Denmark’s seventh referendum on EU integration offers Brussels and Britain another political lesson on the challenges of selling a pro-European message to wary voters. While its political leaders have a broadly pro-EU in outlook and temperament, over the past quarter century the Danes proved doughty defenders of national sovereignty, voting against joining the euro in 2000 and rejecting the Maastrict treaty in 1992. Thursday’s referendum is in theory about whether Denmark should swap its opt-out on EU justice and home affairs matters for an opt-in, affecting issues such as cross-border policing. But the plebiscite has become a clarion call for eurosceptics keen on fighting against the power of Brussels. The vote, which polls put on a knife edge, will be closely watched across the EU and especially in the UK, which is preparing for its own EU referendum.
“If the Danes vote No it can’t be good news for David Cameron [the British prime minister]. It will only complicate his life,” said Poul Skytte Christoffersen, a veteran Danish diplomat and EU official who negotiated the 1993 opt-outs.
Denmark’s debate had once again shown, he said, that the technical advantages of co-operation “are not easy to sell” when the debate becomes about sovereignty and control.