Andrew Osborn








Focus - Denmark - the awkward squad - The nation that likes to say 'Nej' - If Denmark rejects the euro, ...

The Observer, 27th August 2000 17:17

By Andrew Osborn.

Focus - Denmark - the awkward squad - The nation that likes to say 'Nej' - If Denmark rejects the euro, the shockwaves will reach us all.

A RAVEN-HAIRED LADY in a cardigan, more grandmother than grand inquisitor, seizes the microphone, her voice choked with emotion. 'I would rather give up my soul than give up the krone,' she insists.

A sea of grey and blond heads nod in agreement. Her image is projected on a giant screen and her words are relayed to television sets across Denmark.

A sprightly pensioner, who has been copiously taking notes for the past hour, rises to his feet and speaks in a level voice. 'Can you give us a guarantee that our economic policy will not be decided by Europe in five years' time?' he demands of economy minister, Marianne Jelved.

The venue is Christiansborg Castle, home of the Danish parliament (Folketinget), and the public hearing is one of many events being staged in the run-up to Denmark's euro referendum on 28 September.

The stakes are high, and not only in Denmark. The outcome will have a major influence in Britain and Sweden, where eurosceptics hope a No vote will strengthen their hand. And the closeness of it all fills British euro-supporters with unease.

There is, after all, every reason for Denmark to join the euro zone. It has one of the strongest economies in the world. It has been involved in the European project from the beginning, if at times hesitantly. It fulfils the convergence criteria except for inflation, and its own currency, the krone, is rock solid.

But it is emotion, not economic reason, which is driving the No campaign. In the Nineties the Danes endorsed Maastricht reluctantly, and at the second time of asking. Now they must decide again.

With just a month to go before two-thirds of the country's 5.3 million Danes say 'ja' or 'nej', the vote is balanced on a knife edge. Polls show the margin of victory is likely to be just a few percentage points. To the outsider this is baffling, since the odds seems so stacked in the Yes camp's favour.

The political elite in the form of the ruling centre-left Social Democrat minority government favours a Yes vote, and 80 per cent of Danish MPs agree. Most newspapers and big business and the entire trade union movement are also ready to bid 'farvel' to the krone. And the Yes camp is much better funded than the No camp after it scooped most of the 25 million kroner ( #2m) in public funds earmarked to fight the campaign.

The No side is a rag-tag coalition of the extreme right and left and a couple of die-hard eurosceptic grass-roots organisations. They have little in common and in some cases loathe one another.

The right-wing element, the ultra-nationalist Danish People's Party (DPP) or Dansk Folkeparti, wants to see paedophiles castrated, aid to the third world privatised, refugees repatriated and Denmark kept for the Danes. Many of its members compare the euro project to Hitler's failed attempt to foist the Reichsmark on occupied Europe: 'The technique is about combining power. Hitler wanted to combine power in his hands and the European Commission wants to combine power in its hands,' says Mogens Camre, a Euro MP for the party. The euro has been embraced, he adds, by 'frail, weak, badly run and corrupted' countries.

The DPP may be extreme but the Danes are listening to what it has to say on the euro.

THE CAMPAIGN IS typically Danish: low key, civilised and orderly. The Yes camp has its 'euro truck' which tours the country providing a platform for high-profile government politicians to take the debate to the far-flung corners of Jutland. And the No side has its 'krone car'.

The news is full of little else, and public hearings and TV debates are in full swing. The arguments are well rehearsed. The Yes side believes ditching the krone and embracing the euro is a small price to pay for greater influence within the EU and financial stability. They shudder when they talk about 1998, the year the krone had to be defended three times from speculative attack.

Denmark's economic independence is in any case illusory, they insist, since the krone has been pegged to the Deutchmark and later the euro since 1982. So what is there to lose?

'It's about influence,' says Anders Panum Jensen, the youthful secretary-general of the Danish European Movement. 'Outside the euro we lose influence on economic issues, especially in the euro zone. How much will other politicians pay attention to Danish arguments when we are not part of the core group?'

