With the war in Ukraine in the background, Denmark goes to the polls today to vote on whether the country should eliminate the clause that keeps it outside the common defense policy of the European Union (EU) despite the fact that, paradoxically, it is one of the most activist members of NATO.

The Danes have four exception clauses with respect to the EU since, in June 1992, they rejected the Maastricht Treaty. Over the next few months, the Danish Parliament negotiated the four exceptions to the agreement and, in a new referendum in May 1993, a slim majority voted for a limited accession to Maastricht that still left out defense cooperation, the euro and parts of legal policy.

In terms of defense, the clause has prevented Denmark from participating in EU military operations, eleven since 2003, including reconstruction in the Balkans, the fight against piracy in the Horn of Africa or action against drug trafficking. people in the Mediterranean. Nor has it been able to form part of the Permanent Structured Cooperation on Defense (PESCO) of 2015, which consists of European countries collaborating more closely on security policy and the development of military technology.

The parliamentary majority in favor of “yes” is overwhelming. Ten of the thirteen Folketing parties want to get rid of the clause. From the Social Democrats, in the Government, to the Liberals and the Conservatives, the main opposition formations. In total, just over 80% of the seats. His main argument is that, in view of the new security situation caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, much greater collaboration with the rest of the EU members in defense matters is necessary.

The “no” is defended only by the extreme left, which views possible operations in Africa with great reluctance, and right-wing nationalists, who fear an increase in spending and a weakening of NATO. “Our armed forces are currently under great pressure in terms of material and personnel,” said Pernille Vermund, leader of the New Right. “We do not have sufficient means to participate in EU missions. It is a matter of finances and priorities. We must focus on our territorial defense and NATO.”

Among the electorate, however, the polls have reflected a greater division than in Parliament, although with a clear advantage of the “yes” as long as the undecided do not lean towards the opposite option. A surprise could be caused in part by a certain lack of interest in the issue, and in part by the traditional euroscepticism of a large sector of the population. Probably the biggest challenge for Danish politicians ahead of the referendum has been to explain why it is necessary to join the EU common defense policy when Denmark already belongs to NATO, and moreover as a founding member.

In any case, it is true that saying goodbye to the clause would considerably simplify Danish military policy, which in this century has been characterized as one of the most activist in Europe, but which has been weighed down by a kind of “dual personality” in relation to the Atlantic Alliance, on the one hand, and the EU, on the other.

Although some extremely clueless foreign media have commented that the end of the clause would also mean the end of a supposed “pacifist” Denmark, the truth is that, since 2001, the Danes have been, together with the United Kingdom, the closest allies of the United States. United States, actively participating in both the war in Afghanistan and in Iraq. And not only in support missions, but in the front line of combat. In fact, with 43 soldiers killed during the Afghan conflict, it is the coalition country that suffered the most casualties in proportion to its population.

At the moment, the other three clauses do not seem to be in any danger. The fact that the Danish economy has been one of those that has best resisted the latest global crises has reduced interest in joining the euro to a minimum, while the legal exception seems totally untouchable by guaranteeing a very high degree of autonomy in immigration and border control , two key aspects in the current Danish political landscape.

The fourth clause is today de facto irrelevant. It was introduced to ensure that Union citizenship did not become something like national or replace it entirely, but this guarantee has since been written directly into the text of the Treaty, so that it applies to all EU countries.

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