Danish voters reject referendum on EU justice legislation

Vote widely perceived as barometer of eurosceptic feeling in member state

The EU, strained by a refugee crisis, security fears and popular disenchantment after years of economic doldrums, suffered another blow on Thursday when Danes voted to reject just a small step to further integrate with the bloc. Video: Reuters

 

Denmark has rejected a referendum that would have seen the country opt in to EU justice and home affairs legislation, in a vote that has been widely perceived as a barometer of eurosceptic feeling in the country.

Polls last night showed that 53.1 per cent voted against the proposal, with 46.9 per cent in favour. The turnout was 72 percent according to initial estimates.

The vote marked Denmark’s first EU referendum since the country voted against joining the euro currency in 2000.

Voters were asked to consider whether the country should opt in to EU justice legislation, an area of EU law from which Denmark has had an opt-out since 1993.

The defeat is likely to be welcomed those advocating a ‘No’ vote in Britain’s upcoming referendum on EU membership.

Voters were asked to decide whether the country should to opt in to 22 pieces of EU legislation relating to justice and home affairs. Participation on further legislative measures would be decided on a case-by-case basis.

Denmark secured opt-outs from four areas of EU legislation in 1993, following the rejection of the Maastricht Treaty the previous year.

Yesterday’s referendum asked voters to decide on opting in to one of those areas – justice and home affairs – a move that would have brought the country more in line with Britain and Ireland, which have an automatic opt-out from EU justice and home affairs laws, but in practice opt in to many.

Barometer The referendum was seen in part as a barometer of rising anti-EU feeling in the country of 5.6 million.

The Eurosceptic Danish People’s Party (DPP) topped the polls in last year’s European elections and became the country’s second-largest party in June’s general election.

The immediate fallout from the referendum will be the status of Denmark’s position in Europol.

With the agency moving from an inter-governmental organisation to an agency incorporated within the EU treaties, Denmark will no longer be a member unless it chooses an opt-in. Participation The country is likely to begin negotiations with the European Commission and European Council about making some form of bilateral agreement to ensure participation.

The ‘No’ vote also represents a significant boost to the DPP. The country’s five main pro-EU parties supported a Yes vote.

Many ‘No’ campaigners argued that a ‘Yes’ vote would have led to Denmark’s participation in EU asylum and immigration policy, but the government insisted ahead of the plebiscite that any decision to participate in EU asylum law would be put to a referendum.

A rejection of the referendum also marks a significant set back for the centre-right government which took office in August, following June’s general election.