Denmark votes yes to abolish its defence reservation

3 June 2022

History was written in Danish politics on Wednesday evening when voters chose, for the first time, to abolish one of Denmark’s EU reservations. The abolition of the defence reservation is the most significant victory in a Danish EU vote ever. 66.90% voted yes to abolishing the reservation, while 33.10% voted no.

The reservation on decisions and actions in the field of defence, as it is called, has been an integral part of Danish EU policy since the establishment of the four EU reservations by the national compromise in 1993. This is the third time that the Danes have had a referendum on one of the four EU reservations. While some may say third time lucky, others point to the Russia-Ukraine crisis prompting Denmark to welcome closer security integration.

A yes means, among other things, that Denmark can be fully involved in the EU’s joint security and defence cooperation, which in recent years has undergone significant development, and which currently involves seven military missions, primarily in Africa. Denmark will also be able to participate in discussing and deciding where and when the EU will deploy military missions. As of now, however, it is still unclear whether Denmark will actually participate in one or more of the EU’s military missions – and which, if any, exactly. 

During the campaign, however, several of the parties who supported the opt-in have pointed to the EU’s peacekeeping efforts in Bosnia-Herzegovina, as well as the efforts against piracy in Somalia as two missions, which will be in Denmark’s interest to contribute to. Regardless, it will still be up to the Danish parliament, the Folketing, to take a concrete position on the individual missions. The EU’s defence policy cooperation is based on “intergovernmentalism,” meaning that the “EU” as such cannot have Danish soldiers and Danish materiel at its disposal unless a parliamentary majority accepts and provides it.

Mette Frederiksen, who is the first Danish prime minister to succeed in removing an EU reservation, was greeted with great cheers when she began her speech at the Social Democrats’ election party at Christiansborg. “An overwhelming majority of Danes have voted in favour of abolishing the defence reservation. I’m very, very happy about that,” she began and continued: “Tonight, Denmark has sent a very important signal to our allies. And we have sent a clear signal to Putin…this shows what we can do at Christiansborg when we work together.”

The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, along with Council chief Charles Michel and foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell, welcomed the overwhelming Danish yes. “Denmark’s expertise in the field of defence is much appreciated. I am convinced that both Denmark and the EU will benefit from this decision,” von der Leyen wrote on Twitter.