Denmark will give up the opt-out clause that has kept it out of European defense policy for 30 years. The Danish population voted this Wednesday in a referendum in favor of joining the community structures and projects in the military field. According to the Danish public broadcaster’s exit poll, yes has won with around 70% of the support, a resounding result in a country that has traditionally opposed greater integration with the European Union. The consultation was convened in March, two weeks after the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Copenhagen decision comes after Finland and Sweden defied the Kremlin’s threat by starting the NATO accession process.
The Danish derogation from the EU’s common security and defense policy was agreed in 1992 between Copenhagen and Brussels. A few months earlier, the result of a plebiscite held in Denmark had blocked the process of ratifying the Maastricht Treaty. In 1993, another referendum was held in the Nordic country in which a new text was approved that included the exclusion clause on defense, and three others related to different matters: monetary and economic union, judicial cooperation, and the concept of European citizenship.
Christine Nissen, an analyst at the Danish Institute for International Studies, explains that three decades ago Danish citizens were opposed to joining future European plans in the military field, considering that it was unnecessary. “In Denmark, NATO membership has always been valued very positively. The population thought that it would not contribute anything to be part of another military structure, ”says Nissen by phone.
Due to the voluntary exclusion clause, Denmark has not been able during these years to participate in the discussions or negotiations related to security and defense, nor in the military missions of the EU (although it has been able to participate in the civil ones). The Scandinavian country is the only one of the Twenty-seven that is not a member of the European Defense Agency. And, along with neutral Malta, it is not part of the so-called Permanent Structured Cooperation (or Pesco, its acronym in English), the largest community project in the field of military cooperation.
During the 1990s, the practical implications of the exclusion clause were practically nil, since the EU still lacked an effective common security and defense policy. Copenhagen began to feel the consequences of its exceptionality a couple of decades ago. “Denmark had a lot of interest in some EU military operations, such as the one in Bosnia or the one in the Horn of Africa against piracy, but there was no possibility of participating in them,” Kristian Soby Kristensen, a researcher at the Center for Studies, comments by phone. Military University of Copenhagen.
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A rearmament parallel to the German
Wednesday’s consultation was announced on March 6, following an agreement reached between the ruling Social Democratic Party and the other four main parliamentary forces. On the same day, it was also agreed that the Scandinavian country will increase its investment in defense over the next few years until it reaches 2% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2033, the minimum agreed by NATO, although many of its member countries have not yet done so. they comply. The rearmament planned in Copenhagen runs parallel to that of Berlin – its main ally in military matters -, which this week approved the largest spending increase in decades. “Germany’s turn has had a profound influence on the Danish political class,” Nissen believes.
The events of recent months in Sweden and Finland have also had their repercussions in Denmark. Russia’s brutal attack on Ukraine caused a shift in public opinion and in the political class of the two Nordic countries, which has led Stockholm and Helsinki to apply for NATO membership by force. Among the 14 parliamentary forces in Denmark, the only three that have called for a no vote in Wednesday’s referendum —two from the extreme right and one from the left— argued that the cases of Sweden and Finland were a clear example that the policy of community defense was irrelevant, and that security is guaranteed under the umbrella of the Atlantic Alliance —of which Denmark is a founding member, since 1949—. The defenders of the yes stressed that it was time for military cooperation between the Nordic countries to be absolute.
“The events in the three countries are part of the same story,” emphasizes researcher Nissen. “Even though the magnitude of the Swedish and Finnish decision is not comparable to that of Denmark,” she adds. Kristensen, from the University of Copenhagen, believes that the favorable result in this Wednesday’s consultation is “a signal to the EU that even skeptical Denmark is determined to participate fully in the common security and defense policy.”
The war in Ukraine has also accelerated European plans in the military field. In March, the creation of a rapid intervention force was approved that will have 5,000 soldiers and that should be operational in 2025. And this Tuesday an agreement was reached at the extraordinary summit in Brussels to seek “urgently” measures to coordinate at the community level the supply of weapons.
The referendum on the defense exemption has been the ninth that has been held in the Scandinavian country in the last half century, since in 1972 it was approved with 63.3% of the votes in favor of joining the Economic Community European. The last two popular consultations that had taken place dealt, like the one on Wednesday, with the exclusion clauses agreed upon three decades ago. In 2000, the Danish population dealt a new blow to the EU by rejecting entry into the euro, despite the fact that practically the entire political class, in addition to the unions and employers, had demanded a vote in favor. In 2015, citizens preferred to maintain the exception on judicial cooperation and internal affairs, which guarantees a certain autonomy in immigration and border control. In the two referendums, the no won with just over 53% of the votes. The fourth amendment to the Maastricht Treaty that Copenhagen and Brussels agreed to three decades ago, relating to the concept of European citizenship, became inconsequential after the entry into force of the Amsterdam Treaty in 1999.