- Government had campaigned in favor of dropping justice opt-out
- Vote marks last major test of EU popularity before U.K. talks
Danes voted to keep their distance from the European Union, marking a blow to Brussels before heads of government meet to discuss British demands for a renegotiated relationship with the 28-member bloc.
Denmark will preserve an opt-out from EU justice and home affairs laws as 53 percent of voters favored the status quo, while 47 percent backed a shift to a flexible opt-in. Both the ruling Liberals and the largest opposition party, the Social Democrats, had campaigned for closer ties.
The result “is based on a general skepticism toward the EU,” Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen said.
The referendum was the last major test of popular support for the EU before heads of state and government get together later this month to discuss British demands for a renegotiated relationship with the 28-member bloc. A Danish "no" could provide fodder to Britain’s euro-skeptic camp and give leverage to U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron as he takes his battle for EU reform to Brussels.
“A ’no’ vote will cause concern in Brussels," said Marlene Wind, a political science professor at the University of Copenhagen. It’s “a signal that the Danes, like the British, have become more skeptical."
At stake for Denmark is the ability to coordinate everything from tracking cyber crime to ensuring family disputes get the same legal treatment across EU borders. The center-right government argues that failure to agree to a flexible opt-in arrangement means Denmark will forfeit its automatic participation in Europol, which changes its status next year to become an EU institution.
“If we’re to fight cross-border crime, I think one has to say that Denmark needs to be part of this union,” Rasmussen said in an interview with broadcaster TV2.
But the more vocal “no” side warned against giving up sovereignty to an EU it says is becoming more bureaucratic in pushing agendas that are remote to the average Dane’s interests.
The latest Eurobarometer shows 33 percent of Danes associate the EU with bureaucracy. Only the Czech Republic, Finland and Sweden have a lower opinion of the bloc’s administrative evils. But by far the majority of Danes -- 70 percent -- think they’re better off inside the EU than outside.
The European Council next meets on Dec. 17 and 18.
Denmark has held seven referenda since becoming an EU member in 1973. The country most recently voted in favor of adopting EU patent laws. Thursday’s vote was on one of four exemptions Denmark secured in 1993. The others concern monetary union, defense and citizenship. Polls have consistently shown Danes would reject any attempt to do away with their currency opt-out. Instead, the central bank pegs the krone to the euro in a 2.25 percent band.