PM: Danish vote shows 'considerable skepticism'

COPENHAGEN: The fact that 53 percent of Danish voters decided in a referendum to keep a decades-old opt-out from justice affairs in the European Union shows there is "considerable skepticism about the European project," Denmark's pro-EU prime minister said Friday.

Lars Loekke Rasmussen called the vote, which means Denmark can no longer be directly involved with the police organization Europol, "a slap in the face."

He wrote on Facebook that Denmark should join the agenda of British Prime Minister David Cameron on future ties with the EU, which both countries joined in 1973.

Britain plans a referendum by the end of 2017 to decide whether it will leave the 28-nation bloc. Cameron wants to stay in — provided he can secure the changes he wants, including giving member states more autonomy, such as the power to restrict benefits for EU immigrants coming to Britain.

Loekke Rasmussen's vision for "a new balance" is "a strong Europe that really can make a positive difference (and) a slimmer EU, where countries can solve problems in their own way more meaningfully."

Next Friday, he meets with European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels to start talks on reaching so-called parallel agreements that would allow Danes to continue cooperation with Europol, among others.

"We want to continue in Europol," said Soeren Espersen of the EU-skeptic, anti-immigration Danish People's Party. Denmark's second-largest party wants changes to the passport-free Schengen travel zone that recently came under pressure following the surge in migrant numbers in Europe. "We must have this fundamental discussion now."

Last week, the bloc changed the role of the European police agency, including banning opt-outs from EU justice policies for full members.

Loekke Rasmussen's center-right government had argued that ending the 1992 opt-out would give Danes more say, while opponents said Danes would lose even more sovereignty to Brussels.

Turnout in Thursday's referendum was 72 percent.