Danes are voting on whether to have closer ties with the European Union or continue a decades-old opt-out from justice affairs that would end ties with Europol, even as the EU law-enforcement agency is preparing to increase its role in fighting terrorism.
Last week, the 28-member bloc changed the role of the European police agency, including banning opt-outs from EU justice policies for full members. Danish voters are now being asked whether to annul the 23-year-old waiver or find themselves on the sidelines of the agency with no say in decision-making, like non-EU neighbours Norway and Iceland.
The pro-EU centre-right government argues that ending the opt-out would give Danes more say within the European Union, while opponents claim the opposite would happen – Danes would lose even more sovereignty to Brussels.
If today’s referendum results in continuing the opt-out, Henning Soerensen, a lecturer in EU law at the University of Southern Denmark, fears a new agreement to rejoin Europol “could take years”.
Danes “won’t [then] have immediate access to Europol registers on foreign fighters in Syria, criminal motorbike gangs, etc,” he said. “Basically, it’s a matter of what relation Denmark wants with the EU – inside or outside.”
The vote comes three weeks after the deadly Paris attacks, reviving fears in the small Scandinavian country where officials say they have thwarted several terrorist attacks since the 2005 publishing of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that caused fiery protests in Muslim countries. In February, a gunman killed two people and wounded five in attacks on a free-speech event and Copenhagen’s main synagogue.
Recent polls have shown a neck-and-neck race, but all have consistently shown a large group of undecided voters – up to 25 per cent, according to public broadcaster DR.
The government has said that whichever way the vote goes it won’t affect the country’s immigration policy. Unlike neighbours Germany and Sweden, Denmark has not seen a recent surge in migrant numbers, chiefly because of its asylum rules, considered among the strictest in Europe.
Denmark’s centre-right government, backed by the opposition, wants to abandon some Danish opt-outs from EU home affairs legislation which were secured in 1993. They say a No vote will mean losing membership of the Europol crime agency.
The vote was brought forward to prevent it becoming caught up in the debate surrounding the UK’s EU referendum.