Denmark votes to join EU Common Defense Policy

The referendum, which was backed by around two-thirds of voters, will see Denmark abandon its policy of opting out of EU defence. He is the last of the bloc members to join the common policy.

“When a threat to freedom knocks on Europe’s door and there is war again on our continent, we cannot remain neutral. We stand with Ukraine and the Ukrainian people,” said Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen in a speech Wednesday evening, reacting to the outcome.

“Denmark tonight sent a very important message. To our allies, to NATO, to Europe, and we sent a clear message to Putin.”

Denmark was the only member of the 27-nation bloc not to be 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.

The decision to join the pact is another significant symbolic change in the defense policy of European states, which have had to drastically reassess their security since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in February. It follows historic demands from Denmark’s northern neighbours, Finland and Swedento join NATO last month – both cited the war in Ukraine as a motivating factor.

European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen reacted on Twitter, writing: “I welcome the strong message of commitment to our common security sent by the Danish people today. Denmark’s defense expertise is highly valued. I am convinced that Denmark and the EU will benefit from this. of this decision.”

“It seems that after 30 years the Danes have decided it’s time to get rid of the opt-out and build closer cooperation in Europe,” said Soren Pape Poulsen, leader of the Danish Conservative Party, noting that close cooperation with Denmark’s allies has not been more important since the Cold War.

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.

Danish voters cast their ballots at a polling station in Viborg on Wednesday.

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

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

A large majority in parliament recommended scrapping the opt-out. Wednesday’s vote was 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.

Among the main concerns expressed by political opponents and the public was 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.

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