EC Summit: Denmark's leaders hope for a 'yes': Danish opposition swings behind new Maastricht opt-out deal

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DANISH leaders yesterday said that they were confident the Edinburgh summit had paved the way for a decisive 'yes' vote in a second referendum on the Maastricht treaty to be held early next year.

Representatives of three key opposition parties which joined forces with the government in pressing for a special deal for Denmark within the European Community all backed the compromise reached by EC leaders in Edinburgh over the weekend.

'There are some parts of the agreement that could have been better, but the deal is legally binding and that was a pre-condition for our support,' said Holger Nielsen, leader of the opposition Socialist People's Party, which successfully spearheaded the 'no' campaign in Denmark's referendum over Maastricht in June.

'This represents a completely new development in Denmark's policy towards the Community; we are rejecting key elements of unionism.'

Under the terms of the Edinburgh agreement, Denmark is to be allowed to opt out of the clauses in the Maastricht treaty covering a single European currency, a common defence policy, joint citizenship and co-ordinated legal co-operation.

As such, EC leaders conceded to almost all the demands put forward by the Prime Minister, Poul Schluter, at the summit. 'I honestly think that everybody at home will be able to see that the result is so good that we can confidently vote yes,' said a clearly relieved Mr Schluter.

Today the Prime Minister is to meet leaders of all seven parties that formed the 'national compromise' on exemption clauses which would enable Denmark to ratify Maastricht after its voters narrowly rejected it by 51 per cent to 49 per cent in June.

Most observers say the second referendum is likely to be held in April or May. In the run-up to the vote, the 'yes' camp is likely to argue that Denmark has secured an extraordinary deal, which enables it to remain in the EC on its own terms and that another 'no' would almost certainly force it out of the Community.

Recent opinion polls suggested most Danes will vote 'yes' to Maastricht next time, although the margin has varied from 51-49 to 60-40.

The 'national compromise' comprises seven of the country's eight main political parties, leaving only the far-right Progress Party adamantly opposed to ratifying the treaty. Pia Kjaersgaard, the Progress leader, complained yesterday that the Edinburgh agreement was 'the same as that put to the voters in June - with only some extra details'.

Ib Christensen, a Danish member of the European Parliament representing the anti-EC People's Movement, described the 'national compromise' as 'treachery' and accused the government of 'selling out' the Danish people following the June vote.

The 'no' camp, which will be considerably smaller in the run-up to the next referendum, will undoubtedly say that the legal basis of the Edinburgh agreement is shaky and that Danes are simply being asked to accept 'Maastricht in a new bottle'.

(Photograph omitted)