„The government plans to let parliament ratify the treaty,” Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said after a cabinet meeting on 11 December.
The PM’s decision was confirmed by the Danish Parliament later in the same day, as a broad majority of MPs rejected a counter-proposal tabled by eurosceptic parties to force through a referendum.
Denmark had been considered as one of the few countries whose constitution could require it to consult its citizens on the text – a move feared by pro-EU politicians following the experience of 2005, when voters in France and the Netherlands rejected the draft EU Constitution in referenda, putting the brakes on important reform of European institutions following the Union’s enlargement.
The far-right Danish People’s Party, which, though it supports the governing coalition, still believes a referendum is necessary, says voters are being „cheated”.
According to the constitution, a referendum must take place if a legal review establishes that sovereignty is transferred from Denmark to the EU. However, Rasmussen says a Ministry of Justice review of the final treaty text, agreed by EU leaders last October, has found that the document does not transfer sovereignty from Denmark and that the government is therefore not obliged to call a public consultation.
The decision will come as a relief to many EU leaders as they prepare for the official signing of the Treaty on 13 December in Lisbon. Indeed, the text is expected to easily win the approval of the Danish Parliament, notably after the opposition Social Democrats and Social Liberals gave their backing to Rasmussen’s decision.
A referendum, on the other hand, would have been a riskier option, given Denmark’s ambivalent relationship with the EU. In a 1992 referendum, Danes declined to adopt the Maastricht Treaty, only approving it one year later after the government negotiated a series of opt-outs, notably in the fields of justice and home affairs and defence co-operation. In a separate ballot in 2000, Danes also rejected the euro in favour of the Danish crown.
Following his re-election for a third term as Danish prime minister last month though, Rasmussen hopes to put an end to these opt-outs, with a second round of referenda, most notably on the adoption of the euro.
Rasmussen said he did not know whether his decision would influence the political decision-making process in other countries. „Each country has a sovereign right to make its decision based on constitutional requirements, traditions and customs. We have made our decision based on Danes’ traditions and customs,” he said.
Ireland is now the only country which is constitutionally bound to a popular vote. Other potential candidates for a referendum, including France, the Netherlands and the UK, have all said they would also have the new EU Treaty passed through their national parliaments, despite citizens’ pressure for a public consultation.