After Denmark′s ′No,′ will the UK be more likely to go it alone? | News | DW | 05.12.2015
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After Denmark's 'No,' will the UK be more likely to go it alone?

Britain's anti-EU faction is hailing the victory of its Danish counterpart as a sign for the union to worry. But as always with these two countries, it's a bit more complicated.

Denmark and the United Kingdom have historically stood shoulder-to-shoulder in keeping the European Union at an arm's length.

Both joined the European Economic Community, the forerunner to the EU, on January 1, 1973. Later, as the Community sought to bind itself closer, both Denmark and the UK sought ways to keep their distance, demanding opt-outs from certain European agreements and refusing to adopt the euro.

Most recently, both have recently undertaken referendums to reevaluate their ties with Europe.

With Denmark's vote on Thursday resulting in a clear denial of a closer relationship to the EU, is Britain's referendum next year - on whether to leave the EU altogether - any more likely to follow suit?

A victory or a distraction

Britain's "in" and "out" camps are split on how the Danish vote might affect the UK., an organization behind the anti-EU campaign, heralded the decision in Denmark as a triumph of democracy against the common threat of sovereignty getting lost in EU corridors.

The basic premise of the referendum in Denmark revolved around whether the country would enhance its cooperation with Europol, the EU's cross-border crime agency.

But the opposition campaign, led by the surging anti-immigrant Danish People's Party, warned of far broader consequences - particularly a loss of popular sovereignty to the national government which, in turn, would hand it over to European politicians. Denmark could continue to cooperate with Europol on security matters just fine without handing over any decision-making power, it argued., which makes a similar argument against an EU poised to "crush our democracy," drew validation from the polls in Denmark.

Yet, Will Straw, executive director of Britain Stronger in Europe, saw the effort to conflate the two referendums as "pretty desperate."

"It is clear that 'Leave' campaigners here are looking for a distraction," he said.

Limited interest

In any case, Britain does not seem to be looking. Iain Begg, a researcher of European integration at the London School of Economics, said there may be some "crossover" between the two referendums, although it is likely to be "limited."

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The Danish referendum "did not resonate much with British public opinion," he added, citing that only a short article appeared on an inside page of "The Times" of London. decried a "near complete blackout by the media."

Euroskepticism, while rising seemingly in concert across the continent, still diverges dramatically amid national circumstances, especially in these two countries, with their slew of special agreements with Europe.

"The Danish opt-outs are more extensive and more complex than the UK's," said Dr. Ben Rosamond, professor of European politics at the University of Copenhagen. In Denmark, therefore, "there is more domestic debate on these issues."

The stakes in the migrant crisis for instance are unique in Denmark. While Denmark, unlike Britain is in the 26-country visa-free Schengen Area, one of its opt-out agreements exempts the country from following EU immigration policy.

The fear that moving closer to the EU by eliminating the Europol opt-out - and giving the government more say over opt-outs in general - extended to the fear that Denmark would soon be at the mercy of the EU's unpopular attempts to decide immigrant quotas.

To leave or not to leave?

According to Mr. Straw of the Britain Stronger in Europe campaign, the issue is more clear-cut in the UK. "Britain already gets the best of both worlds," he said. The country can cooperate with the EU to fight crime while controlling its borders independently.

While security and immigration will play a role in the British debate as long as the terrorist threat and migrant crisis loom large, the deciding fear in the UK referendum is likely to be much vaguer - the unknown fate that would await a country breaking free from the "ever closer union."

"Denmark just settled a technical question," Dr. Rosamond said. "The British people are faced with an existential question."

Still, whether it's the dread of being exposed to crime or that of losing one's place in the world, the anti-EU campaign believes it must counter those scare tactics. "The Danes weren't convinced," said Robert Oxley, media chief for Vote Leave. "And we don't think the Brits will be scared here, either."