Denmark’s under-reported referendum plays into Brexit debate

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Denmark's voters go to the polls tomorrow in a key EU referendum - did you know? [ComradeFoot/Flickr]

Hardly anyone has noticed that Denmark is holding an EU referendum tomorrow – but the result could shape the Brexit debate, argues Denis MacShane.

Denis MacShane is former UK Minister of Europe and author of Brexit: How Britain Will Leave Europe.

Tomorrow, 3 December, an EU referendum that the pundits are ignoring will provide some evidence on how strong anti-EU passions really are in Europe.

In Denmark, voters will decide whether to enter fully into the EU’s common rules on justice and home affairs. Its most important element is the European Arrest Warrant which obliges member states to hand over anyone wanted for a criminal investigation in another EU member state. 

It removes the sovereign right to nations to move slowly through cumbersome extradition proceedings which leave a criminal, sometime an alleged terrorist, in custody but not facing a court where he committed the crime for some years as lawyers use legal maneuvers to prevent deportation.

The current centre-right prime minister of Denmark,  Lars Løkke Rasmussen, has confirmed the decision of his social democratic predecessor, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, to hold the referendum which is a major step towards full EU integration by Denmark.

The Danes obtained an opt-out from common EU policing and justice affairs along with not joining the euro after a first referendum in 1992 said ‘No’ to the Maastricht Treaty.

The Danish crown is de facto a member of the euro but with different coloured banknotes as the Danish Central Bank follows every move of the ECB. But the Danish opt-out from JHA issues constitutes a significant difference from other EU member states as Denmark since 1992 has not integrated into Europe into what now is a vital field on supranational EU policy.

The anti-EU forces in Denmark led by Morten Messerschmidt, of the Danish People’s Party and closely allied to Ukip’s Nigel Farage in the European Parliament, has been heading the No campaign.

Britain’s referendum plan is an “inspiration” and “a foundation beyond our wishes” in building the party’s “credibility” Messerschmidt  told The Daily Telegraph. According to the anti-EU Danish politician, Britain’s proposed Brexit referendum helped his party come top in the June general election in Denmark. For the Danes he said “A referendum (on the EU) was regarded as unrealistic or hypothetical, so it was easy for our opponents to argue against us. There was no concrete example, and that changed when Mr Cameron gave his Bloomberg speech.”   

Now the Danexit forces in Denmark hope to get a rejection of EU integration on policing and justice tomorrow. The isolationist propaganda of the ‘No’ camp has been reinforced by the Paris attacks, and Danish fears of ever-increasing numbers of refugees heading to Denmark.

But so has the main argument for a ‘Yes’ as Danes are as keen as anyone on wanting anyone accused of terrorist or major crimes being sent back to Denmark automatically. If Danish police and judges cannot cooperate with the rest of the EU, Denmark is a tempting place for terrorists, and other criminals to hide.

If the Danes vote ‘No’ to reversing the 1992 opt-out and rejecting more EU integration this will be seized upon by the Brexit camp in Britain to show that when given the chance to vote in a referendum, people say ‘No’ to Europe.

So far there has been a news black-out in the British media on the Danish referendum. It’s not deliberate – there is simply too much other news about.  Yet the Danish referendum takes place on the same day as a British by-election in a safe Labour seat where Ukip is making a very strong showing.

If the Danes say ‘No’ to Europe and Lancashire voters say ‘Yes’ to UKIP the campaign for Brexit will get a major boost.

If, conversely, the Danes say ‘Yes’ to further EU integration, and Labour holds the seat, then the anti-Brexit camp will enjoy an early Christmas present.

Either way, tomorrow’s referendum in Denmark, which hardly anyone seems to know is happening, will play into the Brexit debate and the future of Europe.

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