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EUROPEAN UNION

Danes vote to scrap country’s EU defence opt-out

An overwhelming majority of Danes, almost 67 percent, have voted in favour of joining the EU's common defence policy 30 years after opting out, results of Wednesday's referendum showed.

Supporters of Denmark's centre-left Social Liberal s celebrate and of EU defence opt-out
Supporters of Denmark's centre-left Social Liberal (Radikale Venstre) party celebrate after the country overwhelmingly voted to scrap its EU common defence opt-out in a June 1st, 2022 referendum. Photo: Claus Bech/Ritzau Scanpix

A clear majority of Danes has voted to revoke the country’s opt-out on joint EU defence policy in a national referendum held on Wednesday.

Public service broadcaster DR called the result of the referendum less than 90 minutes after polls closed, with around 58 percent of votes counted.

The distance between the “yes” and “no” votes was already insurmountable with under two-thirds of votes counted, DR said.

That was borne out with 66.9 percent having voted “yes” against 33.1 percent voting “no” with 100 percent of the votes counted just after 11pm according to KMD, which operated the referendum’s electronic result count.

Turnout for the referendum was 65.8 percent, DR reported. 

“Tonight Denmark has sent a very important signal. To our allies in Europe and NATO, and to (Russian President Vladimir) Putin. We’re showing, that when Putin invades a free country and threatens the stability in Europe, we others pull together,” Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen told cheering supporters.

“There was a Europe before February 24th, before the Russian invasion, and there is another Europe after”, she said after the results came in.

“When there is once again war on our continent, you can’t be neutral,” she said.

EU chiefs Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel on Wednesday welcomed Denmark’s “historic choice” to join the bloc’s joint defence policy, after referendum exit polls suggested an overwhelming majority of Danes voted in favour.

Denmark’s decision was a “strong message of commitment to our common security”, von der Leyen tweeted, saying Denmark and the European Union would benefit. Michel also hailed the country’s “historic choice” on Twitter.

With the war in Ukraine forcing countries in Europe to rethink their security policy, Denmark voted earlier on Wednesday in a
referendum on whether to join the EU’s common defence policy 30 years after opting out.

The vote in the traditionally Eurosceptic Scandinavian country of 5.5 million people comes on the heels of neighbouring Finland’s and Sweden’s historic applications for NATO membership.

“I’m voting yes with all my heart,” Frederiksen said on Wednesday morning as she cast her ballot in Værløse on the outskirts of Copenhagen.

“Even if Denmark is a fantastic country — in my eyes the best country in the world — we are still a small country, and too small to stand alone in a very, very insecure world”, she said.

Turnout was projected to be relatively low in Denmark, a country that has often said “no” to greater EU integration, most recently in 2015. 

Polls opened across the country at 8am on Wednesday and closed at 8pm. 

By midday, more than 25 percent of voters had cast their ballots, according to a survey of polling stations conducted by Danish news agency Ritzau.

Until Wednesday’s referendum, the defence opt-out meant that the Scandinavian country, a founding member of NATO, did not participate in EU foreign policy where defence is concerned and did not contribute troops to EU military missions.

READ ALSO: Why does Denmark have four EU ‘opt-outs’ and what do they mean?

Denmark has been an EU member since 1973, but it put the brakes on transferring more power to Brussels in 1992 when 50.7 percent of Danes rejected the Maastricht Treaty, the EU’s founding treaty.

It needed to be ratified by all member states to enter into force. In order to persuade Danes to approve the treaty, Copenhagen negotiated a series of exemptions and Danes finally approved it the following year.

Since then, Denmark has remained outside the European single currency, the euro — which it rejected in a 2000 referendum — as well as the bloc’s common policies on justice and home affairs, and defence.

Copenhagen has exercised its opt-out 235 times in 29 years, according to a tally by the Europa think tank.

Frederiksen announced the referendum just two weeks after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and after having reached an agreement with a majority of parties in parliament.

Denmark has held eight previous referenda on EU issues, including in December 2015 when it voted “no” to strengthening its cooperation on police and security matters for fear of losing sovereignty over immigration.

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IMMIGRATION

How Europe’s population is changing and what the EU is doing about it

The populations of countries across Europe are changing, with some increasing whilst others are falling. Populations are also ageing meaning the EU is having to react to changing demographics.

How Europe's population is changing and what the EU is doing about it

After decades of growth, the population of the European Union decreased over the past two years mostly due to the hundreds of thousands of deaths caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The latest data from the EU statistical office Eurostat show that the EU population was 446.8 million on 1 January 2022, 172,000 fewer than the previous year. On 1 January 2020, the EU had a population of 447.3 million.

