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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Danish government split over repatriation of women and children from Syria

Only one of the three parties in Denmark’s coalition government has stated it wants to repatriate women with national connections to Denmark from Kurdish-run prison camps in Syria.

Danish government split over repatriation of women and children from Syria

The Moderate party, one of the junior parties in the coalition, wants Danish children to be repatriated from the al-Roj prison camp in northern Syria, even if it means their mothers are evacuated with them.

The other two parties, the Social Democrats and Liberals (Venstre), still oppose bringing the women back to Denmark.

The two latter parties have stated that they only want to evacuate the children and not the mothers, who are in the camps because they have been sympathisers of the Islamic State (Isis) terror group or spouses of Isis militants.

As such, the government is split over the question of whether to retrieve the five children and three mothers from the camp, where they have now been marooned for several years.

Human rights organisations have in the past expressed concerns over the conditions at the prison camps and Denmark has faced criticism for not evacuating children there who have connections to Denmark.


Current government policy does not evacuate children from the two camps without their mothers and will not evacuate mothers if their Danish citizenship has been revoked.

A recent headline case saw a mother from the camp win an appeal against a Danish immigration ministry decision to revoke her citizenship, meaning she now has the right to be evacuated. She was expected to be prosecuted by Denmark under terrorism laws on her return to the country.

Denmark’s Scandinavian neighbour Norway on Wednesday repatriated two sisters who went to Syria as teenagers as well as their three children, citing abysmal conditions in the camp where they were housed.

Foreign Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen, leader of the Moderate party, said at a parliamentary committee hearing on Wednesday that the government will state its agreed position on the issue “soon”, news wire Ritzau reports.

“The government will make a decision on the government’s position on the basis of the updated government policy position. And I expect we will do that soon,” he said.

Rasmussen said in January that the government had asked the relevant authorities to provide up-to-date information related to the Danish children who remain in the camps.

That information is expected to form the “policy position” (beslutningsgrundlag) referred to by Rasmussen in his committee comments.