An overwhelming majority of Danes, about 67 percent, voted Wednesday to join the EU’s general defense policy after 30 years of opting out, with 99 percent of the ballots counted.
The vote comes amid historic appeals from neighboring Finland and Sweden for NATO membership, as the war in Ukraine forces European countries to reconsider their security policies.
“Denmark has sent a very important signal tonight. To our allies in Europe and NATO and (to Russian President Vladimir) Putin. We are showing that when Putin invades an independent country and threatens Europe’s stability, we will unite with others.” Prime Minister Mate Frederickson cheered supporters.
“Denmark can now participate in European cooperation on defense and security. And for that I am very happy,” he said.
Denmark’s defense opt-out means that Copenhagen, a founding member of NATO, has not participated in EU foreign policy since 1993 where defense is concerned and troops do not contribute to EU military missions.
Earlier in the day, Frederickson had said during his vote that Denmark, a country of 5.5 million people, was “too small to stand alone in a very, very insecure world”.
“There was one Europe before February 24, before the Russian invasion, and then another Europe,” he said after the results came out.
“When there is war on our continent again, you cannot remain neutral.”
Traditionally, the Eurosceptic country has often said “no” to greater EU integration, most recently in 2015 when it voted against strengthening police and security cooperation for fear of losing sovereignty over immigration.
– Danish opt-out –
Denmark has been a member of the EU since 1973, but it stopped short of handing over more power to Brussels in 1992 when 50.7 percent rejected the Denmark Maastricht Treaty, the founding treaty of the European Union.
It needs the approval of all member states to take effect. In order to persuade Dennis to ratify the agreement, Copenhagen negotiated one waiver after another, and Dennis finally approved it the following year.
Since then, Denmark has remained outside the European Union’s single currency, the euro – which it rejected in a 2000 referendum – as well as the general policies of the bloc on justice, home affairs and defense.
Copenhagen has practiced its opt-out 235 times in 29 years, according to a survey by the Europa think tank.
Frederickson called the referendum just two weeks after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and reached an agreement with a majority party in the Danish parliament.
At the same time, he announced plans to increase defense spending to two percent of GDP by 2033, in line with NATO membership targets.
“These kinds of votes are more important than ever. In times of war, it’s important to say whether you want to join this kind of community or not,” Molly Stengard, a 55-year-old screenwriter, told AFP. He voted in Copenhagen’s City Hall.
Nicholas Johnson, a 28-year-old sociology student, although dissatisfied with the timing of the referendum, said it was called “to say ‘yes’ in times of unrest.
“I don’t think it would be right to put this ballot here at the moment, because it pushes many people towards yes who would generally be more skeptical of the EU,” he said.
– ‘The main cause of Ukraine’ –
Like Fris, director of the Europa think-tank, Fries Fries, called the decision to hold a referendum by AFP “a big surprise”.
“No one thinks the government will opt-out the defense in a national referendum,” he said.
“There is no doubt that Ukraine was the main reason for calling the referendum.”
Eleven of Denmark’s 14 parties, representing more than three-quarters of the seats in parliament, have called on voters to say “yes” to opting out.
Two far-right Eurosceptic groups and one far-left have called on the Danes to say “no”, arguing that a joint European defense would come at the expense of NATO, which has been the mainstay of Denmark’s defense since its creation in 1949.
(Except for the title, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and was published from a syndicated feed.)