EU leaders say Danish referendum vote not important

European Reaction
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Europe's political leaders did their best yesterday to conceal their dismay at the psychological blow Denmark's No vote has delivered not just to the euro, but the wider European project.

Europe's political leaders did their best yesterday to conceal their dismay at the psychological blow Denmark's No vote has delivered not just to the euro, but the wider European project.

Most rushed to play down the significance, pointing out Denmark's lightweight ranking in the EU pecking order.

Officially, the French government - presiding over the EU council until the end of the year - did little more than ''take note'' of the decision of the Danish people.

Minimising the importance of the vote, the Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin, said the Danish economy was ''not a European heavyweight'' and the decision was ''not a problem for the Euro''. Hubert Vedrine the foreign minister expressed his disappointment but said it was more a shame for Denmark than for the rest of the Union: ''I believe that this will change nothing for the euro or for the European Union in general.''

But while no politician would say so openly yesterday, the Danish rejection of the euro makes Franco-German ideas for a ''hard core'' in what is rapidly emerging as a two-speed Europe more relevant than ever.

Germany can now be expected to urgently increase pressure for ''reinforced co-operation'' allowing groups of states to push ahead with common projects without being held back by those less willing, to be clearly enshrined in the next batch of EU constitutional reforms.

Joschka Fischer, the Foreign Minister said: ''The (Danish) decision provides a particular incentive ... to bring the pending institutional reforms of the EU to a successful conclusion. The strengthening of the EU's ability to reform itself and conduct business is the best means against euroscepticism.''

Unofficially however, the view in Paris, and to some extent in Berlin, was that the vote simplifies the European battleground. To have the naturally sceptical Danes within Euroland would have complicated efforts - strongly supported in France - to create a strong, political voice, or economic decision-making forum, around membership of the Euro.

The influential, strongly pro-European newspaper Le Monde said the vote was both ''bad and good news''. The Danish people had taken a clear and honest decision to stay out of the Euro because it inevitably meant a surrender of political sovereignty, the paper said. This was preferable to the ''pretences and ambiguities'' of politicians in other Euroland countries, who would not face up to fact that monetary and political integration went hand in hand.

East European countries privately fear that internal EU divisions could hamper the enlargement process.

''Every setback in European integration is a problem. Poland, as a future EU member, wants a Union that is united and strong,'' said Jan Kulakowski, Poland's chief EU accession negotiator.

But he added: "The vote will not have a direct impact on enlargement."

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