New Danish government would boost 'yes' vote

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The Independent Online
DENMARK'S Social Democrats looked poised yesterday to win back power after 11 years in exile, heightening the chances of a 'yes' vote when the Maastricht treaty is submitted to a second referendum later this year. Despite fears that the resignation of Poul Schluter as prime minister might derail the Maastricht vote, the consensual nature of Danish politics should ensure continued support for the treaty by seven of the eight political factions.

The Social Democrats are credited with creating the compromise agreed at the Edinburgh EC summit that enabled the main dissenters, the Socialist People's Party, to sign up for the treaty.

But the prospect of the Social Democrats' imminent return has not driven exultant Danes to celebrate in the streets. In Denmark the fall of a long-serving prime minister because of a scandal that tainted the entire political establishment, does not constitute much of a crisis. Not even the sensitive financial markets fell significantly.

Senior politicians were surprised by concern abroad that the shake-up might effect Denmark's management of the European Community - the country holds the EC presidency.

'I don't think this need have a major effect . . . In Denmark we don't have the system that you switch top civil servants when a new government is formed,' said Ivar Noergaard, a Social Democrat. He pointed out that because Denmark has a minority government, the constitution demands that all EC policy decisions must be decided by a multi-party 'Market' committee and that the composition of this committee will not change.

Danish life is not coloured by confrontation. Many Danes allude to 'Jante law', translated as a reluctance to put one's head above the parapet. The concept was created in fiction, but still exists in real life. 'We are a small country, there is a high level of mutual tolerance, it is ill-seen to disturb that balance, to set yourself above someone else - for example with a flashy show of wealth,' said a leading industrialist.

The consensus is reflected in the political system: Danes have lived under minority governments for more than 20 years. There are at least 13 parties, eight of which form the 179-seat parliament.

Mr Schluter, a conservative, came to power in 1982, breaking the Social Democrats' hold on the country. His political fate in recent years has been decided by the tiny Radical Liberal party, which has seven MPs.

The party is fiscally conservative and socially liberal - particularly on immigration rights. Its decision to switch its support to the Social Democrats forced it out of the ruling coalition and brought down the Schluter government. Its support for the government's economic programme has been crucial. How it now distributes its political favours will determine whether the conservative-liberal government can stay in office, despite Mr Schluter's resignation.

In yesterday's complicated horse-trading Mr Schluter showed himself determined to keep his own coalition in power, even to the extent of offering the Radical Liberals the post of prime minister in a new government. The party refused.

The Radicals' attitude makes it unlikely that the ruling coalition can survive. Political commentators are confident that the Social Democrats, under their undynamic leader, Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, 59, will be asked to form the next government.