You never know with referendums: a view from Denmark


The Danes have had eight EU referendums to date. Charlotte Antonsen, a veteran campaigner and former Danish MP, relates her experience of these and draws out lessons for the upcoming British campaign. This piece was originally published as part of the UCL European Institute’s first guest editor week on openDemocracy.

In Denmark we have had eight EU referendums in the last four decades. As a former member of the Danish parliament and EU spokesman from 1990 to 2007, I’ve been directly involved in planning and campaigning for four of them. Below I will share the lessons the UK may draw from this experience, and explain what happened in our last EU referendum in December, the rejection of which came as a big surprise to many.

Voters vote as they please

We have asked the Danes all kinds of different EU-questions. Each time the people have answered yes or no, but it wouldn’t be right to say that the Danes actually answered the question that was put to them on the ballot paper.

Only three months ago we had an EU referendum about freedom, security, and justice. It was about changing one of the Danish opt-outs to a voluntary opt-in model. The reason is that we will have to leave Europol next year if we don’t change the opt-out. So the idea was that the referendum should primarily be about Europol.

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