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Danes vote to scrap country's EU defence opt-out

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Danes vote to scrap country's EU defence opt-out
Supporters of Denmark's centre-left Social Liberal (Radikale Venstre) party celebrate after the country overwhelmingly voted to scrap its EU common defence opt-out in a June 1st, 2022 referendum. Photo: Claus Bech/Ritzau Scanpix

An overwhelming majority of Danes, almost 67 percent, have voted in favour of joining the EU's common defence policy 30 years after opting out, results of Wednesday's referendum showed.

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A clear majority of Danes has voted to revoke the country's opt-out on joint EU defence policy in a national referendum held on Wednesday.

Public service broadcaster DR called the result of the referendum less than 90 minutes after polls closed, with around 58 percent of votes counted.

The distance between the "yes" and "no" votes was already insurmountable with under two-thirds of votes counted, DR said.

That was borne out with 66.9 percent having voted "yes" against 33.1 percent voting "no" with 100 percent of the votes counted just after 11pm according to KMD, which operated the referendum's electronic result count.

Turnout for the referendum was 65.8 percent, DR reported. 

"Tonight Denmark has sent a very important signal. To our allies in Europe and NATO, and to (Russian President Vladimir) Putin. We're showing, that when Putin invades a free country and threatens the stability in Europe, we others pull together," Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen told cheering supporters.

"There was a Europe before February 24th, before the Russian invasion, and there is another Europe after", she said after the results came in.

"When there is once again war on our continent, you can't be neutral," she said.

EU chiefs Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel on Wednesday welcomed Denmark's "historic choice" to join the bloc's joint defence policy, after referendum exit polls suggested an overwhelming majority of Danes voted in favour.

Denmark's decision was a "strong message of commitment to our common security", von der Leyen tweeted, saying Denmark and the European Union would benefit. Michel also hailed the country's "historic choice" on Twitter.

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With the war in Ukraine forcing countries in Europe to rethink their security policy, Denmark voted earlier on Wednesday in a
referendum on whether to join the EU's common defence policy 30 years after opting out.

The vote in the traditionally Eurosceptic Scandinavian country of 5.5 million people comes on the heels of neighbouring Finland's and Sweden's historic applications for NATO membership.

"I'm voting yes with all my heart," Frederiksen said on Wednesday morning as she cast her ballot in Værløse on the outskirts of Copenhagen.

"Even if Denmark is a fantastic country -- in my eyes the best country in the world -- we are still a small country, and too small to stand alone in a very, very insecure world", she said.

Turnout was projected to be relatively low in Denmark, a country that has often said "no" to greater EU integration, most recently in 2015. 

Polls opened across the country at 8am on Wednesday and closed at 8pm. 

By midday, more than 25 percent of voters had cast their ballots, according to a survey of polling stations conducted by Danish news agency Ritzau.

Until Wednesday's referendum, the defence opt-out meant that the Scandinavian country, a founding member of NATO, did not participate in EU foreign policy where defence is concerned and did not contribute troops to EU military missions.

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

Denmark has been an EU member since 1973, but it put the brakes on transferring more power to Brussels in 1992 when 50.7 percent of Danes rejected the Maastricht Treaty, the EU's founding treaty.

It needed to be ratified by all member states to enter into force. In order to persuade Danes to approve the treaty, Copenhagen negotiated a series of exemptions and Danes finally approved it the following year.

Since then, Denmark has remained outside the European single currency, the euro -- which it rejected in a 2000 referendum -- as well as the bloc's common policies on justice and home affairs, and defence.

Copenhagen has exercised its opt-out 235 times in 29 years, according to a tally by the Europa think tank.

Frederiksen announced the referendum just two weeks after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and after having reached an agreement with a majority of parties in parliament.

Denmark has held eight previous referenda on EU issues, including in December 2015 when it voted "no" to strengthening its cooperation on police and security matters for fear of losing sovereignty over immigration.

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