Other Referenda

Danish Referendum Deals Another Blow to EU Integration


The European Union was dealt another blow Dec. 3 when 53 percent of the Danish people voted not to reverse the long-standing Danish opt-out on EU justice legislation. The immediate impact of the vote is that Denmark will have to find other ways to interact with Europol, Europe’s international policing network, now that the Danish public has chosen to remain outside of the initiative. Considering the current climate of high alert in Europe in the wake of the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris and subsequent activities in Belgium and Germany, Denmark’s leaders will want to work swiftly to find ways to make cooperation with the policing agency possible.

On a broader level, this is yet another referendum in which Denmark has reasserted its unwillingness to give up its powers to the European Union. The country famously threw a spanner into the works during the fledgling stage of the euro currency’s creation by voting “no” in a referendum on the Maastricht Treaty in 1992. Subsequently Denmark, along with the United Kingdom, was allowed to opt out from having to join the euro.

These justice policy opt-outs were granted at the same time. Over the years, Denmark has repeated the pattern, voting against joining the euro in another referendum in 2000. The Dec. 3 vote represents a domestic political victory for the Euroskeptic Danish People’s Party, which won a nominal victory in June elections even though it did not win the most votes overall. The party has retained a dominant position in Danish politics by lending its votes to the ruling Venstre Party without joining a coalition.

The effect that the vote will have outside Denmark itself is debatable. For the European Union, it is another example of a member state voting against further integration and an indictment of the project as a whole. Today’s vote is merely the latest in a series of referendums that have gone against the European Union. France and the Netherlands, for example, rejected the bloc’s proposed constitution in 2005, ultimately forcing it to abandon the project. This vote, however, does not reach that level of importance: The Danish people have chosen to retain the status quo rather than make any further movements away from the European Union. This means that its effect will be minimal compared to, for instance, a negative result in the British in-out referendum that is expected within the next 18 months.

If the United Kingdom were to opt out of the European Union, the bloc would lose one of its largest economies. The British press, which is itself generally Euroskeptic, has followed the line that the Danish vote is a blow to Prime Minister David Cameron’s attempts to persuade the British public to vote for “in.” However, it is unlikely that Denmark voting not to give up its opt-out on justice will figure strongly in the minds of British voters when the day of their decision arrives.

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