This trend is because, in 2020 and 2021 the two years marked by the crippling pandemic, there have been more deaths than births and the negative natural change has been more significant than the positive net migration.

But there are major differences across countries. For example, in numerical terms, Italy is the country where the population has decreased the most, while France has recorded the largest increase.

What is happening and how is the EU reacting?

In which countries is the population growing?

In 2021, there were almost 4.1 million births and 5.3 million deaths in the EU, so the natural change was negative by 1.2 million (more broadly, there were 113,000 more deaths in 2021 than in 2020 and 531,000 more deaths in 2020 than in 2019, while the number of births remained almost the same).

Net migration, the number of people arriving in the EU minus those leaving, was 1.1 million, not enough to compensate.

A population growth, however, was recorded in 17 countries. Nine (Belgium, Denmark, Ireland, France, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands and Sweden) had both a natural increase and positive net migration.

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: Five things to know about Germany’s foreign population

In eight EU countries (the Czech Republic, Germany, Estonia, Spain, Lithuania, Austria, Portugal and Finland), the population increased because of positive net migration, while the natural change was negative.

The largest increase in absolute terms was in France (+185,900). The highest natural increase was in Ireland (5.0 per 1,000 persons), while the biggest growth rate relative to the existing population was recorded in Luxembourg, Ireland, Cyprus and Malta (all above 8.0 per 1,000 persons).

In total, 22 EU Member States had positive net migration, with Luxembourg (13.2 per 1 000 persons), Lithuania (12.4) and Portugal (9.6) topping the list.

Births and deaths in the EU from 1961 to 2021 (Eurostat)

Where is the population declining?

On the other hand, 18 EU countries had negative rates of natural change, with deaths outnumbering births in 2021.

Ten of these recorded a population decline. In Bulgaria, Italy, Hungary, Poland, and Slovenia population declined due to a negative natural change, while net migration was slightly positive.

In Croatia, Greece, Latvia, Romania and Slovakia, the decrease was both by negative natural change and negative net migration.

READ ALSO: Italian class sizes set to shrink as population falls further

The largest fall in population was reported in Italy, which lost over a quarter of a million (-253,100).

The most significant negative natural change was in Bulgaria (-13.1 per 1,000 persons), Latvia (-9.1), Lithuania (-8.7) and Romania (-8.2). On a proportional basis, Croatia and Bulgaria recorded the biggest population decline (-33.1 per 1,000 persons).

How is the EU responding to demographic change?

From 354.5 million in 1960, the EU population grew to 446.8 million on 1 January 2022, an increase of 92.3 million. If the growth was about 3 million persons per year in the 1960s, it slowed to about 0.7 million per year on average between 2005 and 2022, according to Eurostat.

The natural change was positive until 2011 and turned negative in 2012 when net migration became the key factor for population growth. However, in 2020 and 2021, this no longer compensated for natural change and led to a decline.

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: One in four Austrian residents now of foreign origin

Over time, says Eurostat, the negative natural change is expected to continue given the ageing of the population if the fertility rate (total number of children born to each woman) remains low.

This poses questions for the future of the labour market and social security services, such as pensions and healthcare.

The European Commission estimates that by 2070, 30.3 per cent of the EU population will be 65 or over compared to 20.3 per cent in 2019, and 13.2 per cent is projected to be 80 or older compared to 5.8 per cent in 2019.

The number of people needing long-term care is expected to increase from 19.5 million in 2016 to 23.6 million in 2030 and 30.5 million in 2050.

READ ALSO: How foreigners are changing Switzerland

However, demographic change impacts different countries and often regions within the same country differently.

When she took on the Presidency of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen appointed Dubravka Šuica, a Croatian politician, as Commissioner for Democracy and Demography to deal with these changes.

Among measures in the discussion, in January 2021, the Commission launched a debate on Europe’s ageing society, suggesting steps for higher labour market participation, including more equality between women and men and longer working lives.

In April, the Commission proposed measures to make Europe more attractive for foreign workers, including simplifying rules for non-EU nationals who live on a long-term basis in the EU. These will have to be approved by the European Parliament and the EU Council.

In the fourth quarter of this year, the Commission also plans to present a communication on dealing with ‘brain drain’ and mitigate the challenges associated with population decline in regions with low birth rates and high net emigration.

This article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK.

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