Anti-EU Camp Emboldened in Denmark as Talks on `Brexit' Loom

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron Greets Danish Counterpart Lars Lokke Rasmussen

Lars Lokke Rasmussen

Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen is reviewing his stance on European Union integration after the path toward closer ties was blocked in a referendum last week.

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The Dec. 3 vote showed Danes want to keep their opt-out from justice and home affairs. It wasn’t the outcome that Rasmussen, or the biggest opposition party, had hoped for. But the upshot is that the government will now need to rethink its approach after voters made clear they feel Denmark has been “too zealous” in implementing EU laws, he said.

The result of the Danish referendum is awkward for Brussels as EU leaders prepare to discuss Britain’s demands for a renegotiated relationship with the bloc. U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron has made clear he doesn’t want Britain to exit the EU, a scenario that has been dubbed Brexit. But he will be able to point to AAA-rated Denmark as an example of another country whose electorate is growing disillusioned with the way the bloc functions, underscoring the need for reform.

The Danes will arrive at the talks with fresh evidence that even model Europeans untarnished by the debt crisis want the EU to change. Foreign Minister Kristian Jensen says Denmark will do everything it can to ensure Cameron’s demands are met. “We want to back the British goals as vigorously as we can,” he said in an interview in Copenhagen.

Specifically, this means “making the EU more efficient on employment, growth and job creation, and keeping it out of welfare and other areas that belong under the jurisdiction of member states,” Jensen said.

Rasmussen, whose Liberal Party forms Denmark’s minority government with the support of the EU-skeptic Danish People’s Party, says he “unambiguously” backs Cameron in his efforts to reboot EU ties. The result of last week’s referendum suggests Danes agree. A Gallup poll published in Denmark’s Berlingske newspaper showed voters who rejected the proposed justice and home affairs opt-in did so out of a general antipathy toward the EU.

It’s a development that will cause “concern in Brussels,” according to Marlene Wind, a political science professor at the University of Copenhagen.

For Denmark, the outcome of the referendum looks set to further complicate its relationship with the EU. The result has spurred the DPP -- the biggest group in the ruling bloc -- to argue in favor of more referenda to curb the influence of Brussels. Rasmussen is meeting with party heads on Monday to discuss how to proceed from here, in particular, whether Denmark will be able to negotiate a separate agreement on Europol.

Peter Skaarup, leader of the DPP’s parliamentary group, says his party wants to ensure that Denmark holds a plebiscite every time EU law threatens to collide with local practices. He says that includes trying to push Rasmussen to review existing legislation.

The party sees the referendum outcome as “a pat on the back from the electorate and we’re going to use it to be more aggressive in coming talks,” Skaarup said in an interview. The DPP also argues that any concessions Britain secures ought also to be extended to the Danes.

Denmark joined the EU in 1973. Thursday’s vote was on one of four exemptions it secured in 1993, after rejecting full membership in Maastricht a year earlier. The other opt-outs 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.

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