This may end the debate in Denmark, but the result will be felt across Europe

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The Independent Online

By the time you read this, the Danes will have ended their deliberations on euro entry and plumped for a "yes" or a "no". That will be the end of the argument in Denmark. But it is not even the beginning of the end in Sweden and the United Kingdom, the last remaining EU members outside the euro zone.

By the time you read this, the Danes will have ended their deliberations on euro entry and plumped for a "yes" or a "no". That will be the end of the argument in Denmark. But it is not even the beginning of the end in Sweden and the United Kingdom, the last remaining EU members outside the euro zone.

In the event of a Danish "yes" - and early exit polls indicated a narrow victory for the "no" side - supporters of the single currency would have proceeded a step further in the argument that entry is inevitable, that there is no long-term future outside its embrace and little point in Sweden or the UK resisting.

The Danish government, media and businesses backed the "yes" vote in a campaign that was far better funded, and the Danish krone has shadowed first the deutschemark and then the euro. It is a far smaller step for the people to vote "yes" than it would be in Britain. So, if the "no" wins the symbolic triumph will be greater and the inevitability argument will have taken a real hammering.

Because European Monetary Union was conceived as part of the vision of a politically unified Europe and not, as Neil Kinnock so casually put it this week, as "only a currency", relatively small developments can have an impact on confidence far beyond their immediate significance. This is especially so when the euro has been behaving like a Camembert currency, melting from one low to the next.

For the major euro countries - France and Germany and those prepared to take the rough with the smooth in exchange for the protection of a big currency block - the vote has little effect either way.

The real burden of a "no" vote would be felt in Sweden, where the Government is dying to hold a referendum yet fearful of losing it, and in the United Kingdom, where Tony Blair is trapped between his instinctive enthusiasm for being in the inner core of the European Union and his reluctance to risk his Government on the rock of a possible referendum defeat.

The prospect of a group of three countries - Sweden, Denmark and the United Kingdom - remaining in the EU but outside the euro would be a fillip to the vision of an alternative, multi-speed EU, more flexible than the model currently on offer.

A "yes", however, would underline a psephologically important point in the "no" tendency to underestimate when its supporters boast, as in Britain at present, that they are 40 points ahead in the polls. In Denmark it was the last-minute undecideds, not the people who had strong views already, who were likely to decide the outcome. Labour's view was that a lot of people would fall into this category and that they would quell their doubts in the end.

But a victory for the "yes" campaign would be a mixed blessing for Mr Blair in the run-up to an election. The consensus among senior cabinet figures this week has been that the best thing the Government can do with the euro in the election campaign is to "close down the debate" by declaring no immediate intention to enter the single currency, and by promising a referendum at some point.

A "yes" from Copenhagen might cheer up those supporters who could do with a sign of faith to set against the sliding euro. But it would not enhance the authority of those politicians who want the euro but are not prepared to risk arguing for it.

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