Freya Ingrid Morales/Bloomberg

The Next Referendum on the EU -- Here's What You Need to Know

  • Danes are to vote on their EU justice and home affairs opt-out
  • Polls indicate voters are balking at closer ties to the EU

Danes head for the polls on Thursday for their seventh referendum on the European Union since they joined the bloc. How the Scandinavian nation votes will offer a chance to gauge sentiment toward the EU, as its future continues to be the subject of debate.

Question: What are the Danes voting for?

Answer: An EU member since 1973, Denmark obtained opt-outs 20 years later on defense, the euro, justice and home affairs as well as citizenship. The government in Copenhagen is now asking voters to embrace a total of 22 EU directives and regulations that spell out how member states deal with crimes ranging from human trafficking to divorce, debt collection and hacker attacks.

Q: Why does it matter?

A: Unlike some earlier Danish plebiscites dealing with EU treaties, the impact of the Dec. 3 vote will be felt primarily at home. Its political ramifications, however, will spread beyond the border.

The referendum is the last major test of popular support for the EU before heads of state and government get together to discuss British demands for a renegotiated relationship with the 28-member bloc. A "no" vote in Denmark could provide fodder to Britain’s euro-skeptic camp. It could also give leverage to U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron as he takes his battle for EU reform to Brussels.

Q: What happens if Denmark votes “yes” for a flexible opt-in?

A: The "yes" camp, which includes Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen’s ruling Liberals and the main opposition party, the Social Democrats, argues that giving up the justice and home affairs opt-out will allow Denmark to remain a full member of Europol when the legal status of the EU’s law enforcing agency is expected to change in 2016.

Q: What happens if Danes decide to keep the current opt-out?

A: Advocates of a "no" vote, among them the nationalist Danish People’s Party and the former communist Red-Green Alliance, say Europol membership is not in danger since Denmark could forge a bilateral agreement instead. Their broader point is that a rejection of the proposal would show that Danes are unwilling to surrender any more sovereignty to Brussels.

Q: Who will win?

A: The vote will be down to the wire. A poll-of-polls published by political website altinget.dk three days before the referendum showed the "yes" vote narrowly leading the "no" camp, with 34.8 percent versus 33.4 percent. The remaining third was undecided. The Paris attacks of Nov. 13 have provided ammunition to those arguing for further EU cooperation on security, while the European refugee crisis has been cited by opponents of integration.

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