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Danes lean to 'yes' vote over Maastricht

POUL Schluter, Denmark's Prime Minister, still basking in the afterglow of Edinburgh, declared yesterday that it was 'unthinkable' that Danes would again reject the Maastricht treaty now that the country could opt out of the clauses covering common defence, citizenship, legal co-operation and monetary union.

'A second 'no' would be a final 'no' and it would have catastrophic consequences for this country,' said Mr Schluter. 'It would be a historic mistake. And it must not happen.'

Certainly that is the fervent hope of Mr Schluter and seven of the country's eight main political parties which have endorsed the special deal for Denmark agreed by European Community leaders at last weekend's Edinburgh summit.

Opinion polls taken since the summit suggest that a majority of Danes are satisfied that their reservations about being sucked into a mega-European state have now been addressed - or are simply terrified at the prospect of being cast into non-EC darkness should they have the audacity to reject Maastricht again.

In one poll due to be published in Politiken newspaper today, 56 per cent say they would now vote 'yes' to the treaty as opposed to 24 per cent against. In a similar poll carried out immediately before the June referendum, the figures were 39 per cent for, 42 per cent against.

Despite such a convincing lead, nobody in the 'yes' camp is taking the results for granted. Too many fingers were too badly burnt in June when, despite being urged to vote 'yes' by nearly all the main political parties, business leaders, trade unions and the media, a narrow majority of Danes (just under 51 per cent) decided to say 'no'.

In the Copenhagen headquarters of the June Movement, one of several grassroots organisations that remain opposed to Maastricht, the campaign is already under way to secure a similar result in the next referendum. 'Once people have examined the fine print of Edinburgh, they will see that it is really offering us nothing new at all,' said Kai Lemberg, one of the movement's leaders.

'The so-called 'opt-out' provisions are simply re-formulations and clarifications of clauses in the original treaty which stop well short of what we really wanted: a legally binding statement detaching Denmark from the commitment to forging an ever-closer economic and political union. All the Edinburgh declarations are saying are 'read the Maastricht treaty well'. We have read it well and we don't want it.'

Such arguments clearly have some popular support. 'The wool is being pulled over our eyes,' said Lone Byrved, a social worker. 'We have already made our feelings plain once, but we are not being listened to. I have the feeling that the politicians are playing games with us.'

For Miss Byrved, all the main objections to the Maastricht treaty remain valid, despite Edinburgh. She is still terrified that, as a small country, Denmark will be 'crunched' within a more unified Europe. 'This is Denmark and I want it to stay Danish,' she said. 'Why shouldn't I be proud of my country?'

With several months to go before the new referendum, it is still much too early to say how many Danes will once again let such gut feelings about loss of sovereignty or resentment at what many feel is their subsidising of poorer southern European countries, hold sway in the ballot booths.

But Mr Lemberg and his colleagues accept that the dice are even more heavily loaded against them this time around. Whereas in June the protests of the grassroots movements were echoed by three of the country's eight parliamentary parties, including the influential Socialist People's Party, the only voice in parliament which is still calling for a 'no' is that of the far-right anti-immigration Progress Party.

With months of what is expected to be fierce campaigning ahead, some Danes , however, are already showing clear signs of Maastricht fatigue. 'In the end, we may be simply browbeaten into saying 'yes' and let's have done with it,' said Erling Hansen, a 'no' man in June.

'If you ask a child ten times if he or she wants to take a trip into town, there comes a time when he or she will say 'okay, let's take this goddam trip.' We cannot go on and on discussing it.'