Research & Publications


Brexit – lessons from four referenda on the European Union (EU) in Denmark

The EU Centre in Singapore has published a policy brief by Joergen Oerstroem Moeller (Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the ISEAS) entitled “Brexit – lessons from four referenda on the European Union (EU) in Denmark.”


From 1972 to 1993 Denmark staged four referenda on the EU. Two of them in particular hold valuable lessons for Britain seeking new terms – in June 1992 on the Treaty on European Union (Maastricht Treaty), the Danes voted “NO”with a slim majority; this was followed by another vote on the treaty in May 1993 on the Edinburgh Agreement with a “YES” vote. Joergen Oerstroem Moeller was directly involved in all four referenda and served 1989-1997 as State-Secretary in the Royal Danish Foreign Ministry. The result of a referendum may and often will be decided by policy decisions shaping the electorates’ perception long before the voting takes place. The majority votes according to instinct and intuition and is often guided by emotions. The Danish case highlights the importance of defining clearly specific exceptions, working hard to explain the case (at home and abroad), establishing good-will, and conveying that exceptions are in principle temporary and do not require treaty changes. The objectives laid out at the start of the process must be achievable. The member state in question should not manoeuvre itself into humiliating back-pedalling at the final negotiation round: if so it arouses suspicion among the electorate that it is being manipulated and deceived. During the campaign media attention will primarily focus on dissent and scepticism presenting the establishment with the tedious task of confuting accusations of all kinds. The YES camp will be pushed into the defensive by the NO camp setting the agenda. Time and effort and political capital needed to be invested for the positive outcome.

Please download the policy brief here.