SHARE
COPY LINK

EUROPEAN UNION

Denmark votes on joining EU’s common defence policy

Traditionally eurosceptic Denmark votes on Wednesday in a referendum on whether to overturn its opt-out on the EU's common defence policy after Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

A polling station in the town of Randers
A polling station in the town of Randers during the Danish EU defence opt-out referendum on June 1st 2022. Photo: Bo Amstrup/Ritzau Scanpix

The vote comes on the heels of neighbouring Finland’s and Sweden’s historic applications for NATO membership, as the Ukraine war forces countries in Europe to rethink their security policies.

More than 65 percent of Denmark’s 4.3 million eligible voters are expected to vote in favour of dropping the exemption, an opinion poll published on Sunday suggested.

Analysts’ predictions have, however, been cautious, given the low voter turnout expected in a country that has often said “no” to more EU integration, most recently in 2015.

Polls opened at 8am and close at 8pm. Final results are due around 11pm.

“We must always cast our ballots when there is a vote”, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen urged Danes in the final televised debate of the campaign on Sunday.

“I believe with all my heart that we have to vote ‘yes’. At a time when we need to fight for security in Europe, we need to be more united with our neighbours”, she said.

READ ALSO:

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.

The defence opt-out means that the Scandinavian country, a founding member of NATO, does not participate in EU foreign policy where defence is concerned and does not contribute troops to EU military missions.

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

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

At the same time, she also announced plans to increase defence spending to two percent of gross domestic product, in line with NATO membership requirements, by 2033.

“It was a big surprise”, said the director of the Europa think tank, Lykke Friis. 

“For the past many, many years, nobody thought that the government would put the defence opt-out to a national referendum”, she said.

“There’s no doubt that Ukraine was the major reason for calling the referendum.”

Eleven of Denmark’s 14 parties have urged voters to say “yes” to dropping the opt-out, representing more than three-quarters of seats in parliament. 

Two far-right eurosceptic parties and a far-left party have meanwhile called for Danes to say “no”.

They have argued that a joint European defence would come at the expense of NATO, which has been the cornerstone of Denmark’s defence since its creation in 1949.

In December 2015, Danes voted “no” to strengthening their cooperation with the European Union on police and security matters for fear of losing their sovereignty over immigration.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

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.

SHOW COMMENTS