Denmark still divided on the European Union

June 17, 1998

By Oge Skovrind

COPENHAGEN — The Danish population remains divided on European Union (EU), as it has been in all five referendums held on the question since Denmark joined the European Community in 1972.

On May 28, 45% of voters ignored the recommendation of all the mainstream parties, the media, trade union leaders and employers and voted "no" in a referendum on the Amsterdam Treaty. The result indicates a massive distrust of the political leaders as far as the EU is concerned.

Just two months ago, the four parties which recommended a "no" vote — the Socialist People's Party and Enhedslisten (Red-Green Alliance) on the left, and the nationalist Progress Party and Danish People's Party on the right — together represented only 18% of the electorate.

Right-wing nationalist forces played a significant role in the campaign against the treaty. The Danish People's Party, which has emerged as the leading far-right party in the last year, filled the streets with posters saying "Vote Danish, Vote No".

Part of the old left intelligentsia has abandoned its opposition to the EU and now advocates "progressive" policies inside the union. This shift was reflected in a 50-50 split in the Socialist People's Party's parliamentary group.

The official SPP line shifted from a "yes" recommendation in '93 (when the Maastricht Treaty, including exceptions for Denmark on four points, was approved in a second referendum), to a "no" recommendation this year.

The Social Democrats' "yes" campaign, insisting that the treaty represents an improvement in the general areas of peace, environment and employment, encouraged debate, not about the concrete social content of the EU, but about "national sovereignty", "more or less union" and so on.

Without any public debate, the Danish parliament approved the signing of the Schengen agreement only one month before the referendum. However, since it is included in the new treaty, the Schengen agreement and the question of border control became a very important issue during the campaign.

The left argued against the creation of supra-national bodies that could register "suspicious" citizens, and against the construction of a "fortress Europe" directed against immigrants and refugees.

The right wing focused on defence of the Danish border. The "yes" side insisted on the need for international cooperation against "criminality".

Another important issue has been the enlargement of the European Union towards eastern Europe. According to the government and "responsible" opposition parties, a "yes" vote was the only way not to lose this "historic chance to help these states in their liberation from the communist heritage".

On the "no" side, most support the integration of these states into the EU (except Enhedslisten), but argue that the Amsterdam Treaty does not allow for a fair and full inclusion of all applying countries.

With such a narrow victory for the government on May 28, it is certain that the EU question will remain at the centre of political debate and will be fuelled by further referendums, whether as a result of efforts to remove the Danish exceptions from the Maastricht Treaty or when the next European treaty has to be signed.

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