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The Danish EU opt-outs

Updated: May 14, 2022

Established after Denmark's initial Maastricht Treaty rejection.

Photograph: Unsplash

Text: Mariano Anthony Davies

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen has called for Denmark's citizens to vote to overturn the country's opt-out from EU Defence Policy in a referendum to be held on 1 June. The urgency is undoubtedly following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Denmark has four derogations or "opt-outs" from EU cooperation. These opt-outs stem from 1993 and were agreed amongst the then 12 EU Member States after the Danish population initially rejected the Maastricht Treaty in a referendum in 1992.

The four opt-outs are outlined in the Edinburgh Agreement (1993) and concern the Monetary Union (EMU), Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) and the Citizenship of the European Union.

The Euro Opt-Out

There was great concern among the Danish people as to whether Denmark should change its currency from the Danish Kroner to the Euro and the majority of other EU States. As a result, Danes voted not to adopt the Euro. The rate of the Danish Kroner is determined by the National Bank in Denmark. However, the Danish Kroner has been linked to the Euro and even though Denmark does not participate in the Euro-countries economy decisions, Denmark does participate in some of the Euro cooperation.

Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP)

Due to the Danish defence opt-out, Denmark cannot participate in any EU military operations or cooperate in developing and acquiring military capabilities within the EU framework. Additionally, Denmark will not provide military support or supplies for EU-led efforts in conflict areas nor participate in any decision or planning regarding operations – not to be confused with NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation), of which Denmark is a member country.

Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) - laws regulated by the EU

These legal reservations mean that Denmark will not have to abide by any EU laws concerning divorce between citizens from two countries, bankruptcy, asylum standards and legal standards that set minimum rules in civil cases. Furthermore, Denmark is exempt from all supranational legal policies and participates only in the field of the judiciary when rules are adopted by the Danish Government.

Citizenship in EU

This is perhaps the least relevant of the four opt-outs. Denmark voted against giving up Danish citizenship for purely EU citizenship. Instead, EU citizenship is an addition to an individual's Danish State citizenship. The opt-out on citizenship has become redundant after adopting the Amsterdam Treaty (1997), which clarified that EU citizenship is only supplementary, effectively nullifying Denmark's citizenship opt-out.

Two referenda on the opt-outs

Since the opt-outs were established, they have been the basis of heated debate in Denmark and two referenda on them have been held. Initially, in 2000, the Danes voted on whether Denmark should participate in the common currency of Europe, the Euro. Unfortunately, a majority of Danes voted "no." As a result, Denmark is not part of the Euro group and has kept its currency, the Kroner.

Over time, many have argued that the French EU President Jacques Delors made the mistake of overselling the importance of the Euro currency for Denmark's economy, which the Danes simply would not believe. Nevertheless, despite this decision, the Danish economy is thriving more than twenty years later.

In December 2015, the Danes held a second referendum on the opt-out concerning Justice and Home Affairs. The vote was to determine if Denmark would maintain the reservations held in the original opt-out or replace them with an opt-in model. Denmark voted not to modify the original opt-out.

It has been suggested that this referendum was presented in such a way that for many Danes, the referendum became an issue concerning Danish sovereignty in relation to the establishment of new immigration rules and for this reason, the opt-out was once again ratified.

Why could this referendum succeed?

Unlike the two previous referenda, this one has been called at a time when Europe finds itself having to deal with an escalating defence crisis with a genuine danger that this crisis could lead to a third world war with potentially devastating consequences. For this reason, Finland and Sweden are considering joining NATO, many countries (including Denmark) will increase their NATO contribution to 2% BNP and Germany has changed its position on weapons.

There is a potential danger that Danish Defence Opt-Out will hamper the protection of Danish interests if, in the future, there is dynamic integration, working towards increased European strategic autonomy. Conversely, the Defence Opt-Out will be less meaningful if the EU's defence cooperation stagnates or rolls back due to internal disagreement.

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