderates.

But Frederiksen has eschewed the option of a government reliant on the support of the parties furthest to the left, the Red Green Alliance and Alternative, maintaining her pre-election pledge to seek a coalition across the centre.

There is no majority which could put a ‘blue bloc’ or conservative government in place.

READ ALSO: Five things to know about the Danish election result