Paris killings overshadow Danish EU referendum

Lars Løkke Rasmussen [Venstre/Flickr]

The terror attacks in Paris on Friday (13 November) could play a role when Danes go the polls on 3 December, to vote on Denmark’s opt-out on Justice and Home Affairs.

The referendum could move the Scandinavian state to an opt-in country, inspired by similar arrangements in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Danes will vote on 22 legislation topics, such as cybercrime, child abuse, and human trafficking.

For months, supporters of the opt-in arrangment have tried to frame the referendum as a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to continued membership of Europol, the EU’s common police cooperation, which Denmark is likely to be kicked out of next year. 

Meanwhile, the no camp has warned yes voters they would bring bring Denmark down a slippery slope that will eventually see the country joining the EU’s common asylum policies, which most Danes reject.

While opinion polls until now have shown that the yes and no sides were neck-and-neck, the violent events in Paris over the weekend could prove to be decisive, for both camps.

The Paris attacks

The complexity of the EU’s Justice and Home Affairs policies is likely to turn the referendum into a broader vote about people’s trust in the Schengen area, according to Frederik Hjorth, a researcher at Copenhagen University.

Hjorth told Jyllands-Posten that the no side is likely to gain support after the attacks, and stir up worries about security in relation to the ongoing refugee crisis.

But Aalborg University’s Adam Diderichsen said the Danish police will struggle to carry out its tasks without help from European colleagues if Danes vote no.

The decision to hold the referendum 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 Cameron will leak documents during the weeks ahead of the Brussels summit to kick-start the debate and set the agenda.

In the Danish Parliament, all political parties are backing the yes camp, except the semi-communist Red-Green Alliance, the libertarian Liberal Alliance, and the nationalist Danish People’s Party.

This has created tensions within the government, which depends on the Danish People’s Party’s backing to stay in power.

The party is not against Danish EU membership, but opposes further integration, including joining the euro, and justice policies. The nationalist party hoped Rasmussen would scrap the referendum when he came to power.

Rasmussen, who as a liberal is a supporter of the EU and the Schengen area, is expected to continue tightening immigration policies in order to retain the support of the Danish People’s Party.

Islamists killed 130 people in multiple Paris attacks Friday evening (13 November). French President François Hollande called the attacks "an act of war" organised abroad by ISIS, with domestic help.

  • 20 November: Justice and Home Affairs Council in Brussels.
  • 3 December: Danish EU referendum on Justice and Home Affairs opt-out. 

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