Last December, Denmark held a referendum on whether or not to abandon its opt-out of the EU’s Police and Judicial cooperation. The opt-out means that Denmark will be unable to continue as a member of Europol (the EU’s law enforcement agency) when this agency becomes a supranational rather than intergovernmental body.
The turnout in the referendum was 72% and of those 53.1% voted ‘no’, hence whereas the Danish government would prefer the country to remain in Europol, this is no longer democratically possible. Instead, the government is seeking to obtain a so-called parallel deal whereby Denmark can remain outside the framework but maintain cooperation with Europol on an issue-by-issue basis. It is uncertain, however, how such a deal would work and so far, statements from EU leaders have not been encouraging.
The reason the Danes were given this referendum dates back to the infamous Maastricht vote in 1992 when voters rejected the new EU Treaty thereby holding up its ratification process. Subsequently, a renegotiation of Denmark’s terms took place at a conference in Edinburgh and the Danes were given opt-outs in areas that were perceived to be deal-breakers. According to the Edinburgh agreement, Denmark could remain outside what was then called the Justice and Home Affairs cooperation, the single currency, and European defence. (The final opt-out was a guarantee that EU citizenship could not replace Danish citizenship in future. This has since become irrelevant as the EU citizenship is now a supplement to national citizenship, not a replacement as once contemplated).
Opt-outs in place, the second Maastricht referendum was held in 1993, and this time the Danes voted to ratify the Treaty. However, a later attempt by the pro-Euro government to find a majority for losing the opt-out of the single currency failed when in 2000 Danes rejected joining the Euro. Hence, Denmark still remains outside the single currency.
In the grand scheme of things, and considering the momentous event that Brexit will be – almost regardless of its final design – as well as various other potential developments in 2017, the Danish Europol conundrum is perhaps a small matter. However, it may be worth keeping an eye on the negotiations as an indicator of things to come.