Denmark votes on joining EU Common Defense Policy amid concerns over Russia’s war on Ukraine

Denmark is the only member of the 27-nation bloc that is not part of its Common Security and Defense Policy. The Scandinavian nation of nearly 6 million people won exemptions to this policy in a 1993 referendum on the Maastricht Treaty, which laid the foundations for the modern EU.

If the notoriously critical of the EU Danes vote to abolish the opt-out, as the polls suggest, it would mark another important symbolic change in the defense policy of European states after the launch of the invasion by Russia in February. After decades of resistance, Finland and Sweden finally applied to join NATO in May, each citing the war in Ukraine as a motivating factor.

Just weeks after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Denmark’s parliament reached a historic deal to increase defense spending by 7 billion crowns ($1 billion) over the next two years. The same agreement called for the phasing out of Russian gas, as well as calling the current referendum on joining a common EU defense policy.

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was an important factor that led the government to hold a referendum, and that the vote was an important decision based on values ​​and a means. to signal its support for a stronger EU. The government spent several weeks campaigning for a “yes”.

“It’s the right decision for our future. We face even more uncertain times than we see now, and we need to stick together,” Frederiksen said.

Denmark is a founding member of NATO, but participation in the EU’s Common Security and Defense Policy would allow Denmark to participate in joint EU military operations, such as those in Somalia, Mali and Bosnia.

“NATO will of course remain our most important tool, but the EU gives us another tool to defend ourselves in the East,” said Mogens Jensen, defense spokesman for the ruling Social Democrats.

While the EU would benefit from Denmark’s vast experience in military operations in NATO and other alliances, a yes vote would mostly be seen as a symbolic victory in Brussels, according to Kristian Soby Kristensen, senior researcher at the Center for Military Studies at the University of Copenhagen. Studies.

“The political significance will outweigh the military contribution,” Kristensen told Reuters.

A large majority in parliament recommends the removal of the opt-out. Wednesday’s vote will be the third such attempt by Danish lawmakers to lift one of the 1993 opt-out clauses after votes on the euro in 2000 and on justice and home affairs in 2015, all of which two failed. This is the ninth vote on EU issues since Denmark voted to join the European Community in 1972.

Despite the serious issues involved, the referendum generated little debate among the general public, raising concerns about low voter turnout.

Preliminary polls released on Tuesday showed opt-out supporters in the lead. A poll by national broadcaster TV2 estimated that 65% were in favor and 35% against; another poll by national broadcaster DR and Altinget estimated 49% for against 31% against. About 1 in 5 Danes were undecided before the vote, with many expressing difficulty in assessing the consequences.

Among the main concerns expressed by political opponents and the public is the deployment of Danish soldiers, although any major decision, including military participation, still requires the approval of the Danish parliament.

The EU does not intend to establish a supranational army within the bloc, but has decided to form a rapid deployment force of up to 5,000 troops.

Polling stations close at 8 p.m. local time. The result is expected late in the evening.

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