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POLITICS

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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POLITICS

Danish People’s Party decimated by new high-profile departures

The anti-immigration Danish People’s Party now only has a handful of lawmakers left in parliament after four high-profile departures this weekend.

Danish People’s Party decimated by new high-profile departures

Two former deputy leaders, Søren Espersen and Peter Skaarup, who have had several high profile spokesperson roles in the right wing party, announced they were quitting its parliamentary group this weekend, as did two further members of the group, Jens Henrik Thulesen Dahl and Dennis Flydtkjær.

That follows several other resignations from the parliamentary group earlier this year after Morten Messerschmidt was in January elected as the party’s new leader.

The Danish People’s Party (Dansk Folkeparti, DF) received 8.7 percent of the votes in the 2019 election, giving it 16 seats in parliament. It now only has six of those seats remaining following the resignations.

Those numbers are a far cry from the party’s strong showings in the early 2010s, which culminated in a 21 percent vote share and 37 seats at the 2015 general election.

DF was also on the wrong end of a trouncing in the November 2021 local elections, which elicited the resignation of former leader and party co-founder Kristian Thulesen Dahl.

Dahl remains a member of the party but last week said he would not run for DF in the next general election, set for 2023.

READ ALSO: Former leader of Danish far-right party to quit at next election

But Dahl’s official exit from the party is a “matter of hours and days”, according to political analyst Hans Engell of media Altinget.

“We are now at a decisive point because the entire top end, the founding fathers, have left the party,” Engell said to news wire Ritzau.

“All that remains is what I would call the jewel in the crown: Kristian Thulesen Dahl. It’s just a matter of hours and days before he leaves the party,” Engell said.

The analyst also said that Messerschmidt’s task in restoring the party was “almost unsolvable”.

DF co-founder Pia Kjærsgaard, who led the party until 2012, remains loyal to Messerschmidt and aimed thinly veiled criticism at Dahl on social media on Sunday.

The party’s issues are further complicated by the launch last week of a new party, Danmarksdemokraterne (“The Denmark Democrats”) by former Liberal (Venstre) party immigration minister Inger Støjberg, who was ejected from parliament late last year following a guilty verdict in a special impeachment court.

Having served her sentence for the conviction, Støjberg is now bidding to return to parliament with the newly-formed party. Given the reputation of Støjberg as an immigration hardliner, some overlap with DF’s signature politics on the area is likely.

Dahl has been linked with the new party and some of the other DF defectors have already signalled their willingness to join the project, according to Ritzau.

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