December 2015        

Sovereignty and democracy at risk in Denmark

From Mary Graham in Copenhagen

The Danish people go to the polls on 3 December to vote on whether to shed the country’s power under the Lisbon Treaty to opt out of EU laws on justice and home affairs in favour of a more “flexible” opt-in approach, according to pro-EU parties, which—concerned that Denmark would eventually be forced to leave the European Police Office (Europol)—pushed the referendum through the parliament in March.
     If Yes, the Danish case-based opt-in approach would be similar to the arrangements now operating in Ireland and Britain.
     Apart from the opt-out on justice and home affairs, Denmark also has opt-outs on defence, citizenship, and the economic and monetary union (the euro).
     Confusion reigns, however, about what the Danish people will specifically be voting for on 3 December. The parties pushing for a Yes vote have been accused of scaremongering in their assertion that if Denmark leaves Europol its borders will never again be secure against people-traffickers and drug-smugglers, paedophile rings and social dumping.
     For the No campaign—the main parties of which are the left-wing Red-Green Alliance and the ultra-right Danish People’s Party, a junior party in government—the referendum concerns a wide range of areas within Danish justice and home affairs policy over and above the Europol components.
     Without the opt-out the EU would take control of important sections of Danish policy and law on justice and home affairs. With decision-making transferred to Brussels, the twin threats to Danish democracy and sovereignty become glaringly obvious. Laws governing divorce, crime, child custody, policing and much more would in future be determined by the EU. A total of twenty-two EU regulations covering justice would become law in Denmark overnight.
     The left-wing “Maintain the JHA Opt-Out” campaign is running on a platform of openness and democracy, emphasising the fundamentally undemocratic nature of the EU itself, in which only the unelected, opaque EU Commission can propose and ratify legislation, with the elected but puppet back-seat EU Parliament rarely allowed to influence or prevent legislation going through.
     Another concern is that foreign courts would assume authority in Denmark and be given the power to make decisions with respect to Denmark and Danish citizens in such areas as child custody and divorce, property searches and seizures, and surveillance. Considering the extent of corruption today in the Italian justice system, for instance, or the history of torture in Greek prisons, there is good reason for Danish people’s concern.
     The EU’s declared objective is to realise even greater police and public prosecution cross-border co-operation. If Denmark abolishes its opt-out, a parliamentary majority alone could decide whether to relinquish Danish control of its judicial system. It would be impossible for Denmark to reclaim jurisdiction if any future breach of rule of law issues or legal rights came to affect innocent Danish citizens, or if EU policy were to develop in a “wrong” direction—if, for instance, countries with completely different and anti-liberal legal systems and laws governing, say, the family were to gain significant influence. Countries that discriminate against women or homosexuals, or that prohibit abortion, could drastically affect Danish family law through the EU.
     The opt-in system does in fact mean that the opt-out would be completely eliminated, and that in future the parliament alone would decide—without consultation with the population through referendum—whether to transfer even more power, in even more areas, to the EU.
     Although the left-wing No campaign is in favour of international co-operation at all levels, including agreeing that Denmark should participate in European-wide efforts to fight crime, it is against bureaucracy and is highly sceptical of Europol being given a range of new powers without any provision being made for the rule of law and legal rights. The level of democratic control over Europol is a far cry from that exerted now on Denmark’s own police force. Further, any future participation in Europol would give other countries access to information on Danish citizens and to Danish police files, without the necessary democratic checks and balances. As it stands, Europol is within its legal rights to share information with countries outside the EU and with private security agencies.
     The Yes campaigners intimate that Denmark must leave Europol in the case of a No vote. This is an untruth. Denmark has not even asked the EU for a parallel agreement, similar to the one that already exists with Norway, Iceland, and Switzerland. There is no logical reason for Denmark to abolish the opt-out on justice and home affairs, so surrendering its definitive sovereignty in this area, in order to remain in Europol.


The referendum proposal was defeated—a resounding blow to the government and the EU and a victory for the people.

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