Denmark votes on joining EU shared defense policy amid concerns over Russia’s war on Ukraine

Denmark is the only member of the 27 nation bloc that is not a part of its Common Security and Defense Policy. The Scandinavian nation of nearly 6 million secured exemptions to that policy in a 1993 referendum on the Maastricht Treaty, which laid the groundwork for the modern EU.

If the notoriously EU-critical Danes vote to abolish the opt-out, as polls suggest will be the case, it would mark another important symbolic shift in defense policy for Europen states after Russia launched the invasion in February. After decades of holding out, Finland and Sweden finally applied to join NATO in May, each citing the war in Ukraine as a motivating factor.

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen has said that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was a significant factor that led the government to call a referendum, and that the vote was an important value-based decision and a way to signal support for a stronger EU. The government has spent several weeks campaigning for a “yes” vote.

Denmark is a founding member of NATO, but participating in the EU’s Common Security and Defense Policy would enable Denmark to take part in joint EU military operations, such as those in Somalia, Mali and Bosnia.

“NATO will of course remain our most important tool, but the EU gives us another tool in securing our defense in the east,” said Mogens Jensen, a defense spokesman for the ruling Social Democrats.

Danish voters cast their ballots at a polling station in Viborg on Wednesday.

While the EU would benefit from the extensive Danish experience in military operations as part of NATO and other alliances, a yes vote would be mostly viewed as a symbolic win in Brussels, according to Kristian Soby Kristensen, a senior researcher at Copenhagen University’s Centre for Military Studies.

“The political significance will outweigh the military contribution,” Kristensen told Reuters.

A large majority in parliament recommends abolishing the opt-out. Wednesday’s vote will be the third such attempt by Danish lawmakers to lift one of the 1993 opt-outs after votes on the euro in 2000 and justice and home affairs in 2015, both of which failed.

Preliminary polls have shown a solid lead to those voting in favor of abolishing the opt-out, with close to 48% in favor and 31% against.

Naysayers have argued that EU’s defense cooperation is strained by bureaucracy and inefficient decision-making, while also fearing the prospect of having to contribute to a potential supranational EU-army.

The EU has no plans to establish a supranational army within the bloc, but it has decided to form a rapid deployment force consisting of up to 5,000 soldiers.

Polling stations close at 8 p.m. local time. The result is expected late in the evening.