Denmark is voting on whether or not to join the EU's common defence policy, potentially becoming the last of the bloc s members to sign up as Russia's invasion of Ukraine continues to reshape Europe's security landscape.
The referendum on Wednesday, in which voters are expected to support the government's proposal, follows historic applications by Denmark's previously non-aligned Nordic neighbours, Finland and Sweden to join Nato last month.
Denmark, historically critical of the EU, secured exemptions from joining both the bloc's security and defence policy and the euro in a 1993 referendum, but the prime minister of the country Mette Frederiksen said it was time to change tack.
After casting her vote, Frederiksen said that they are looking forward to a time that will be even more unstable than what we are experiencing now. I believe that it is the right thing for Europe, the right thing for Denmark, the right thing for our future. After reaching an agreement with a majority of parties in the Danish parliament about Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Frederiksen pledged to increase defence spending to 2% of GDP by 2033, in line with Nato membership requirements.
The ruling Social Democrats defence spokesman, Mogens Jensen, said that Nato will be our most important tool, but the EU gives us another chance at securing our defence in the east. Eleven of Denmark's 14 parties, representing more than three-quarters of seats in parliament, have urged voters to drop the opt-out.
The world is changing, and not in a good way. Jakob Ellemann-Jensen, head of the opposition Liberal Party, said we need to stand together and strengthen the cooperation that strengthens our security.
The referendum's outcome is more likely despite polls showing a yes vote, with about 40% of support against 30% for no and 20% undecided, but analysts have been wary of making predictions of the referendum's outcome, with low voter turnout expected to play a role in a country that has often rejected further EU integration.
Participation in the EU's defence policy would allow Denmark, a founding Nato member, to take part in joint EU military operations, such as those in Bosnia, Mali and Somalia, and Danish officials to stay in the room when EU colleagues discuss defence issues.
Experts said it would be seen as a symbolic win in Brussels. Kristian Soby Kristensen is a senior researcher at Copenhagen University's Centre for Military Studies and believes that the political significance will outweigh the military contribution.
Those opposed to a decision to abandon the opt-out argue that the EU's defence cooperation is hampered by excessive bureaucracy and inefficient decision making, and that a joint European defence would come at the expense of Nato. Polls were opened at 8 am local time and a result is expected to come after 11 pm on Wednesday.