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03 December 2015

Denmark Rejects Closer EU Ties as Skeptics Dominate Referendum

Danes voted to keep their distance from the European Union, marking a blow to Brussels before heads of government meet to discuss British demands for a renegotiated relationship with the 28-member bloc.

Denmark will preserve an opt-out from EU justice and home affairs laws, with 53 percent of voters in favor of the status quo, while 47 percent back a shift to a flexible opt-in, according to a tally published by national broadcaster Danmarks Radio, with about 98 percent of votes counted.

“The result of the election is based on a general skepticism toward the EU,” said Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen.

At stake is the ability to coordinate everything from tracking cyber crime to ensuring family disputes get the same legal treatment across EU borders. The center-right government argues that failure to agree to a flexible opt-in arrangement means Denmark will forfeit its automatic participation in Europol, which changes its status next year to become an EU institution.

“If we’re to fight cross-border crime, I think one has to say that Denmark needs to be part of this union,” Rasmussen said in an interview with broadcaster TV2. His “yes” campaign was supported by the Social Democrats, the largest opposition party.

But the more vocal “no” side warned against giving up sovereignty to an EU it says is becoming more bureaucratic in pushing agendas that are remote to the average Dane’s interests.

The latest Eurobarometer shows 33 percent of Danes associate the EU with bureaucracy. Only the Czech Republic, Finland and Sweden have a lower opinion of the bloc’s administrative evils. But by far the majority of Danes -- 70 percent -- think they’re better off inside the EU than outside.

Denmark has held seven referenda since becoming an EU member in 1973. The country most recently voted in favor of adopting EU patent laws. Thursday’s vote was on one of four exemptions Denmark secured in 1993. The others concern monetary union, defense and citizenship. Polls have consistently shown Danes would reject any attempt to do away with their currency opt-out. Instead, the central bank pegs the krone to the euro in a 2.25 percent band.

Denmark’s referendum was the last major test of popular support for the EU before heads of state and government get together to discuss British demands for a renegotiated relationship with the 28-member bloc. A “no” vote in Denmark could provide fodder to Britain’s euro-skeptic camp. It could also give leverage to U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron as he takes his battle for EU reform to Brussels.

“A ‘no’ vote will cause concern in Brussels, said Marlene Wind, a political science professor at the University of Copenhagen. It’s “a signal that the Danes, like the British, have become more skeptical.