Denmark must vote to overturn its defence reservation on 1 June

Now, more than ever, it’s important that Denmark fully joins forces with the rest of Europe. Søren Gade urges all Danish citizens to vote yes to the upcoming chance to overturn the Danish opt-out from EU defence policy on 1 June 2022
Danish Navy ship P520 in Copenhagen Harbor, 2021 | Photo: Adobe Stock

By Søren Gade

Søren Gade (DK, RE) is the Chair of Parliament’s Delegation for relations with India and a former Danish Minister of Defence

24 May 2022

Historic times call for historic decisions. My mind is very clear: Denmark needs to show its muscle and take responsibility for the common European defence. Therefore, I urge all Danish citizens to vote yes to the upcoming chance to overturn the Danish opt-out from EU defence policy on 1 June 2022. 

I, more than anyone, am excited by the prospect of Danish citizens voting for an even stronger commitment to both Europe and our common battle to remain a safe and secure part of the world, especially in these days, weeks and months when violent and non-democratic forces are responsible for threats, demolition and war.

Furthermore, they seem to be willing to increase pressure on Europe by using their energy resources as a weapon. Therefore, I think it is more important than ever that Denmark fully joins forces with the rest of Europe. We need to recognise that the world changed dramatically with the Russian invasion of Ukraine; the need for a strong and functioning European defence is evident.

I strongly believe that we must use this opportunity to join our European brothers and sisters in the aim of maintaining the European community as a strong and independent unit, a place where people can both think and act freely in the name of democracy.

For many years, the EU defence reservation has placed obstacles in the way of my country’s ability to fully play a role in the world

Denmark’s – and Europe’s – security is rooted in Nato, but we must also be able to handle conflicts in our own immediate area, and in operations that mean something to Europe. This is my strong belief and, as a former minister of defence in Denmark, I recommend everybody votes for the abolition of the Danish defence reservation. Still, it is important for me to emphasise to all the Danish voters that the Danish government always has the sovereign right to decide what the Danish defence forces should and should not participate in.

To show my support for our soldiers and our capability to defend ourselves, I always have a very visible sign placed in the buttonhole on my blazer: namely, the sand-coloured bow that sends the message that we must support our soldiers. 

In many ways, the Danish defence forces have been the focal point of my life. For more than 40 years I have been a volunteer in the Danish Home Guard. Furthermore, I act as an officer in the reserve at the Jutland Dragon Regiment in Holstebro, a smaller town in the western part of Denmark. During the first Gulf War, I was deployed as a UN observer in the Middle East, and as minister of defence from 2004 to 2010, I was a frequent guest of Danish troops abroad – both in Iraq and in Afghanistan. 

For many years, the EU defence reservation has placed obstacles in the way of my country’s ability to fully play a role in the world. However, I am the first person to admit that resources have not been present either. Tasks and resources must necessarily go hand in hand. But now that the defence budget in Denmark is increased, we will be able to revitalise our entire defence at home and, furthermore, be able to participate more in the joint tasks of defending Europe against rising threats from regimes whose values differ greatly from our own.

In addition to moral support, the right equipment and the right organisation is the best way we can support our soldiers. 

But primarily we can help by choosing the right option on 1 June: vote yes, and let us get rid of the reservation, so that we can take more responsibility in both Europe and the world. The EU’s military operations contribute to security and stability in Europe and thus also in Denmark. We must help to develop this, so that the EU supports and complements a strong Nato.

In my past role as Minister of Defence in Denmark, I unfortunately had to say no several times to missions under the auspices of the EU – this was obviously both hard and problematic

Participating in the common security and defence policy would enable Denmark to take part in joint EU military operations and to cooperate on the development and acquisition of military capabilities within the EU framework. I hope that the citizens of Denmark agree with me on the fact that this is necessary.

In my past role as Minister of Defence in Denmark, I unfortunately had to say no several times to missions under the auspices of the EU – this was obviously both hard and problematic. 

Therefore, I am more than content that the citizens in Denmark now finally have an option to get rid of the defence reservation.

It was obviously problematic for me that Denmark as a country could not contribute to important initiatives for the benefit of all our security and safety. 

An example that I remember very clearly was when the EU launched initiatives to hunt down and expel pirates from the waters near Somalia back in 2008. 

Danish companies account for more than 15 per cent of the transport of goods in the world’s seas. They did then and, in fact, still do to this day.

Therefore, it was both extremely difficult and embarrassing for me and for my country that we were not able to participate in the missions instigated to protect Danish companies and their employees.

I also think it is worth mentioning that Denmark had to stand outside the peacekeeping mission in Bosnia in the 1990s, because the task was handed over from Nato to the EU . 

Of course, I want Denmark to participate when the EU engages in peacekeeping tasks and stabilisation in our immediate areas, where we can see a direct connection between war and massive refugee flows. Therefore, I most sincerely hope that Danish citizens will vote for a strong European collaboration concerning our security and safety, and for strong joint defence forces. 

Europe needs us to work together to secure our values, our countries and our democracy. 

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