By JAN M. OLSEN
COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Around two thirds of Danish voters in a referendum Wednesday backed joining the European Union’s common defense policy, exit polls indicated, in a new example of a European country seeking closer defense links with allies after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
TV2 broadcaster said that 66.6% voted in favor of ending Denmark’s 30-year opt-out from EU defense policy — which would have limited practical effect for either Denmark or the EU — and 33.4% against. Public broadcaster DR had the figures at 69.1% for and 30.9% against.
The polls were published just after voting ended.
The referendum follows fellow Nordic Sweden and Finland’s historic bids to join NATO — something to be taken up at a summit next month.
NATO member Denmark joining the EU’s defense policy would have a relatively modest impact on Europe’s security architecture, particularly compared to Sweden and Finland joining NATO. But Christine Nissen, a researcher with the Danish Institute for International Studies, said both moves were “part of the same story,” and would strengthen military cooperation on a continent stunned by the war in Ukraine.
The main effect of abandoning the opt-out will be that Danish officials could stay in the room when EU colleagues discuss defense topics, and Danish forces can take part in EU military operations.
It would be 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, is scrapped by voters in Denmark.
“A lot indicates that after 30 years Danes have decided to get rid of the defense waiver,” Søren Pape, head of the opposition Conservative Party told party members.
“I believe people have voted yes because of the war in Ukraine. The ‘yes’ side has tried to misuse the war in Ukraine to make the Danes feel that it is important that we stand together,” said Morten Messerschmidt, the leader of the opposition Danish People’s Party and a leading opponent of removing the defense opt-out.
One of the founding members of NATO, Denmark has stayed on the sidelines of the EU’s efforts to build a common security and defense policy in parallel with the trans-Atlantic military alliance.
For decades, Europe’s 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 defense.
The citizenship issue, which said European citizenship would not replace national citizenship, has since become irrelevant as other members later adopted the same position.
But the other provisions remain intact despite efforts by successive government to overturn them. In a 2000 referendum, Danish voters decided to stay outside the euro and 15 years later they voted to keep the exemption on justice and home affairs.