What is Denmarks relationship with the EU? Significantly changing landscape

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Denmark has long been characterised as being somewhat Eurosceptic, despite being an active member of the EU since 1973. As the country takes to the polls today to vote on whether to keep or scrap its 30-year old EU defence and security opt-out policy, it could either reaffirm its resistance – or signal the desire for a tighter bond. But what relationship do the Danes have with the bloc, and how are the polls looking?

The defence opt-out means Denmark does not participate in the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy or any EU military operations. Although, it also means Denmark can’t participate in the decision processes in the EU related to these military operations.

The opt-out referendum was announced on March 6 and serves as further indication that the Russia-Ukraine war is significantly changing the European security landscape.

When announcing the referendum shortly after the war broke out, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen declared: “historic times call for historic decisions”.

For a country typically opposed to increasing the powers of the European Union while placing a heavier emphasis on its sovereignty, the decision can’t have come lightly.

What is Denmark’s relationship with the EU?

Since joining the institution in 1973, Denmark has held two referendums on modifying policies that would further integrate the country with the EU, with the third scheduled to take place today.

Derek Beach, who is working on a research project examining public opinion on defence at Aarhus University said the EU is “something sensitive to Danes, many have the feeling that … everything we give to the EU, we lose.”

When the question of whether the EU should “develop into a federation of nation states” was last polled in a Eurobarmeter survey in 2014, 74 percent of those voting in Denmark were against the prospect, compared to a 34 percent average in the EU as a whole.

While they support the single market and further economic cooperation, the fear of losing sovereignty has largely been at the centre of their apprehensions, and some politicians warn overturning any policy opt-outs could result in more EU and less control over decisions.

In regard to today’s referendum, Peter Kofod, MEP for the Danish People’s Party said: “The whole military dimension of the EU is not really finished yet, so we don’t want to recommend a yes to something that is still undefined.

“I am very much afraid that the EU starts building something that is parallel to what is going on in NATO, and I would prefer spending money, time, resources and soldiers in the latter.”

However, the Danish prime minister appears to now be very much on board with overturning the policy.

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In a televised debate, Ms Frederiksen said: “I believe with all my heart that we have to vote yes.”

“At a time when we need to fight for security in Europe, we need to be more united with our neighbours.”

Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod also stressed Denmark would not lose any sovereignty if the vote was to swing to ‘yes’, as it will still have the right to not participate in missions it does not want to be a part of, as well as veto missions before they are approved.

If there was a transfer of sovereignty, Mr Kofod said: “then we would never have recommended Denmark to take part. It’s not about that, it’s about how Denmark can cooperate with others much better.”

What are the current public opinion polls saying?

Latest polls suggest around 44 percent of Danes are in favour of scrapping the defence reservation and 28 percent are opposed.

However, the turnout among the eligible 4.3 million voters is expected to be historically low and almost one in five voters are undecided.

Eleven out of Denmark’s 14 parliamentary parties also favour dropping the reservation.

Voting ends at 8pm local time (6pm GMT) and the result is expected before midnight.

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