Denmark headed for ‘No’ in EU referendum


A poster from the 'Yes' campaign. Copenhagen, 28 November. [Henriette Jacobsen]

Danes are heading to the ballot box today (3 December) to cast their votes on a proposed opt-in to EU Justice and Home Affairs laws. The ‘No’ side is leading, according to the latest opinion polls.

Since the election campaign began in August, when Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen set the date for the referendum, both sides have been neck-and-neck, with a narrow majority for the ‘Yes’ camp among Danish voters, although almost a quarter were undecided.

This week however, all opinion polls have shown a lead for the ‘No’ side.

The latest Wilke poll, published in the Jyllands-Posten on Wednesday (2 December) confirms this trend, with 41.1% saying they will reject the opt-in arrangement, while 37.4% will support it. Still, more than one fifth (21.5%) are undecided about what to vote in the referendum, which many political analysts have deemed too complicated and technical. 

The referendum could move the Scandinavian state to an opt-in country, like the UK and Ireland. Danes will vote on 22 legislation topics, such as cybercrime, child abuse, and human trafficking. As with police and justice matters, since 1993, Denmark also had opt-outs on security and defence, citizenship and the euro.   

>>Read: Paris killings overshadow Danish EU referendum

Pro-EU parties in the Danish Parliament are wary that Denmark will get kicked out of Europol, the EU police cooperation body, unless the Scandinavian country votes to opt-in to EU justice and home affairs laws.

Eurosceptic parties — the populist Danish People’s Party, the libertarian Liberal Alliance, and the semi-communist Red-Green Alliance — would like Denmark to remain part of Europol, but they oppose giving more sovereignty to the EU. The Danish People’s Party, in particular, worries that a ‘Yes’ will start a process that will eventually force Denmark to join the EU’s common asylum policies.

Should the Danes vote ‘No’, the Danish People’s Party will encourage the government to seek a parallel agreement on Europol, and afterwards hold a referendum on whether or not Denmark should remain part of the police organisation.

According to a poll by Epinion for broadcaster DR, older Danes are more likely to support a ‘Yes’ in the referendum, while EU cooperation appears to be unpopular among young voters. While only 23% of those aged 18-34 are likely to back an opt-in version to EU Justice laws, 38% say they will vote against it.

Derek Beach, a professor from Aarhus University, believes that while the older generations remember the EU’s successes of the 1980s with the abolishment of internal border controls and the creation of the single market, younger Danes are currently witnessing the euro and refugee crises.

“The younger generation has a very ambiguous relationship with the EU than the older generations and this is something new,” he said.

However, most Danes don’t care much about the EU, except when it comes to environment and climate issues, Beach added.

The decision to hold the referendum on 3 December was taken by former Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, after a terrorist attack in Copenhagen in February 2015, where three people were killed. She stressed the increasing importance of being part of cross-border police cooperation.

Thorning-Schmidt initially said that the referendum should be held 'before April 2016.' But the new Prime Minister, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, moved the referendum to 2015, apparently to avoid holding a vote close to the EU summit on 17-18 December in Brussels, where the British EU referendum will be discussed.

Rasmussen is afraid that the British discussion will have a negative impact on the Danish referendum, where he is hoping for a 'Yes'. He expects that British Prime Minister David Cameron will leak documents during the weeks ahead of the Brussels summit to jumpstart the debate and set the agenda.

  • 3 December: Danish EU referendum on Justice and Home Affairs opt-out. 

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