Danes accuse Hurd of intimidating voters

Click to follow
BRITAIN was yesterday accused of joining a campaign to intimidate Danish voters into backing the Maastricht treaty in their 18 May referendum.

Douglas Hurd said on Sunday that a Danish 'No' would cause a crisis for Denmark, and that Britain might help negotiate a new set of political arrangements afterwards. The Foreign Secretary's comments drew an angry response from Jens-Peter Bonde, leader of the anti-Maastricht June Movement. 'He should not bully the Danes before a referendum,' he told the Independent. The Danish 'Yes' campaign seized on Mr Hurd's statement, which was the main story in most newspapers, as a vital weapon. 'The UK stand has played a very important role in the Danish debate,' said Erik Boel, international secretary to the Social Democrat party, which leads the ruling coalition.

Mr Boel said that the new line from Britain, reversing Mr Hurd's earlier comments, would have a damaging impact on the No campaign. Others in the Yes camp said it showed that Britain would look after its own interests rather than stand by Denmark if it rejected Maastricht. It also showed that Britain saw its interests as lying in European integration, they added.

But Mr Bonde rejected what he deemed scare tactics, and said every country's voice counted. 'Before a referendum, prime ministers and foreign ministers forget that the treaty emphasises unanimity,' he said, referring to the fact that ratification must be by all 12 EC members.

Mr Bonde said Mr Hurd must have been under intense pressure at the informal meeting of foreign ministers to make his comments. 'During the meeting, I expect them to have asked him to bully the Danes, and he has been very difficult to convince in the past,' he said. He doubted that the Foreign Secretary would influence the debate, saying that most Danes understood the difference between the EC as it is and as it would be after Maastricht.

Opinion poll data in Denmark showed that a majority would still vote against the Maastricht treaty, according to Rene Spogard, of the Gallup Institute in Copenhagen. But the country was given a package of guarantees at the Edinburgh summit last December over participation in controversial areas of the treaty. This had shifted the electorate's view, by making 'No' voters less certain, said Mr Spogard.

Mr Hurd's comments would confirm to voters that a second 'No' would isolate Denmark, said Mr Spogard. Before last year's referendum, only 56 per cent of voters believed other states would continue with integration without Denmark. Now the figure is 72 per cent. 'There is a difference in the perception of what happens if Denmark votes No,' he said. Mr Hurd's statement 'will underline this'.

Leading article, page 19