COPENHAGEN • Denmark voted yesterday in a referendum to decide whether to adopt some European Union rules, the first test in 15 years of whether the nation wants to integrate further with the 28-member bloc or continue to keep its distance.
In a poll watched by British politicians, who are locked in battle over their own country's ties to the EU, Danes were asked to entrust Parliament to adopt some EU justice and home affairs rules to help fight cross-border crime.
Denmark, Britain and Ireland all won various concessions from the EU in the early 1990s when the modern foundation for the now 28-member bloc was laid, including exemptions from rules governing EU justice and home affairs policies.
The referendum asked whether the Danish Parliament should have the authority to adopt some of those laws to stay within cross-border policing agency Europol.
The government and the main opposition party both say it should. But the populist Danish People's Party, now the second-largest faction in Parliament, says Danes should vote "No" to avoid giving away sovereignty over security.
A "No" victory would cheer Britain's anti-EU UK Independence Party, which wants a total withdrawal from the EU. But British Prime Minister David Cameron could point to it as a sign that other nations are also unhappy with the EU as it stands. He is trying to renegotiate Britain's ties with the EU before holding a referendum by 2017 on whether to remain a member.
Polls show Danish opinion split evenly, with a large portion of people undecided. Analysts say the "Yes" campaign has been lacklustre while the"No" side had a much simpler message of rejection.
By asking Danes to give Parliament authority to decide on which EU rules to adopt, rather than seeking approval from the people for the 22 Acts slated for adoption, the referendum has sown distrust and confusion, analysts say.
And by rejecting on principle the idea of giving more sovereignty to the EU, the "No" camp has forced many voters to think in broader terms about EU integration rather than the technical issue of remaining within Europol.
"I think it's important we don't give up our sovereignty," said 25-year-old "No" voter Lea Sommer Holmberg. "It's important power stays with the people so politicians cannot do what they want."
Others point to the size of the Nordic country of 5.5 million people, which has shunned the euro but pegged its own crown to the single currency to keep its export-driven economy stable. "Denmark is a small and lovely country and we need to take care of its best interests. Because we are a small country, we need some bigger friends," said Mr Steen Boring, a man in his 60s who voted "Yes". REUTERS