Lars Kjolbye, international secretary of the Danish Conservative Party, agrees: 'The Danish currency is not in a position to stand alone if we remain outside the euro. We will be dependent on the decisions made by the euro 12 anyway. Denmark is better off if we have a place at the table.'

He insists Denmark will not be giving up sovereignty. 'Do you think the French and Germans would abolish the franc and mark if they thought they were giving away their sovereignty?' he laughs.

The idea that Denmark will be relegated to the margins of Europe as a bit player, ignored and excluded from the club and defenceless in the face of globalisation, resurfaces again and again. Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, the Social Democrat prime minister and architect of the referendum, has argued passionately that his country must join the euro or face obscurity. 'Denmark must be where the decisions are taken. It is unacceptable that we should not have any influence on the decisions which ultimately affect our everyday lives,' he told the Folketinget in May.

Both sides are agreed on one thing: this is the most important referendum in Danish history and will be a decisive moment for Den mark's relationship with the rest of Europe.

DPP board member Carl Christian Ebbesen outlines the far-right's case for a No vote. 'We don't look at it as an economic project. We are fighting to keep the krone and to keep the values of Danish society. By that we mean keeping control of Danish society in Danish hands. Denmark will have to be like other European countries and we don't want that. If there is a Yes vote the politicians will create a federal union, but we like to be Danes and do it our way,' he says.

Holger Nielsen, dynamic leader of the Danish Socialist People's Party, the other main party campaigning against the euro, is keen to distance himself from the DPP. 'The euro is not a question of being conservative but of democracy. It's important for us to stress that it's not a right-wing or xenophobic position. It's not fair to say that resistance is built on right-wing values,' he said in an interview with The Observer

'But if you have a common currency, political power will be transferred from national parliaments to Brussels, to bureaucrats and technocrats. When you have an economic union you also have a political union.' And that, he adds, is bad for democracy.

Denmark could be in the EU and outside the euro, he adds, and still be 'a good European'. Nielsen also worries that a decision to join the euro could lead to Denmark's fabled tax-financed 'Rolls-Royce' welfare state being fatally weakened and that people would be forced to start paying health insurance in the name of harmonisation. This strikes a chord with many Danes.

What does not go down well here is outside intervention. Efforts by British Tories to raise money for the No campaign are widely mocked and despised, and almost every naysayer agrees that they can only backfire, turning off large numbers of left-wing voters. Yet on 3 September, Daniel Hannan, a Tory MEP for south-east England, will address a rally of the far-right DPP and urge the Danes to say No. The Yes camp can't wait.

Denmark's sixth referendum on the EU is shaping up to be explosive. When the Danes said no to the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, it rocked the EU and triggered a series of currency crises. Anarchists rioted in the Norrebro suburb of Copenhagen and police had to open fire.

There are likely to be fewer fireworks on 28 September but the consequences could be just as far-reaching. If Denmark says Yes, Britain will find itself increasingly isolated outside the euro and the single currency will have absorbed one of Europe's strongest economies.

There is nothing like a Dane...

Denmark is known as the 'footnote' country because of the special exceptions it has negotiated in European treaties.


Constitutional monarchy. Head of state: Queen Margrethe II. Heir apparent: Crown Prince Frederik. Head of government: Prime Minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, leads Social Democratic minority government.

Post-war highlights. 1948: Granted Faroes home rule. 1949: Founding member of Nato. 1973: Joined European Community after a referendum. 1979: Granted Greenland home rule. 1992: Voted 'no' to Maastricht. 1993: Narrowly voted 'yes' in a second referendum.


Population 5.3 million. English is the main second language.


Welfare state. Danes enjoy a high standard of living, but also have a poor health record, blamed on beer and cigarettes.

Contributions to the world

Hamlet, prince. Hans Christian Andersen, writer. Carl Nielsen, composer. Soren Kierkegaard, philosopher. Peter Hoeg, writer (Smilla's Feeling For Snow ). Nils Bohr, nuclear physicist. Tycho Brahe, astronomer. Karen Blixen (pseudonym Isak Dinesen), writer. Pastries. Lager. Handball.