COPENHAGEN, Denmark — With nearly all votes counted from a referendum Wednesday, Denmark is headed toward joining the European Union’s common defense policy that it long eschewed, a new example of a country in Europe seeking closer defense links with allies after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The electoral commission said that with ballots fully counted in 84 of 92 Denmark’s electoral districts, 66.9% voted in favor of abandoning the country’s 30-year opt-out from the common EU policy and 33.1% against.
“An overwhelming majority of Danes have chosen to abolish the defense opt-out. Mette Frederiksen, Prime Minister of Denmark, said that she was very pleased about this decision.
“We have sent a clear signal to (Russian President Vladimir) Putin,” she added. “With the decision we have made, we show that when Putin invades a free and independent country and threatens peace and stability, we will move closer together.”
On Twitter, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock applauded the outcome of the Danish vote. “Every step each of us takes, makes us stronger in the face of these tectonic shifts.”
Ending Denmark’s opt-out would have limited practical effect for either Denmark or the EU. The Danish referendum comes after the recent bids of Finland and Sweden to join NATO. This issue will be discussed at next month’s summit.
For Denmark, a founding member of the 30-member defense alliance, joining the EU’s defense policy would have a relatively modest impact on Europe’s security architecture, particularly compared to Sweden and Finland joining NATO. Christine Nissen of the Danish Institute for International Studies said that both were part of the same story and would enhance military cooperation in a region shaken by the conflict in Ukraine.
The main effect of abandoning the opt-out will be that Danish officials could stay in the room when EU colleagues discuss defense topics, and Danish forces can take part in EU military operations, such as those in Africa and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
It would be the first time that one of the four Danish opt-outs from the EU’s Maastricht Treaty, which laid the foundation for political and economic union, is scrapped by voters in Denmark.
“I believe people have voted yes because of the war in Ukraine. “The ‘yes’ party has attempted to use the war in Ukraine as a way to get the Danes to feel they must stand together,” stated Morten Messerschmidt (leader of the opposition Danish People’s Party, and leading critic of the removal of the defense opt out).
One of the founding members of NATO, Denmark has stayed on the sidelines of the EU’s efforts to build a common security and defense policy in parallel with the trans-Atlantic military alliance.
For decades, Europe’s been a source of contention in Denmark. In 1992, voters set back plans to turn the European construction into a union by rejecting the Maastricht treaty amid widespread opposition to a federal European government that could limit the sovereignty of individual nations.
At an EU summit in Edinburgh, Scotland, later that year, European leaders agreed on a text with tailor-made provisions allowing Danes to ratify a revised treaty with four provisions.
They allowed Danes to stay out of a joint EU citizenship, justice and home affairs, the monetary union which allowed Danes to stay out of the euro and keep the krone, and defense.
The citizenship issue, which said European citizenship would not replace national citizenship, has since become irrelevant as other members later adopted the same position.
But the other provisions remain intact despite efforts by successive government to overturn them. In a 2000 referendum, Danish voters decided to stay outside the euro and 15 years later they voted to keep the exemption on justice and home affairs.
Frederiksen, who Wednesday became the first Danish prime minister to win a referendum on removing an opt-out, said she was not tempted to test other opt-outs in plebiscites.
Turnout was 66. 23%, according to initial official figures.
Follow all of AP’s coverage of the Ukraine war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine