Paper

Significant increase in activations of EU defence opt-out

Summary Denmark’s EU defence opt-out increasingly excludes Denmark from participating in the EU’s defence and security cooperation. This is seen in a tally that Think Tank EUROPA conducted of all legal acts that have activated the opt-out since it was implemented in 1993. The defence opt-out has been activated a total of 189 times across 23 operations/missions and five integration-related initiatives.

While the opt-out since its first activation in 1996 and ten years onward to 2005 was activated 34 times, it has been activated 125 times in the last 10 years. In other words, two-thirds of all activations in the 26 years since the opt-out was put into force has happened during the last 10 years. In 2014, the opt-out was activated 23 times, which is a record for the period.

Denmark participates in the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) but is cut off from a significant share of the cooperation as a result of the defence opt-out. The share of defence opt-out affected legal acts in the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy is rising. While the share during the 00s was around 10-15 pct., it has in during the later years been between 20-25 pct.

The EU’s defence cooperation is intergovernmental, and the member states can at any point independently decide not to participate in a given EU mission or choose to veto new decisions. Denmark is the only EU country that has cut itself off from the opportunity to opt into participation – even if the missions or cooperation would be in the clear interest of Denmark. Several circumstances suggest that the trend will continue where Denmark is sidelined more and more in the EU’s defence and security field.

Main conclusion
  • Denmark har since 1993 activated the EU defence opt-out 189 times.
  • 125 of the 189 activations took place during the last 10 years. This is equal to two-thirds of all activations of the defence opt-out.
  • The tendency year-to-year is clear: The defence opt-out has been activated more and more. In 2014, the opt-out was activated 23 times, which is a record for the entire period.
  • Denmark participates in the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy, but the share of defence opt-out affected legal acts under this is increasing. During 2014-2017, this was the case for between a fifth and a third of all legal acts in the field.
  • The defence opt-out has been activated in connection with 23 operations/missions and five integration-related initiatives. There is a big difference between how many legal acts are related to individual operations/missions and initiatives.
  • The prospective European Commission lead by the former Germany defence minister Ursula von der Leyen has announced a massive focus on the defence policy.
  • The EU’s defence cooperation is expected to be integrated and strengthened more in the coming years due to strong interests in several member states.
  • It is therefore likely that the trend will continue. Denmark will to a greater extent be excluded from participating in the EU’s defence and security cooperation.
  • Denmark is the only EU country that is cut off from the opportunity to opt into new defence policies and military missions in the EU – even if the cooperation or missions would be in the clear interest of Denmark.
  • Denmark’s automatic exclusion from the EU’s enhanced defence cooperation, PESCO, in 2017 marked the first time in 14 years that the opt-out led to new consequences that were integration-related.