How will Danes vote in this week’s EU defence opt-out referendum?

An increasing number of people in Denmark support voting to scrap the country’s opt-out on EU defence.

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen campaigning in Holbæk
Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen campaigning in Holbæk ahead of the EU defence opt-out referendum on June 1st 2022. Photo: Claus Bech/Ritzau Scanpix

With the June 1st referendum on Denmark’s EU defence opt-out fast approaching, public support for revoking the opt-out (or forbehold in Danish) is solidifying, according to a latest poll.

48 percent of eligible Danes who can vote in the referendum would vote yes to scrapping the opt-out at the current time, according to a poll conducted by Voxmeter on behalf of news wire Ritzau.

READ ALSO: When can foreigners in Denmark vote in elections and run for office?

The poll was conducted between May 23rd-29th and is the last canvassing of opinion prior to Wednesday’s referendum. It includes answers from 1,001 people who responded to telephone calls from pollsters.

21 percent answered “don’t know” in the poll, while 31 percent they would vote “no”, meaning they favour retaining the opt-out.

A poll earlier this month put 38 percent in favour of scrapping the opt-out.

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

The opt-out is one of four EU special arrangements negotiated by Denmark, and has seen the Nordic country abstain from participation in EU military operations and from providing support or supplies to EU-led defence efforts.

The government, as well as a majority of parties on both the right and left wings, have campaigned for the public to vote “yes” to removing the opt-out.

Only the far-left Red Green Alliance (Enhedslisten) and far-right Danish People’s Party and Nye Borgerlige (New Right) parties are in favour of a “no” vote.

After the Danish public voted to reject the Maastricht Treaty in June 1992, Copenhagen obtained opt-outs in four sovereign areas: the single currency, justice and police matters, and EU citizenship along with defence, the opt-out which will be the subject of the upcoming referendum.

The opt-outs mean, broadly, that Denmark is not obliged to follow EU laws on these areas and is also not involved in forming the laws – its ministers and officials do not participate in EU ministerial meetings in these areas.

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

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How likely is Denmark to have a general election ahead of schedule?

Analysts in Denmark say Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen could announce a general election as early as next week, despite flagging poll numbers.

How likely is Denmark to have a general election ahead of schedule?

Speculation suggests that Frederiksen will announce an election, which could take place by October but possibly earlier, when the Social Democrats convene next week for their summer group meeting. 

Legally, the next general election can take place as late as June 4th, 2023. 

But despite worsening polls, a general election in Denmark this autumn now appears likely due to increasing pressure on Frederiksen from other parties and heightened criticism of her government.

“It will not be possible to make any new, broad political agreements on this side of a general election. There’s no willingness to compromise between parties. So Danish politics is already frozen by the election campaign, even though it hasn’t been formally announced yet,” TV2’s political editor Hans Redder said last week.

Redder said it was “relatively probable” that Frederiksen will announce an election in August.

“The political season begins next week. Several parties will have their summer group meetings and start calling press briefings. So it’s just a question of which date Mette Frederiksen decides on,” Redder said.

The Social Liberal (Radikale Venstre) party, which is an ally of the government, has demanded Frederiksen call a general election by October 4th.

Although a new general election is not due until next year, the Social Liberals earlier in the summer said they wanted an election by October after the government and Frederiksen were severely criticised earlier this summer in an official inquiry into the mink scandal.

The Social Liberals have the ability to bring down the government by withdrawing their support for Frederiksen and bringing an no confidence motion in parliament, although it’s not certain they would actually do this.

In addition to the mink scandal, Frederiksen’s government has been damaged by a high-profile case centred around leaks at intelligence service Forsvarets Efterretningstjeneste (FE), as well as broader criticism of her leadership style.

“(Frederiksen) really needs some wins and we have not heard much about what their election platform will be. That will come when the 2030 (political) plan is presented,” political analyst Hans Engell told news wire Ritzau.

“Bad opinion polls are not conducive to an early general election and it doesn’t seem as though there is complete clarity over their 2030 plan. They are probably keeping all their options open,” he said.

Talk of an early election comes despite poll numbers looking as bad for the government as they have at any time since they came to power in 2019.

A new opinion poll by Voxmeter for news agency Ritzau on Monday gave the Social Democrats their worst showing since 2015. 

The ‘blue bloc’ — anchored by the Liberal party (Venstre) and the Conservative party — command 50 percent of the vote according to the latest poll.

Meanwhile, the government’s ‘red bloc’ holds just 47.5 percent. 

The demands that Frederiksen hold elections by October at the latest come from the Social Liberals, also of the red bloc.

The ‘bloc’ classification commonly referred to in Danish politics broadly denotes whether parties are right or left of centre.

‘Blue bloc’ parties will usually work together in parliament and back the leader of the Liberal party to be prime minister if they can command a majority after a general election. The ‘red bloc’ will usually support the Social Democratic leader to become PM, as is currently the case with Frederiksen.

READ ALSO: Danish PM Frederiksen loses majority in ‘neck and neck’ new poll