Vladimir Putin is continuing to contribute to the reconfiguration of Europe’s security architecture. And not in the way he would have wished.
The invasion of Ukraine has already seen Sweden and Finland abandon their military non-alignment to join Nato, Ireland open up a debate on traditional neutrality and underfunding of its Defence Forces, and now Denmark has voted by two to one in a referendum to end its opt-out from EU security co-operation. It will also increase its defence budget to 2 per cent of GDP by 2033, in line with Nato guidelines.
One of the founding members of Nato, Denmark is also opening up for foreign troops to to train and exercise on its soil. Its refusal to engage with EU security had nothing to do with neutrality, but reflected an historic objection to evolving EU integration.
Denmark, like Ireland, has a record of referendum voting against EU integration, and it secured an opt-out from EU co-operation on defence, judicial affairs, and membership of the euro after its 1992 rejection of the EU’s Maastricht treaty in a referendum.
Danes then rejected joining the euro in 2000, and voted against changing its justice opt-out in 2015. It was the only member state not to take part in the union’s defence co-operation. Just three parties were in favour this time of keeping the security opt-out, two on the far right and one on the far left, while removal was backed by 10 parties, including the governing Social Democrats. Conservative opponents argued that increased EU defence integration would undermine Nato. “Denmark belongs in the heart of Europe, without any reservations,” prime minister Mette Frederiksen said in announcing the poll.
Unlike Ireland, which participates actively in the emerging EU security structures, insisting that it represents no threat to neutrality, Danish diplomats have carefully absented themselves from discussions. They will now be back in the room in a politically symbolic move that will have a relatively minor practical impact on the union’s security architecture, but which emphasises political unity in the face of Russian aggression.
Danish commitment to greater EU integration and unity reinforces the message sent to Putin with this week’s unprecedented sanctions package, a message he will view with as much displeasure as any security realignment.
The Danes may now opt to join the EU peacekeeping mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the anti-piracy mission off the coast of Somalia. In a recent strategic review, EU member states agreed to commit up to 5,000 troops to a new rapid reaction force, and to engage in live exercises on land and sea. Denmark can now participate in such efforts and it will now be committed to the EU’s mutual defence clause guaranteeing aid and assistance to other member states when one is subject to aggression.