Denmark’s Zeitenwende – European Council on Foreign Relations & More News Here

“Historic events call for historic decisions.” With these phrases, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen referred to as on 6 March for a snap referendum on her nation’s opt-out from EU defence. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was the plain backdrop to this choice. Yet the Zeitenwende speech by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz one week earlier additionally spurred Frederiksen – and a majority of Danish MPs – to step up Denmark’s dedication to widespread European defence. They did so by promising to fulfil Denmark’s NATO dedication to spend 2 per cent of GDP on defence and by organising the referendum.

On 1 June 2022, a convincing 67 per cent of Danes voted to scrap the opt-out – a legacy of Denmark’s June 1992 referendum, during which a slim majority of voters rejected the Maastricht Treaty. Upon voting “no”, Denmark negotiated opt-outs on defence, the euro, justice and residential affairs, and union citizenship. Danes then voted in favour of the opt-outs in a referendum on 18 May 1993.

The results of the latest vote is certainly historic. Previous governments held referendums on the euro opt-out in 2000 and the justice and residential affairs opt-out in 2015 – however, each occasions, Danes voted to take care of the established order. Moreover, Frederiksen has additionally secured the widest “yes” margin in a referendum since 1972, when then-prime minister Jens Otto Krag carried Denmark into the European Communities.

The turnout within the latest referendum was the one cloud within the sky. Sixty-six per cent of the citizens participated within the vote – the second-lowest turnout in Denmark’s 9 referendums on the European Union, and considerably decrease than the 90 per cent who voted 50 years in the past. Nonetheless, this degree of participation is on a par with that within the final European Parliament election.

Sovereignty and a European military

The spectre of a European military has lengthy haunted the Danish debate on EU defence. The ‘no’ camp hailed the opt-out as a authorized bulwark in opposition to the formation of such a military and the everlasting lack of Danish sovereignty. For occasion, it invoked latest speeches by French President Emmanuel Macron and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on the difficulty – however the method didn’t acquire traction this time round.

The undeniable fact that the much-dreaded European military had not materialised since Denmark’s ‘no’ vote in 1992 undermined the scaremongering. In addition, the ‘yes’ camp made positive to enchantment to a usually Atlanticist citizens by emphasising that ending the opt-out would strengthen the European pillar of NATO and accommodate US calls for that Europe step up its defence commitments in its neighbourhood. This tactic prevented the marketing campaign from turning right into a battle between “team EU” and “team NATO”.

The undeniable fact that two-thirds of contributors within the referendum voted ‘yes’ appears to mirror a recognition that Denmark wants extra allies and associates in occasions of disaster

Opinion polls have constantly proven Danes’ sturdy reluctance to switch sovereignty to the EU. However, politicians within the ‘yes’ camp seem to have satisfied the general public that, because the EU’s defence initiatives are purely intergovernmental, the removing of the opt-out wouldn’t undermine Denmark’s sovereignty.

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The undeniable fact that two-thirds of contributors within the referendum voted ‘yes’ appears to mirror a recognition that Denmark wants extra allies and associates in occasions of disaster. After Putin’s invasion, Denmark’s place as the one European NATO and EU member state outdoors the EU’s defence initiatives instantly appeared odd and insecure. Just as Finland and Sweden pledged to affix NATO, Denmark would be part of its EU companions on defence.

Push elements

A referendum was not within the playing cards on the flip of the yr. Before turning into prime minister, Frederiksen – a social democrat – characterised Denmark’s opt-outs as the muse of her EU coverage. In reality, only a few weeks earlier than Putin’s invasion, each she and Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod argued vehemently that the defence opt-out under no circumstances prevented Denmark from implementing its overseas and safety coverage. Frederiksen’s place on the difficulty aligned with public sentiment. Opinion polls had for a few years proven public help for sustaining all 4 opt-outs. But public opinion shifted between February and March as involved the defence opt-out. Seen from this angle, there is no such thing as a doubt that the Putin impact led to the referendum end result on 1 June.

In addition, there was doubtless a level of spillover from Danes’ rising help for EU membership – a pattern that has been obvious for the reason that Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump in 2016. For occasion, a ballot performed by European Council on Foreign Relations in April 2021 confirmed that 28 per cent of Danes thought EU membership was a “very good thing” – the best proportion of any of the 12 nationwide groupings in that examine – whereas a barely bigger share believed it was simply “a good thing”. This is in sharp distinction to public sentiment earlier than the referendum in 2015, a yr during which the refugee disaster created a wave of scepticism of EU membership in Denmark.

Finally, one shouldn’t underestimate the political calculations in play. The liberals in opposition have lengthy argued for the abolition of the Danish opt-out on defence. By calling for a referendum, Frederiksen – who’s more likely to face a parliamentary election this autumn – pressured the opposition right into a nationwide alliance and pre-empted its potential accusations that she was failing to help Ukraine by any means vital.

No Danish EU-phoria

The Danish authorities’s subsequent step will likely be to determine which EU defence initiatives to affix. Judging by the referendum marketing campaign, it appears doubtless that Denmark will take part within the EU’s mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina. More importantly, the referendum end result contributes to a serious shift in Nordic safety. Once Sweden and Finland be part of NATO, all 4 Nordic international locations (Denmark, Sweden, Finland, and Norway) and the three Baltics states (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) will have the ability to collectively take part in each NATO and EU operations, and to have interaction in navy planning and workout routines accordingly. As former Swedish prime minister Carl Bildt has argued, one wants to return to the Middle Ages and the Kalmar Union to search out comparable alternatives for a united Scandinavia.

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However, one shouldn’t exaggerate the affect of the Danish Zeitenwende past EU defence. While the referendum marks a sea change in Denmark’s EU defence coverage, it doesn’t sign a broader shift in its EU coverage. That a lot turned clear on the night time of the vote, when Frederiksen instantly promised the Danish citizens that she would “handle the ‘yes’ with great care” and take into accounts the issues of the 33 per cent who had voted ‘no’. She additionally burdened that she would chorus from placing the opposite opt-outs to a vote.

Frederiksen’s Eurosceptic credentials and robust help for a fiscally conservative grouping of member states (which additionally contains Sweden, the Netherlands, Austria, and – periodically – Finland) throughout the EU price range negotiations in 2020 might need contributed to the ‘yes’ vote. Danes sceptical of the EU might belief Frederiksen – who has been labelled probably the most Eurosceptic Swedish prime minister in historical past – to not transfer in opposition to the remaining opt-outs. Frederiksen can also be selling initiatives which might be at odds with EU priorities, resembling via talks with Rwanda a couple of new process for transferring asylum seekers to the east African nation. Such a process would run in opposition to the EU’s asylum coverage.

In this mild, Frederiksen’s referendum is paying homage to Richard Nixon’s 1972 go to to China. Just as nobody feared that the staunchly anti-communist Nixon would appease China, nobody anticipated Frederiksen to remodel right into a European federalist. Throughout the referendum marketing campaign, she was cautious to remind Danish voters (and her European colleagues) that Denmark was in opposition to the concept of a brand new European conference, not to mention a brand new intergovernmental treaty.

Although the Danish Zeitenwende has many nuances, one shouldn’t dismiss its psychological impact. The Danish authorities’s victory has demonstrated that it’s nonetheless potential to win referendums on nearer European integration. Nonetheless, it might be an extended anticipate Denmark’s subsequent referendum on the EU.

The European Council on Foreign Relations doesn’t take collective positions. ECFR publications solely symbolize the views of their particular person authors.

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