The Danish population decides this Wednesday at the polls if it renounces the clause agreed with Brussels 30 years ago that keeps it outside the common security and defense policy of the European Union. Following the recent request by Sweden and Finland to join NATO —of which Denmark is a founding member—, the addition of the Scandinavian country to the community structures and programs in the military field would mean a further step in the transformation of the European defense architecture that has caused the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The polls suggest that the yes will win, despite the fact that Danish citizens have traditionally been reluctant to further integration into the community bloc.
The origin of the Danish exceptionality lies in the Maastricht Treaty. The population of the Scandinavian country vetoed in a referendum held in 1992 the approval of the agreement that ultimately led to the foundation of the EU. By a margin of less than 50,000 votes —50.7% of ballots against— the result of the consultation in Denmark blocked the ratification process of the Treaty. Copenhagen then negotiated some amendments with Brussels, specifically four exclusion clauses in the areas that generated the most rejection among its inhabitants: defense policy, monetary and economic union, judicial cooperation, and the concept of European citizenship. A year later, a new referendum was held in Denmark that gave the green light to the document with 56.7% of the votes in favour.
On March 6, two weeks after Russian troops began their land, sea and air attack on Ukraine, the Danish government announced its biggest rearmament plan in decades and the holding of a plebiscite for the population to decide whether to put an end to its voluntary exclusion from Community cooperation in the field of defence. “Historical moments require historic decisions,” said Mette Frederiksen, the prime minister, reporting on the measures agreed between the main political forces. At the same press conference, the president defended that Denmark had to stop being dependent on Russian gas “as soon as possible”. This Tuesday, the energy giant Gazprom published on its Telegram account that it will cut off the supply to the Scandinavian country in less than 24 hours.
Denmark is one of the 30 NATO members that spends the fewest resources on defense items. The Social Democrat Frederiksen highlighted in her appearance in March that the Nordic country’s military spending will rise significantly in the next decade, until reaching the goal of allocating 2% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) set by the Atlantic Alliance in 2033. The investment will grow each year by 18,000 million Danish crowns (2,400 million euros). Germany, Denmark’s main military ally, also announced on Monday its biggest rearmament plan since World War II.
The exclusion clause in matters of security and defense has meant that during the last three decades the representatives of Copenhagen have not participated in the meetings or in the votes of the EU on these matters; There are also no Danish soldiers on military missions outside EU territory, and Denmark is the only member of the EU that is not part of the European Defense Agency.
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This Wednesday’s referendum will be the ninth to be held in Denmark (5.8 million inhabitants) in the last 50 years, since almost two-thirds of voters supported joining the European Economic Community. Two of the other exclusion clauses agreed in 1992 have also been submitted to popular consultations. And they are still valid. In 2000, the Danes rejected their accession to the euro, despite the fact that more than 80% of the political class, the unions, the bosses and the main media had asked for a yes vote. In 2015, the population opted to maintain the exceptions in matters of judicial cooperation and internal affairs. In both plebiscites, he did not win with just over 53% of the votes.
All the polls indicate, however, that this Wednesday the Danish citizenry will approve greater integration in the community sphere. The latest polls reflect a margin in favor of yes of between 15 and 25 percentage points —although around one in four citizens is undecided—, a gap much larger than that marked by those carried out in March. Of the 14 parliamentary formations, 11 have shown their support. Only the two far-right parties —the Danish Popular Party and The New Right— and the leftists of the Red-Green Alliance maintain their refusal to abandon the exclusion clause, which together account for 15% of the seats.
Almost 4.5 million Danes will be able to vote in the plebiscite this Wednesday. The polling stations will be open from eight in the morning to eight in the afternoon (same time in mainland Spain), and the result of the referendum is expected to be announced before midnight. The consultation will not be held in Greenland and the Faroe Islands (self-governing territories of the Kingdom of Denmark).
The Danish referendum comes two weeks after Sweden and Finland applied to join NATO. The changes in the security strategy of Copenhagen, Stockholm and Helsinki are exclusively motivated by the Russian threat. The consequences of Denmark’s entry into the community defense framework would not be comparable to those of its Nordic neighbors’ entry into the Atlantic Alliance. Even so, it would imply a new reinforcement of military capabilities in strategic areas of the Baltic Sea; and it would culminate with the historic shift in defense policy in northern Europe that the future entry of Sweden and Finland into the transatlantic organization entails, something impossible to foresee at the end of last year.
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