COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Denmark on Friday set a Dec. 3 date for a referendum on whether to opt into European Union justice rules, a move its minority government favours to help it combat crime across its borders as illegal immigration into the bloc soars.
The vote will be watched in Britain, which is attempting to renegotiate the terms of its membership of the 28-nation union and aims to hold a referendum by the end of 2017 on whether to stay in or leave.
Danes will have to vote to opt into the EU justice rules if the country is to remain in Europol due to changes to the way the EU-wide police agency will gather data in the future.
Previous governments have dodged the issue in the face of an electorate that tends to be more eurosceptic than most politicians.
Danes delivered a resounding ‘no’ in a 2000 referendum on whether to adopt the euro, despite the political mainstream campaigning for a ‘yes’.
Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen, a liberal who has held the post since a parliamentary election in June, said opting in would help the country tackle crime.
“There are huge problems with crime across the borders and I can only see good reasons to vote yes,” Rasmussen told a news conference after several parties on both sides of the political aisle agreed on the date.
But the Danish People’s Party, once a fringe party whose popularity has soared in recent years and is now the second largest in parliament, is expected to run a robust “no” campaign because opting in would mean giving sovereignty to Brussels.
The party wants the kind of reforms sought by British Prime Minister David Cameron to take back sovereignty in certain areas. It also wants a UK-style referendum on Danish membership of the union.
Reform of Europol comes under justice and home affairs rules from which Denmark is exempt. The changes will put the EU agency at the centre of investigations, replacing the present system of unilateral collaboration between states.
Reporting by Ole Mikkelsen; writing by Sabina Zawadzki; editing by Clelia Oziel