Defend reservation or defense without reservation? Denmark decides in a referendum whether it wants to get rid of a long-negotiated special defense arrangement.

A good three months after the Russian army invaded Ukraine, Denmark voted on Wednesday on whether the country should remain outside the EU on defense issues or not.

Almost 4.3 million Danes are called upon in a referendum to answer yes or no to the question of whether Denmark can take part in European security and defense cooperation in the future. The polling stations are open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. A preliminary result is expected late in the evening.

Surveys show a clear trend

Polls indicate that a majority of citizens want to get rid of the so-called EU defense proviso. In the last survey before the election, commissioned by broadcaster DR, 44 percent were in favor of abolishing the special regulation. 28 percent opposed it. However, this also means that many people were still undecided or unwilling to give details until shortly before voting day. It is therefore anything but certain whether the Danes will decide to become more involved in the EU.

The majority of Danish parties, including Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen’s ruling Social Democrats, have called for the proviso to be abolished. It would be the first time that Denmark voted in a referendum to say goodbye to such a special regulation. In 2000 Germany’s northernmost neighbor voted against the euro and in 2015 also against EU judicial cooperation.

First vote 1992

Denmark’s EU defense reservation has existed since 1993. A year earlier, the Danes had voted against the Maastricht Treaty. The Scandinavian country then negotiated four special regulations for EU cooperation in order to remain outside of defense issues, among other things. In the second attempt, the Danish people finally approved the Maastricht Treaty by a majority.

The defense reservation means that Denmark, a founding member of NATO, can take part in civilian but not in EU military missions or in the joint development of weapons systems, for example. For example, the country is not part of the Pesco cooperation platform, through which joint military projects are organized by EU countries.