December 10, 2014 / 3:46 PM / 5 years ago

Denmark moves closer to EU referendum on justice rules

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Denmark moved closer to a referendum on whether to adopt some EU justice rules that it is exempt from but needs to embrace if it wants to remain part of Europe’s cross-border crime agency Europol.

Major parties promised to hold the politically sensitive ballot by the first quarter of 2016, no matter who wins next year’s general election, stressing that a ‘yes’ vote would merely maintain Denmark’s status quo within the 28-nation bloc.

While Denmark’s politicians have favoured closer integration with the EU, Danes have traditionally been more sceptical and delivered an uncompromising ‘No’ in a 2000 referendum on whether to join the euro currency.

Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt’s Social Democrats and the opposition Liberals say Danes should “opt in” to some EU rules to maintain cooperation with Europol, which is undergoing reform, clarifying the collection and usage of data.

Such matters fall under the European Union’s justice and home affairs rules from which Denmark is exempt. If it wants to stay within the agency, it must adopt the relevant clauses such as on data protection.

“Regardless of who wins the next general election, the new government will be obliged to call for a referendum,” Thorning-Schmidt told a news conference, flanked by the leaders of the other parties.

However, the eurosceptic Danish People’s Party, whose popularity has grown in recent years, was absent from the deal.

The group is Denmark’s second or third largest party according to opinion polls, with around 20 percent backing. The Social Democrats have just under 21 percent support and are set to lose next year’s election, while the Liberals are leading the field with almost 25 percent.

A referendum this year on joining an EU Patents Court was approved by voters, but the Danish People’s Party used the ballot as a platform to speak out against the EU and to try to seek concessions in domestic policy, such as limits on welfare handouts for non-Danes.

Reporting by Ole Mikkelsen; writing by Sabina Zawadzki; Editing by Crispian Balmer

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