What will decision to end EU defence opt-out change for Denmark?

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What will decision to end EU defence opt-out change for Denmark?
Prime minister Mette Frederiksen speaking to the press at Christiansborg after a referendum shows Danes favour joining EU defence operations. Photo: Philip Davali/Ritzau Scanpix

In an historic referendum, two-thirds of voters chose to reverse Denmark’s EU defence opt out on Wednesday. But what does the result now mean for Denmark? 


The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said today that Denmark can expect to join the European security and defence policies by 1st July 2022. However it is not quite that simple and there are a number of formal steps to take first.

At a post-election debate last night, Prime minister Mette Frederiksen said that before the vote was held, there had been “no discussions between the government and the parliamentary parties on how we translate a yes or a no.” 

“It is not the case that tomorrow we are ready to send skilled soldiers to the Balkans,” she added. “It requires very careful consideration, which must be reconciled with our NATO commitments and other tasks.” 


READ ALSO: Danes vote to scrap country’s EU defence opt-out

24 countries participate in Pesco (The Permanent Structured Cooperation), which is the European Union's security and defence policy. They have 60 projects, including being able to move military forces and equipment quickly and efficiently.

This has proved important over the last few months after the war in Ukraine, where European countries have sent weapons to the Ukrainians, who were attacked by Russia in late February. 

Until Wednesday’s referendum, Denmark's 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.

In practical terms this meant the country was not invited to meetings, had little influence and could not take part or finance any military operations.

Only when the 30 year defence opt-out has been formally abolished, can Denmark then decide how to participate in EU defence policy.  

The EU is currently involved in several military missions and Denmark could potentially now take part in at least two of them, in Bosnia-Herzegovina and off the coast of Somalia. Ultimately the decision would rest with the government and Frederiksen has promised that parliamentary parties will be involved in that process.

Niels Tønning, chairman of the Main Organisation of Officers at Denmark, told newswire Ritzau that the Danish armed forces are already stretched to capacity. Taking on a new mission — such as sending soldiers to the Balkans —  will require pulling soldiers from other active assignments. 

In general, Tønning says, EU missions are likely to be “softer” than NATO missions since the EU is primarily a political alliance and NATO’s purpose is defence. He offers as examples capacity-building missions, protection tasks, de-mining and peacekeeping missions, Ritzau reports. 


Turnout low

Denmark’s opt-out – retsforbehold in Danish – is one of four EU special arrangements negotiated by the Scandinavian country.

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 latter which will now be scrapped.

66.9 percent of voters were in favour of scrapping the defence opt-out, against 33.1 percent voting against, with 100 percent of the votes counted just after 11pm according to KMD, which operated the referendum’s electronic result count.

Although Wednesday's referendum was the clearest result of all nine referendums on EU issues in Denmark; the turn out was the second lowest.

65.8 percent of voters went to the polls, equating to 2.8 million people, according KMD. Only once before has voter turnout been lower, in 2014 when 55.9 percent of those eligible to vote went to the polls. In 2015, the most recent EU referendum, it was 72 percent.

According to election researcher Kasper Møller Hansen, the referendum on Wednesday follows a tendency for lower turnout in Danish elections.

"We are in a development where turnout falls not just for referendums, but also in, for example, the local elections last year", he told newswire Ritzau.




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