Rasmussen calls for a quick vote to end EU opt-outs

The government’s new EU affairs minister agrees, but says not so fast

Voters heading to the polls for parliamentary elections next May could also be asked to vote on a referendum to do away with two Danish opt-outs from the EU treaty and agree to participate in the European patent court.

Venstre party head and former prime minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen (V) said today that Denmark should remove the opt-outs on EU defence and justice co-operation that were introduced when Denmark signed the Maastricht Treaty that created the European Union in 1992. The third reservation on becoming part of the euro common currency would remain in place.

"The time has come when we must do away with these opt-outs,” said Rasmussen in a speech given today in Norway.

”The negative effects of the justice op-out in particular are such that it would be irresponsible to continue with it. The prerequisite [for a vote] is that there is broad support [in parliament] and that is exactly what I am now offering," Rasmussen told Politiken newspaper.

The justice minister, Socialdemokraterne's (S) Morten Bødskov, has spoken often about the negative consequences of Denmark remaining outside of the European police co-operative Europol, saying that the position weakens the country’s ability to battle cross-border crime.

The current government had planned to hold a referendum on abolishing the defence and justice opt-outs, but PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt (S) backed off on the vote in June of last year, saying that there was too much "anxiety and uncertainty" surrounding the EU at the time.

Even with Rasmussen throwing his support behind removing the EU opt-outs, the Danish people could very well vote differently.

A survey earlier this year showed that 62 percent of Danes polled remain opposed to the euro and that about the same amount still support the justice opt-out. The defence opt-out is the exception, with 55 percent percent saying they would be happy to drop the measure.

Nick Hækkerup (S), the new European affairs minister, declined to give the government's support for holding a referendum next spring, even though he supports the idea of eventually ending the opt-outs.

"The problem with Rasmussen’s suggestion is that locking ourselves into a date just eight months away may not be in Denmark’s best interests,” Hækkerup told Politiken newspaper. “The vote has to happen at the best possible time, and this is too soon.”

Radikale spokesperson Sofie Carsten Nielsen called Rasmussen’s support an “extremely positive” development.

Marlene Wind, a professor of European studies at the University of Copenhagen, agreed that support from Venstre was vital to the ultimate removal of the opt-outs.

"This clearly moves the vote closer,” Wind told Politiken. “The government cannot single-handedly call for a vote without support from the opposition.”

Signing up to the European patent court is a separate issue requiring its own vote, and some fear that it could result in a loss of national sovereignty.

A five-sixths parliamentary majority or approval by referendum would be required to approve joining the court.