COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Danes voted Thursday to keep a 23-year-old opt-out from justice affairs, hence taking a step away from closer ties with the European Union, meaning it temporarily would end ties with Europol, even as the European law-enforcement agency is preparing to increase its role in fighting terrorism.
Projections on Denmark’s two main television stations based on nearly all votes counted showed 53 percent wanted to keep the 1992 opt-out. “Danes are saying yes to cooperation but no to relinquishing more sovereignty to Brussels,” said Kristian Thulesen-Dahl, head of the EU-skeptic, anti-immigration Danish People’s Party. “What a fantastic evening,” said Thulesen-Dahl, one of the “no” sides most prominent figures.
Pro-EU Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen said he now would have talks with European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker aimed at reaching so-called parallel agreements that would allow Denmark to continue cooperation with Europol, among others.
During the two-week campaign, both sides have called for somehow being part of Europol — either directly, as the government suggested, or through parallel agreements, as the “no” side called for. The latter means Danes find themselves on the sidelines of the EU-wide police agency with no say in decision-making, like non-EU neighbors Norway and Iceland.
“It is a considerable ‘no’ which bothers me,” said Loekke Rasmussen who heads a one-party center-right government, adding he has “full respect for the Danes’ choice.” Last week, the 28-member bloc changed the role of the European police agency, including banning opt-outs from EU justice policies for full members.
The pro-EU center-right government had argued that ending the opt-out would give Danes more say within the bloc, while opponents claim the opposite would happen — Danes will lose even more sovereignty to Brussels.
If Thursday’s referendum results in continuing the opt-out, Henning Soerensen, a lecturer in lecturer in EU law at the University of Southern Denmark, fears a new agreement to rejoin Europol “could take years.”
Danes “won’t (then) have immediate access to Europol registers on foreign fighters in Syria, criminal motorbike gangs, etc.,” he said. “Basically, it’s a matter of what relation Denmark wants with the EU — inside or outside.”
The vote comes three weeks after the deadly Paris attacks, reviving fears in the small Scandinavian country where officials say they have thwarted several terrorist attacks since the 2005 publishing of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that caused fiery protests in Muslim countries. In February, a gunman killed two people and wounded five in attacks on a free-speech event and Copenhagen’s main synagogue.
The government had said that whichever way the vote goes it won’t affect the country’s immigration policy. Unlike neighbors Germany and Sweden, Denmark has not seen a recent surge in migrant numbers, chiefly because of its asylum rules, considered among the strictest in Europe.
Turnout was around 72 percent, the DR and TV2 channels said.