New Danish government calls referendum on EU Justice opt-out

Lars Løkke Rasmussen

Lars Løkke Rasmussen [Venstre/Flickr]

Denmark’s new conservative-liberal government has called a referendum in 2015 to decide on a more flexible opt-in arrangement on EU Justice matters, an area where the country currently has a strict opt-out, according to the government’s work programme published yesterday (28 June).

Both the UK and Ireland have similar opt-in versions on Justice, and the Danish government is worried that Denmark would be kicked out of the European cross-border police cooperation, Europol, which the country has been a member of for 17 years, if it does not adopt a similar arrangement.

The previous left-wing government, which was ousted 12 days ago after a general election, had likewise promised this kind of referendum, but only said the date would be before April 2016.

Denmark also has EU opt-outs on monetary policy (the euro), Defence and Citizenship, but the work programme did not indicate any referendums in these areas during the government’s four year term.

The work programme is overall much less Eurosceptic than initially assumed, following the results of the general election on 18 June, which saw right-wing opposition parties winning the majority. Many expected that Denmark would change its otherwise pro-EU affairs policies as a result, especially since the Eurosceptic Danish People’s Party became the biggest party inside the opposition bloc.

But the Danish People’s Party eventually decided not to join the government, forcing Denmark’s new prime minister, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, from the Liberals, to form a minority government consisting of only MPs from his own party.

>> Read: Liberals form small, minority government in Denmark

Rasmussen’s EU referendum approach is backed by most other parties in the Danish parliament, despite the opposition of the Danish People’s Party, which is against further EU integration. Rasmussen has also rejected calls from the Danish People’s Party to set up border controls, in breach of the Schengen agreement of free flows across borders which Denmark is a member of.

Last time the Liberals were in government back in 2010, the party introduced this kind of border control with the support of the Danish People’s Party, but the controls were halted a year later when Denmark’s next centre-left government took office.

The Liberals are no longer in favour of border controls as these go against the Schengen rules, Rasmussen said on Friday (26 June).

“I have to say that this kind of control has to respect our Schengen agreement. With the knowledge we have now, we cannot meet the proposal by the Danish People’s Party and still live up to our EU-legal obligations,” Rasmussen said.

The new coalition will nevertheless tighten immigration laws as requested by the Danish People’s Party in order to keep its support in Parliament. The government will also cut development aid, meeting another request from the party, from 0.87% of GDP per year to 0.7%.

This is the second time in a month that a new Nordic government announced that it will cut its development aid funding. On 10 June, Finland announced a similar step, cutting its foreign development aid contribution by €300 million or 43% from 2016.

>> Read: Finland slashes development aid by 43%

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

  • 2015: Denmark to hold EU referendum on Justice opt-out.

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