Denmark will join the European Union’s defence policy after it held a referendum on Wednesday, final results showed, signalling the latest shift among Nordic countries to deepen defence ties in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Denmark is the only EU member that is not part of the bloc’s defence and security policy. The referendum marks the first time a government has succeeded in abolishing one of several exemptions secured in a 1993 referendum on the Maastricht Treaty.
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Final results showed almost 67 percent of voters were in favour of removing an opt-out to the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), in what was the largest recorded show of support in a referendum on an EU matter in Denmark.
About 33 percent of voters polled were opposed.
The vote to abolish the opt-out is a win for those in favour of greater EU cooperation, while those against have argued that the EU’s defence pact is strained by bureaucracy and that Denmark’s participation in EU military operations will be too costly.
The referendum was the latest example of a European country seeking closer defence links with allies in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
It followed Sweden and Finland’s historic bids to join NATO – an issue to be taken up at a summit next month. Both Denmark and Germany have already promised to sharply raise defence spending.
“We have sent a signal to our allies in NATO, in Europe. And we have sent a clear signal to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin,” Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said late on Wednesday after most votes had been counted.
“When Putin invades a free and independent country, when Putin threatens peace and stability, we all move closer together,” Frederiksen said.
While not an outcome that will have significant practical implications for the EU, the result will be viewed positively in Brussels and in NATO, and is part of a trend of European countries moving closer together, said Christine Nissen, researcher at the Danish Institute for International Studies.
“Their will to cooperate in security and defence will push for stronger roles for European countries to take more responsibility in NATO,” she told Al Jazeera.
The main effect of abandoning the opt-out will be that Danish officials could stay in the room when EU colleagues discuss defence topics, and Danish forces could take part in EU military operations through the bloc’s CSDP.
A first in 30 years
It is the first time that one of the four Danish opt-outs from the EU’s Maastricht Treaty, which laid the foundation for political and economic union, was scrapped by voters in Denmark.
Denmark is a founding member of NATO, but the alliance’s biggest military power, the United States, has signalled European allies must take greater responsibility for their own security.
“The United States has said it very clearly. I think it makes good sense to be part of that cooperation instead of constantly hoping for the US to come,” said Conservative People’s Party leader Soren Pape Poulsen.
For decades, Europe has been a source of contention in Denmark. In 1992, voters set back plans to turn the European construction into a union by rejecting the Maastricht treaty amid widespread opposition to a federal European government that could limit the sovereignty of individual nations.
At an EU summit in Edinburgh, Scotland, later that year, European leaders agreed on a text with tailor-made provisions allowing Danes to ratify a revised treaty with four provisions.
They allowed Danes to stay out of a joint EU citizenship, justice and home affairs, the monetary union which allowed Danes to stay out of the euro and keep the krone, and defence.