Referendum in Denmark: Second chance for voters to get it right: Voters in Denmark go to the polls tomorrow in another referendum over the Maastricht treaty. Andrew Marshall wonders why they bother

Andrew Marshall
Monday 17 May 1993 00:02 BST


Why is Denmark having a second referendum?


Because the Danes got it wrong last time. At least, in the eyes of their government and the others in the European Community they got it wrong. The Maastricht treaty on European Union is an agreement between 12 countries. It has to be ratified by all of them or it does not take effect. Every country has its own rules for how treaties have to be ratified, and in three - Denmark, France and Ireland - a referendum was held. In June 1992, the Danes narrowly voted no - by 50.7 per cent to 49.3 per cent; 25,000 voters effectively decided the fate of the treaty. This sparked a political crisis in the EC. Denmark decided to hold a second vote.

Why did the Danish people vote no last time?


Opposition to the treaty is based on a number of factors. Voters did not like plans for a single currency; for a European defence policy; for citizenship of the new European Union; and for joint policy on immigration and crime. They feared that Maastricht was creating a European superstate, with little democracy, and no room for the small countries. They also feared that Denmark's high standards of welfare would suffer and that the country would be flooded by immigrants seeking to abuse the system. Opposition comes from the right (the small Progressive party) and the left (former Communists and greens).

Is there any reason for them to vote differently this time?


Yes. At the Edinburgh summit in December, the EC heads of government agreed a package of reassurances for the Danes, centring on the areas where they had expressed doubts. The Edinburgh deal is, according to John Major and some legal authorities, legally binding, and gives Denmark a special status in the EC with 'opt-outs' in the important areas. The treaty's opponents in Denmark and Britain say these probably are not legally binding; and that in any case, the content of the deal is so weak that binding or not, it is useless.

Given that the whole point of the Edinburgh deal was to produce a package that does not amend the treaty, they may have a point. There has been much debate over this in Denmark. Polls show that people believe the government more than the 'no' campaign. At the last referendum, much of the 'no' vote came from the Social Democrats, then in opposition. Now the Social Democrats lead the governing coalition, and that has made a difference.

What happens if the Danes vote no?


Nothing; not immediately, anyway. Technically, the treaty would not happen - the Danes have said a third referendum is out of the question. The European Community would still be in existence. There is nothing in existing legislation that says the EC must have a new treaty. But in practice, all hell would break loose. There is no formal contingency plan. A political crisis, with some states demanding immediate progress to federal union and others wanting the goal to be postponed, would combine with a financial crisis, as investors calculated the effects on European currencies. A meeting of EC foreign ministers has been scheduled for Wednesday, and they would probably assess the next steps.

What happens if the Danes vote yes?


Again, nothing. The treaty will not be in force until all 12 agree on it, and Britain has yet to ratify. However, the last to ratify may be Germany, something of an embarrassment for Helmut Kohl, the very Europhile Chancellor; Germany's highest court has yet to decide on the treaty. Once they have all ratified, the treaty comes into force, probably at the end of this year or the beginning of 1994 - a year behind schedule.

What happens in Britain as a result of the referendum?


If Denmark votes no, Britain will drop ratification of the treaty, the Government says. Then Britain will have to decide what it wants: a second treaty, perhaps without Denmark; or a full stop to integration, as the Conservative Party's right wing will demand. If Denmark votes yes, the Government is bound to use this as an argument in its own campaign to get the Maastricht bill through Parliament. The Bill still faces opposition in the House of Lords and a possible legal challenge.

Will the other states go ahead without Britain and Denmark?


That has become the core of the argument in Denmark. The fear that the other 10, or a group of them, would go ahead with a single currency, political union and foreign policy co-operation, has also been a persistent worry in Britain. There is speculation that France would push for immediate monetary union after a Danish 'no', but it is doubtful if Germany would agree to this. In the crisis that followed a Danish 'no' anything could happen. Some countries might push for Denmark's expulsion, as they suggested last June. A new treaty - 'Maastricht II' or Son of Maastricht - could be agreed between those countries that have ratified. The European Community might have to be reworked. It will be chaos, and few of the EC governments are stable enough to make one think that they will keep their cool.

Is this the last time we have to endure this dreadful business?


Sadly, no. The EC is due to hold another intergovernmental conference in 1996 to discuss institutional change. Britain has started pushing its view of what should happen then: a decentralised Europe that allows states greater room for manouevre over policies. Others are likely to push for complete federal union. Do not hold your breath.

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