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Could Denmark Be the Next Nation to Bail On the EU?

Denmark's former Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt addresses Fortune' Most Powerful Women Summit in London.Denmark's former Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt addresses Fortune' Most Powerful Women Summit in London.
Denmark's former Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt addresses Fortune' Most Powerful Women Summit in London.Photograph by Peter Dench

Denmark’s former Prime Minister won’t comment on Britain’s upcoming vote on whether or not to stay in the European Union—but she doesn’t shy away from wading into how her own nation might confront the same question.

Speaking at Fortune‘s Most Powerful Women Summit in London on Monday night, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, who served as Denmark’s first female PM from 2011 to 2015, took a question from an audience member about whether Denmark would stay in the EU if Britain decides to leave.

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It’s a timely question. There has been speculation that Denmark—which, like Britain, has euroskeptic tendencies and its own currency—might follow the U.K.’s lead if British voters decide later this month to terminate their nation’s membership in the political bloc. In December, Danes fueled that conjecture by rejecting an opportunity to establish closer ties with the EU by voting down a referendum to adopt the group’s cross-border policing.

“The Danish discussion is quite different from the British discussion,” said Thorning-Schmidt. “If you asked the Danes if they want to leave the EU or stay, you’ll get a majority that want to stay,” she says.

But that doesn’t mean Danes like the EU. They don’t, said Thorning-Schmidt, who now works as CEO of Save the Children International. “Everyone knows that the EU is not perfect, but deep down I think a lot of Danish know how much we gain economically, culturally in terms of our freedom by being part of the EU.” The bloc, she said, “is one of the reasons why all of us can sit here, peacefully, talking to each other; why we have friendship across the European continent—friendship that we have never ever had before.”

She estimated that about 60% of the Danish electorate would vote to stay in.

Nevertheless, she agreed that the EU needs reform and said the debate incited by the Brits is “actually quite interesting.” She added: “David Cameron had asked for reform of the European Union. Why would you leave such a debate when you just started it?”