Referendum in Denmark: Clear lead for Danish 'yes' camp

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IN JUST 24 hours Denmark will vote on nothing less than the future of the European Community, but as campaigners at the weekend made their assaults on the voters, Denmark hardly sweats with election fever.

The latest Gallup poll shows a clear 16-point lead for the 'yes' camp. Forty-nine per cent will vote in favour, 33 per cent against, 14 per cent don't know and 4 per cent plan not to vote. A percentage point rise in the 'no' vote has heartened campaigners and reinforced the general opinion that tomorrow's vote will be close.

On a sunny Sunday Danes flock to the countryside. The biggest rally I saw all weekend was Odense's celebration of National Cycling Day. 'Happenings' hosted by both the 'yes' and 'no' campaigns featured music, hot-dogs and, depending upon your persuasion, Edward Heath, Bill Cash, and local politicians.

Campaigning for tomorrow's second referendum to determine once and for all whether Denmark's five million citizens are prepared to ratify the Maastricht treaty is low-key. 'I'm voting 'no' because I want to stay a Dane,' an elderly man said, hitting the heart of the referendum campaign. A sense of Danishness is very strong in a country that, despite the problems of linking 406 islands, is surprisingly homogeneous.

The political talk in this campaign does not centre on Maastricht and whether the exemptions agreed in Edinburgh from articles on defence, monetary union and citizenship significantly alter Denmark's commitments. The issue is Denmark's place in Europe and emotion is the weapon with which it is being fought. 'You have to remember we are on the periphery of Europe, a long way from Bonn, let alone Paris,' said Eivind Drejer, managing editor of one of Denmark's biggest circulation papers, Politiken. 'There is not only a north-south gap in the EC, but a Protestant-Catholic divide.'

The 'no' vote of 2 June last year ranks lower in the psyche of a soccer-mad nation than that same week's Danish European Cup victory. 'Maybe it will be different this time and because we showed everybody in 1992 that we weren't just a little country, that we couldn't be kicked around, we won't feel the same need to do so again,' said 'yes' voter Niels Houler.

The 'no' campaign, which groups both those opposed just to Maastricht and those opposed to EC membership, argues that the 'yes' campaign has resorted to scare tactics. Fear of isolation from Europe has been a strong theme of the 'yes' campaign whose supporters include seven of the eight parties in government.

The 'yes' campaign has won many Socialist People's Party voters whose party's leaders switched their support on the basis of the Edinburgh Accord. But not even convinced 'yes' voters claim the result is a foregone conclusion. 'This is a highly emotional issue,' warned Mr Drejer. 'Things can happen when you are alone in the privacy of the polling booth. Even in those last seconds before you mark your cross, there is room to change your mind.'

(Photograph omitted)