Danish Referendum on Joining the EU Military

A referendum will be held on 1 June to decide whether Denmark participates in the military dimension of the EU, the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). It was called by five parliamentary parties, including the governing Social Democratic Party.

At the same time, the parties decided on a bigger defence package, announcing drastic increases in military spending and rearmament to reach the target of 2% of GDP required as part of NATO membership. The whole package has been termed the “National Compromise”.

This package was a surprise decision for the public. It was an obvious attempt by respective parties – the governing party and the four other parties (the three centre and right-wing parties Venstre, the Social Liberal Party, and the Conservative Party, as well as the Socialist People’s Party) to use the war in Ukraine and public fear of the war for a massive increase in military build-ups.

As the referendum is about whether or not to participate in military reinforcement within the EU, it is crucial for all citizens of the EU and Europe, who so far have had no say in the choices of their governments to increase militarisation and military spending.

A “No” in the referendum would also be a vote against joining a new EU military imperialist superpower and against militarisation as the common way forward of European nations. A “No” vote is also a vote against the attempts by EU and European national governments to push European peoples into a militarised future at the expense of welfare and the climate.

Denmark has four opt-outs from participation in the European Union. They were implemented to encourage voters to accept the Maastricht Treaty in 1993 which originally had been rejected by Danish voters.

One of these opt-outs is participation in the military dimension of the EU. Already, two referendums were held in the past – both were lost by the respective governments: one on adopting the euro (in 2000) and one on participation in the supranational cooperation in judicial affairs (in 2015).

The “National Compromise” was probably a way to make use of popular sentiment aroused by the war, to make the public accept both the new heavy military expenditure to meet NATO demands and, at the same time, to make people vote in favour of joining the military dimension of the EU in order to advance EU unity and militarisation. 

The Red-Green Alliance (RGA) opposes this policy, arguing that the opt-out ensures democratic participation in Denmark’s defence policy and that the text of the CSDP treaty is vague. Furthermore, RGA criticises that welfare and ecology must take precedence over miliarisation and that building up a new militarised superpower is neither in the interest of peace, the planet nor security.

Right now, there is a slim majority in opinion polls leaning towards “Yes”, but many (around 25%) are undecided and the parties that initiated the referendum are already under pressure: The government announced that the text of the referendum will be changed since the original version did not make explicit that it is about “abolishing the EU defence reservation (or opt-out)”. Moreover, the government already announced that in case of a “Yes” vote, another referendum will be held if the CSDP shifts from being an intergovernmental cooperation to a supranational one.

However, the big question is for how long the war in Ukraine will continue to impact the referendum, which after all is nearly two months away. In past EU referendums, the popular response has usually been to reject increasing EU powers and undermining democracy. This is besides, of course, the key question raised this time of participating in military reinforcement and a military union.