Denmark takes a holiday to decide treaty's fate

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The Independent Online
THE ANSWER was 'ja' or 'nej', but there was no question.

Danes yesterday were voting for or against 'the proposition forwarded by the Folketing (parliament) that amends Danish law to take account of the Edinburgh Accord and the Maastricht treaty'. The statement was pinned to the wall, and voters received cards marked 'yes' and 'no'. 'It makes it much easier to count them at the end,' said Annette Stounberg, helping organise the referendum in a working-class Copenhagen suburb.

The tellers were all members of political parties and, having volunteered to run a polling station, could have been arrested for 'failing to fulfil a declared civic duty' if they did not turn up for duty as promised. Every citizen had to be given time off work to vote and, since many of the polling stations are schools, children too had an unexpected holiday in the spring sunshine.

Ms Stounberg, a Social Democrat, said: 'I think we got everything we wanted from the Edinburgh agreement.' All the polls suggested that, for a 'yes' victory, it was female and Social Democrat voters who had to change their minds. The 'no' voters remained adamant that the treaty would damage everything Denmark holds dear.

The Danes are old hands at referendums: there have been 14 since 1916, when they voted to sell the Danish West Indies to the United States. This time, more than 500 foreign journalists have come to Copenhagen - one for every 10,000 Danes - to witness the fate of the Maastricht treaty first hand, and Danes have risen to the occasion.

A team in Viking helmets paraded outside the town hall, where most television crews had set up, but were upstaged by a guitar-playing group in T-shirts saying 'With Jesus on the throne, there will be no union'. Inside, an overworked information officer struggled to keep the press happy. 'Thank god Denmark is only famous for a day,' she sighed.