On December 3, Danes voted convincingly (53.1 to 46.9 percent, with a 72 percent turnout) to maintain the status quo in the referendum on the opt-out from European Union justice and home affairs policies that Denmark secured as part of the Edinburgh Agreement in 1992.
A ‘Yes’ vote would have converted Denmark’s current full opt-out on home and justice matters into a case-by-case opt-out similar to that currently held by Ireland and the United Kingdom.
A litmus test
When the vote was initially announced, it might have seemed a relatively uncontroversial technical and legal issue, but it was overtaken by events. The sudden influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees highlighted the border issue once again.
This was not part of the opt-out referendum at all. But as so often happens with things EU, any referendum automatically becomes a litmus test on wider issues.
Clobbering the elite
The geographical split between ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ voters was revealing. Broadly speaking, Copenhagen, Aarhus and the larger cities voted ‘Yes’, whilst the ‘No’ voters were mainly found in rural areas. It’s maybe no coincidence that this was somewhat akin to the split that brought Dansk Folkeparti so much success in the last general election.
During the televised mopping-up session for party leaders following the result, several of the vanquished ‘Yes’ parties voiced the idea that perhaps this showed yet again that people outside major urban areas don’t feel their views are being taken seriously by the political elite in Copenhagen, and that they used this as an opportunity to register a protest vote. There was also the feeling that Danes are genuinely proud of their constitution and don’t like to tamper with it by transferring sovereignty to Brussels.
As for the individual party campaigns, it’s fair to say that spin, politically-motivated half-truths and scaremongering tactics were all too prevalent. Admittedly, many of the involved issues hinged on abstruse legal points. Predictably, these were almost ignored in favour of ‘big issues’ such as the Europol police co-operation system.
A fair cop
One of the few things that all parties seem to agree on is that Denmark should remain a member of Europol. Denmark is actually one of the most avid users of its databases.
Now we shall see whether the ‘No’ parties can deliver on their promise of securing a ‘special deal’ so that Denmark can continue to be a fully-functioning member of this organ.
Søren Pind, the justice minister, was in Brussels the other day for a meeting of the European Commission and afterwards stated it was going to be extremely difficult to secure a special agreement on Europol.
In order for the commission to give the green light, it must be seen to be in the interests of all 28 EU countries. Also, the commission does not particularly like special agreements. Justice Minister Pind has certainly got his work cut out.