Denmark delivered a pointed rebuke to Brussels last night as the country rejected a government proposal to deepen the EU member’s participation in the bloc’s justice cooperation.
After a three-week campaign when the two sides were neck-and-neck, 53 per cent voted ‘no’ compared to 47 per cent who voted ‘yes’.
The result will be a worrying reminder to David Cameron of the risk he is taking in putting the UK’s membership of the EU to a similar referendum vote.
“The Danish have said ‘No to more EU!'” exclaimed Kristian Thulesen Dahl, leader of the Eurosceptic Danish People’s Party (DPP) at the start of his celebratory speech to party activists in Copenhagen’s Christiansborg Palace.
He accused the ruling Liberal Party of attempting to scare the public into voting ‘yes’ with the threat that Denmark otherwise risked being expelled from Europol, the EU’s police agency. “The Danish people did not take the bait,” he said.
“When the Danish population has the chance to vote, then they vote for less power to Brussels: That is what we have seen once again,” he told the Telegraph.
In the poll, Danes were asked whether they wanted to exchange the “opt-out” on EU justice and home affairs rules, negotiated in 1993 after their shock rejection of the Maastricht treaty, for a pick-and-choose deal similar to that of the UK and Ireland.
The yes campaign, led by Lars Lokke Rasmussen, the prime minister, and his Social Democrat opposition, played on fears that a looser relationship with Europol would make it harder for police to protect citizens from terrorists, fraudsters, paedophiles and cyber criminals.
“This is a significant no. I have full respect for the Danes’ decision.” Mr Lokke Rasmussen said after the result.
He said he would hold a series of emergency meetings with other political parties on Monday over how to move forward, before meeting Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission’s president, and EU President Donald Tusk in Brussels the following Friday.
“It’s my experience that parties on both the yes and the no side agree that it would be a disaster for Denmark and the Danish police if we slipped out of Europol,” he said.
Soren Espersen, the DPP’s vice chairman, told the Telegraph that he felt the result could aid the UK’s own negotiations.
“I see this as a support for David Cameron because he needs to tell Brussels that it’s not only the British who have these anti-federal feelings. We’ve always had them and we still have them to a rather tremendous degree.”