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What will decision to end EU defence opt-out change for Denmark?

In an historic referendum, two-thirds of voters chose to reverse Denmark’s EU defence opt out on Wednesday. But what does the result now mean for Denmark? 

What will decision to end EU defence opt-out change for Denmark?
Prime minister Mette Frederiksen speaking to the press at Christiansborg after a referendum shows Danes favour joining EU defence operations. Photo: Philip Davali/Ritzau Scanpix

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said today that Denmark can expect to join the European security and defence policies by 1st July 2022. However it is not quite that simple and there are a number of formal steps to take first.

At a post-election debate last night, Prime minister Mette Frederiksen said that before the vote was held, there had been “no discussions between the government and the parliamentary parties on how we translate a yes or a no.” 

“It is not the case that tomorrow we are ready to send skilled soldiers to the Balkans,” she added. “It requires very careful consideration, which must be reconciled with our NATO commitments and other tasks.” 

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

24 countries participate in Pesco (The Permanent Structured Cooperation), which is the European Union’s security and defence policy. They have 60 projects, including being able to move military forces and equipment quickly and efficiently.

This has proved important over the last few months after the war in Ukraine, where European countries have sent weapons to the Ukrainians, who were attacked by Russia in late February. 

Until Wednesday’s referendum, Denmark’s 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.

In practical terms this meant the country was not invited to meetings, had little influence and could not take part or finance any military operations.

Only when the 30 year defence opt-out has been formally abolished, can Denmark then decide how to participate in EU defence policy.  

The EU is currently involved in several military missions and Denmark could potentially now take part in at least two of them, in Bosnia-Herzegovina and off the coast of Somalia. Ultimately the decision would rest with the government and Frederiksen has promised that parliamentary parties will be involved in that process.

Niels Tønning, chairman of the Main Organisation of Officers at Denmark, told newswire Ritzau that the Danish armed forces are already stretched to capacity. Taking on a new mission — such as sending soldiers to the Balkans —  will require pulling soldiers from other active assignments. 

In general, Tønning says, EU missions are likely to be “softer” than NATO missions since the EU is primarily a political alliance and NATO’s purpose is defence. He offers as examples capacity-building missions, protection tasks, de-mining and peacekeeping missions, Ritzau reports. 

Turnout low

Denmark’s opt-out – retsforbehold in Danish – is one of four EU special arrangements negotiated by the Scandinavian country.

After the Danish public voted to reject the Maastricht Treaty in June 1992, Copenhagen obtained opt-outs in four sovereign areas: the single currency, justice and police matters, and EU citizenship along with defence, the latter which will now be scrapped.

66.9 percent of voters were in favour of scrapping the defence opt-out, against 33.1 percent voting against, with 100 percent of the votes counted just after 11pm according to KMD, which operated the referendum’s electronic result count.

Although Wednesday’s referendum was the clearest result of all nine referendums on EU issues in Denmark; the turn out was the second lowest.

65.8 percent of voters went to the polls, equating to 2.8 million people, according KMD. Only once before has voter turnout been lower, in 2014 when 55.9 percent of those eligible to vote went to the polls. In 2015, the most recent EU referendum, it was 72 percent.

According to election researcher Kasper Møller Hansen, the referendum on Wednesday follows a tendency for lower turnout in Danish elections.

“We are in a development where turnout falls not just for referendums, but also in, for example, the local elections last year”, he told newswire Ritzau.

 
 

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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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