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03/12/2016

Danish PM postpones EU referendum

Elections

Danish PM postpones EU referendum

Helle Thorning-Schmidt. Brussels, February 2013. [European Council/Flickr]

Denmark’s Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt on Tuesday (7 October) announced she will call for a referendum on one of the country’s four opt-outs if reelected. She had previously promised the referendum would take place during her first term in office.

Speaking in the Danish Parliament, Thorning-Schmidt said she was worried that after 16 years, Denmark may have to leave Europol, the EU’s criminal law enforcement agency, because of the country’s opt-out on Justice and Home Affairs (JHA).

This will have negative consequences for the Danes’ safety, the prime minister said, calling for a referendum on the matter.

“The government is ready to promise a referendum after the next elections. Then we can choose which part of the JHA we want to be part of. And which parts we don’t want be part of. I want to keep Denmark as part of the police cooperation and out of the immigration parts,” she said.

“The past 16 years, we have been part of the European police cooperation, Europol. A cooperation where we have caught drug dealers and the people behind human trafficking. We have unraveled cases of organised abuse of children. It now looks as if we would have to leave Europol due to our opt-out. Maybe already next Spring. That would be a serious problem for the Danes’ safety and security,” Thorning-Schmidt told the Parliament.

The speech in Parliament was widely seen by Danish political commentators as the official kick-off for the general elections campaign. Thorning-Schmidt is expected to call for elections in early Spring next year. At the last general elections, she had already called for a referendum on the JHA opt-out, but failed to live up to her promise. She had also promised a referendum on another Danish opt-out, related to defence cooperation.

The Scandinavian country holds two additional opt-outs – on the Monetary Union (EMU), and on ‘Citizenship of the European Union’. This means Denmark has no commitment to adopt the euro.

In May, the Danes voted in a separate referendum to join the EU’s Unified Patent Court, breaking from the JHA opt-out. 

>> Read: Danes support EU patent court in referendum

Thorning-Schmidt, a known Europhile, rarely discusses EU issues in the public debate. However, earlier this year she told an online media that she hopes Denmark ‘eventually’ will adopt the euro as that would be the most beneficial for the country. 

>> Read: Danish PM says country ‘should’ join the euro

Background

Denmark obtained four opt-outs from the Maastricht Treaty following the treaty's initial rejection in a 1992 referendum.

The opt-outs are outlined in the Edinburgh Agreement and concern the Monetary Union (EMU), Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) and the Citizenship of the European Union.

With these opt-outs, the Danes accepted the treaty in a second referendum held in 1993. In 2000, Danes rejected a referendum on adopting the euro.

Timeline

  • Spring 2015: Likely date for Danish general elections

Further Reading