Denmark votes on EU justice policy three weeks after Paris attacks

Eu head quarterDanes voted Thursday in a referendum on adopting EU justice rules, with the Paris attacks three weeks ago and immigration both major issues in the campaign.

The ‘yes’ side has focused on the international fight against jihadism following the November 13 carnage in Paris that left 130 dead, while an anti-immigration party argues that closer ties to the EU could mean more immigration.

“The question of how much of our sovereignty we should give to the EU (and) how do we get a guarantee that the EU doesn’t decide immigration policy” were two top issues for voters, Morten Messerschmidt, a member of the European Parliament for the eurosceptic, anti-immigration Danish People’s Party (DPP), told AFP.

Denmark is a member of the EU and of Europol, an intergovernmental European agency used in the fight against organised crime, trafficking and terrorism.

But the country may have to leave the agency next year since it does not participate fully in the EU’s justice and home affairs policies, after Danish voters rejected the Maastricht Treaty in 1992.

Copenhagen was then granted opt-out clauses on the euro, defence, and justice and home affairs, allowing Danes to finally say ‘yes’ to Maastricht one year later.

– ‘More EU? No thanks’ –
The exemptions mean that Denmark is unable to stay in Europol when the legal status of the EU agency changes, which is expected to be next year.

Voters are being asked if they think Denmark should give up its justice opt-out and replace it with the type of opt-in model used by Britain and Ireland, who choose which parts of EU legislation to participate in on a case-by-case basis.

The right-wing government of Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen and four other political parties say a ‘yes’ vote is the best way to ensure Denmark stays in Europol, helping Danish police fight violent extremism and other cross-border crime.

Opponents believe dropping the opt-out hands too much power to Brussels, and want to negotiate a separate agreement to stay in Europol.

“We give up all our sovereignty in the justice area if we say yes,” DPP leader Kristian Thulesen Dahl told news agency Ritzau.

The DPP claims Denmark risks losing control over its immigration policy, a strong argument for voters worried that the country could be forced to accept obligatory EU refugee quotas in the future.

Denmark has some of Europe’s strictest immigration policies and has received far fewer asylum seekers this year than neighbouring Sweden and Germany, two of Europe’s top destination for refugees.

A ‘yes’ result means the Danish parliament can adopt further EU justice legislation without first consulting voters, but the government has said another referendum would need to be held on policies affecting immigration.

Some voters have said they will vote ‘no’ because they find it hard to understand what the referendum is about.

Marlene Wind, a political science professor at the University of Copenhagen, said the ‘yes’ side was focusing too much on technicalities and regulations.

“Many people I’ve talked to say they feel completely intimidated,” she told AFP.

By contrast, the DPP has boiled down its message on campaign posters to: “More EU? No thanks.”

The ‘no’ side has accused its opponents of scare tactics, with one controversial campaign poster showing the blurred face of a child and the words: “Help the police unravel paedophile networks.”

On Wednesday one poll credited the ‘no’ side with 42 percent of voter sympathies, giving it a slight lead over the ‘yes’ side with 39 percent, while 18 percent were undecided.

But one poll last week also showed that one in five Danes are more likely to approve the changes after the November 13 Paris attacks.

Polls opened at 0800 GMT and close at 1900 GMT.

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