Paris killings cement Danish referendum on EU justice opt-out

Helle Thorning-Schmidt

Helle Thorning-Schmidt [Jakob Horn/Flickr]

Following the attacks in France last week, Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt is looking into how the Danish secret service can get extra resources to fight terrorism, and push forward a referendum on its opt-out from EU justice and home affairs cooperation.

On Tuesday (13 January) the prime minister said in parliament that her government had previously tried to fight radicalisation, and that the secret service had prevented terror attacks in the Scandinavian country.

“I have a big faith in our secret service, which is doing a good job, but of course we also need to ask ourselves whether there are lessons to learn from the terror attack in Paris which could be relevant also for our secret service. Therefore, I have asked the authorities to look into whether we need to strengthen our services, tools and resources,” Thorning-Schmidt said according to the Politiken.

The Social Democrat added that more could be done at an EU-level.

“We need to make sure that we have closer cooperation and exchange nformation among the secret services in Europe and with countries outside Europe. In the EU, we need to look at how we can better track down terrorists and detain terrorists who trace between our countries and in and out of the EU. Here I am referring to the new rules on exchange of flight passenger information.”

On 7 January, two Islamist gunmen forced their way into and opened fire in the Paris headquarters of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, killing twelve, including staff cartoonists.

Thorning-Schmidt’s comments were backed by most of the parliament parties, including opposition parties, where the biggest one, the Liberals, immediately stated that it would be ready to help find extra resources for the secret service.

Referendum imminent

However, in order to strengthen the EU-wide police cooperation and to collect passenger data, Denmark needs to get rid of its opt-out on EU Justice, one out of four opt-outs which the country currently holds. The other opt-outs include the Monetary Union (EMU), Defence and ‘Citizenship of the European Union’. 

In October, Thorning-Schmidt first announced that a referendum on the Justice opt-out imminent was imminent. In December, a majority of of the parties in the parliament made an agreement which stated that irrespective of the results of the general elections, which have to take place before 15 September this year, a referendum will be held before the second quarter of 2016. 

Thorning-Schmidt warned that Denmark may soon have to leave the criminal law enforcement agency Europol, after having been a member for 16 years, because of the opt-out. Denmark will also be excluded from the EU’s possible new Passenger Name Records (PNR) legislation which aims to determine travel patterns of terror suspects and draw conclusions concerning their stays in training camps or conflict areas.

In 2011, the European Commission submitted a legislative proposal on PNR that requires collecting all personal records on travellers through booking and handling systems and transmitting them to border control authorities in the receiving country.

According to the Commission, 60 different categories of data should be collected, including contact information, travel routes, computer IP-addresses, hotel bookings, credit card information and diet preferences.

>> Read: Denmark postpones EU referendum

From opt-out to opt-in

A majority of the political parties in Denmark wants the Justice opt-out to become an opt-in with “freedom of choice”.

“There is an opportunity which Denmark has had since 2009 due to a special protocol in the Lisbon Treaty,” the parties said in a statement. “This opportunity to choose is an arrangement which the UK and Ireland have already benefited from. With this opt-in opportunity, we want to make sure that Denmark can keep participating fully in the Europol cooperation. At the same time, it gives us the opportunity to to also opt-in on other EU legislation in the Justice area which we consider relevant for Denmark,” they said. 

In September 2005,  Jyllands-Posten published 12 editorial cartoons, most of which depicted Muhammad, the founder of Islam. The newspaper announced that this was an attempt to contribute to the debate about criticism of Islam and self-censorship. The initiative sparked protests across the world against Jyllands-Posten and Denmark in late January and early February 2006.

An attack on the French satirical paper Charlie Hebdo left 12 people dead on Wednesday 7 January, including the artists Cabu and Wolinski.

European Union governments and officials are discussing responses to the killing of French journalists in Paris and could propose new policies in the coming weeks.

>> Read: Mogherini pledges ‘concrete action’ in response to Paris attack

  • 2015: General elections in Denmark.
  • April 2016: Deadline for the Danish referendum on the Justice opt-out to be staged.

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