THE BLOG

Denmark Votes 'Nej' in Referendum on More EU

04/12/2015 12:45 GMT | Updated 04/12/2016 10:12 GMT

The Danes have done it before and now they've done it again. Just when Brussels was counting on Denmark to vote 'yes' in an EU referendum, the country has said 'no'. Or as one tabloid headline put it rather delicately this morning: "Løkke fik f***-fingeren" which loosely translates as Denmark gave their prime minister the finger.

So what was at stake here? Well a cross-party group of politicians, lead by prime minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen, was hoping to persuade Danes to opt-in to EU Justice and Home Affairs rules. These included becoming an official member of the European police service, Europol, the law enforcement body that tackles crime and terrorism. (As you can read in my previous blog, the UK signed up to some of these rules last December.)

At the beginning of the campaign, the 'yes' camp appeared to have the majority of Danes onside. This was all about improving national security, they claimed. But the 'no' side, led by the Eurosceptic Danish People's Party, turned the referendum into one about trust. Who do you really believe here - the parties wanting to give away more powers to Brussels, or those who want to protect your Danish sovereignty? To Brits, this argument sounds familiar doesn't it?

There were other issues that were added into the mix. Firstly, the refugee crisis. While the 'yes' campaign claimed that being a fully paid-up member of Europol would protect the borders, the 'nos' had other ideas. They warned that EU immigration and asylum policies would be the next area Denmark would be forced to opt into. Denmark has extremely tough asylum laws and is not part of the EU's plan to resettle refugees.

There was also mass confusion about what Danes were really being asked to vote about. Rather like a similar debate between MPs and ministers in the House of Commons late last year, many in Denmark didn't like that they were being asked to vote on 22 different EU laws in one referendum. Those politicians in favour found it increasingly difficult to explain to the public just what the ballot was about. And so the result was 53.1% 'Nej' and 46.9% 'Ja' on an impressive 72% turnout.

So what happens now? Well to be honest, no-one seems quite sure. Fast forward a couple of years and if David Cameron loses the EU referendum in the UK he'll surely resign. But that doesn't seem to be the precedent here in Denmark. Lars Løkke Rasmussen may only preside over a right-of-centre minority government, but in this vote he had support on both the left and right. Although the Danish People's Party campaigned for a 'no', it supports Rasmussen on many other issues.

And what about Denmark's membership of Europol? The DPP had always argued that the country could negotiate a separate agreement to stay in, but no-one knows whether that will be possible. Prime Minister, Rasmussen, is due to meet EU ministers next week to try to strike a deal. So it looks like more talking and compromise lies ahead.

Ahead of the Brexit referendum, David Cameron and co must be feeling a little hotter under the collar after this vote. Already UKIP's Nigel Farage has told Danish media "hopefully our British counterparts will suffer the same fate". Afterall, if the Danes can say 'nej', what's to stop the Brits from following suit?