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29/09/2016

Danish premier wary of ‘Brexit bomb’

UK & Europe

Danish premier wary of ‘Brexit bomb’

Lars Løkke Rasmussen

[Venstre/Flickr]

Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen moved the date for a referendum on scrapping opt-outs from EU justice affairs policies, in order to avoid it being influence by Britain’s Brexit debate.  

In June, the newly elected Liberal leader announced that he would move it to late 2015. Previously, the former centre-left Danish government had said that it would hold the referendum no later than April 2016. As reported in Berlingske, the prime minister will announce the date on Friday (21 August).

According to Politiken, Rasmussen decided to change the date in order to avoid British Prime Minister David Cameron’s reform negotiations with the EU, and an EU referendum, which is likely to take place in 2016, fearing that they would sway Danish voters. Rasmussen is hoping for a ‘Yes’ in the Danish referendum.

If Cameron achieves his desired reforms, the British premier will push to stay in the Union. Otherwise, the Tories might campaign to leave the EU. This decision could have far-reaching consequences for trade, investment and the United Kingdom’s international standing.

Since 1993, Denmark has had four EU opt-outs, including one on justice.

But a majority of both leftist and right-wing parties in the Danish parliament have proposed an opt-in version, similar to the ones in the UK and Ireland, as they are worried that Denmark would be kicked out of Europol, which the country has been a member of for 17 years, if it does not adopt a similar arrangement.

Politiken said that since Cameron’s demands for reform will be proposed during the EU summit in Brussels 17-18 December, and since Rasmussen expects leaks of the proposals to circulate shortly before the summit, the Danish referendum is now likely to take place at the end of November.

Not Eurosceptic

The new Danish government, which was elected in June has until now proven to be less Eurosceptic than expected. As the government counts on support from the far-right, the Eurosceptic Danish People’s Party, many commentators have predicted that Denmark would change its otherwise pro-EU policies. 

The Danish People’s Party has called for fewer Danish EU referendums in the future that could risk seeing the country move closer to the EU core. The party also wants border controls, which breach the Schengen agreement, as well as Denmark actively taking part in the British reform negotiations to change the rules for EU citizens who claim benefits in other EU member states.

But Rasmussen has gone up against these demands. First, the premier stated that he is likely to call for another referendum to get rid of another Danish EU opt-out on defence. Foreign Minister Kristian Jensen has agreed to set up border controls, but only in conformity with Schengen rules.

Finally, the Danish People’s Party is unhappy that the prime minister has not mentioned the British reform negotiations since he was elected. The EU is also absent from the government’s key priorities.

“This is disappointing,” Søren Espersen, an MP from the party, told broadcaster DR. “This goes against the things that were said during the general election campaign, where it was said that we should follow the British negotiations.”

Background

An alliance of right-wing parties won the Danish general election on 18 June, in an extremely close race marked by the dramatic rise of the far-right Danish People's Party, which became the country’s second biggest political force.

The rightist parties consisting of the Liberals, the libertarian Liberal Alliance, the Conservatives and the Danish People's Party won the 90 mandates necessary to have a majority in the Danish parliament.

>> Read: Rightist coalition wins Danish election

Timeline

  • Nov. 2015: Likely month for Danish EU Justice referendum.
  • 17-18 Dec.: EU summit with British reform proposals.
  • 2016: Likely year for British EU referendum.

Further Reading