Denmark to vote again on European unity, though the idea seems all but dead

May 16, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Denmark will have another chance t vote for European unity Tuesday, but it may be too late to put the movement back on track any time soon.

Fundamental doubts about the European Community's march to political and economic unity -- common European defense and foreign policies, a single EC currency -- have spread to all the community's major countries. Germany is worried about losing its currency, France about its identity and Britain about its

sovereignty.

In this atmosphere, a yes vote in Denmark might not be enough to give EC political leaders the will and the popular support they need to press toward unity. In fact, a no vote, while dealing a short-term blow to the cause of unity, could have therapeutic value.

"What Europe needs is a basic rethink of where it's going," said Jim Rollo, director of economics for the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London. "A no vote might promote that."

It was Denmark's initial no vote 11 months ago that precipitated Europe's identity crisis. By a scant 50,000 votes out of 4 million cast, Danes refused to ratify the treaty on political and monetary union, negotiated by the 12 EC leaders in the Dutch town of Maastricht.

Without ratification by all 12 EC members, the treaty would not take effect. So the other 11 EC nations agreed to give Danes a second chance to vote, this time on a package that would let Denmark stay out of the treaty's most important provisions: a single currency for EC nations, the common EC defense and immigration policies.

Campaigning for the eviscerated Maastricht treaty are all of Denmark's major political parties, its business community and its labor unions. Recent polls show that a majority of Danes favor the watered-down treaty.

But polls before last year's referendum also pointed toward ratification. Now a rag-tag collection of activists -- environmentalists, former Communists and right-wing populists -- is warning voters that the treaty will drag Denmark into a centralized Europe with its own military and police forces.

Even with Danish support, the treaty would not be home free. In Britain, where Parliament has the final say, Maastricht's opponents are making life miserable for Prime Minister John Major, a champion of European integration.

One of Mr. Major's great triumphs at Maastricht was to win the right for Britain to steer clear of the treaty's "social charter" -- a series of provisions guaranteeing EC workers such benefits as maximum 48-hour work weeks. But two weeks ago, Parliament forced Mr. Major to swallow an amendment that would put Britain back into the social charter.

Treaty opponents say the amendment makes it impossible for Britain to ratify the same treaty that the rest of the EC has ratified. The government says otherwise: The amendment applies only to the British enabling legislation, not to the treaty itself.

The government still hopes for final parliamentary approval this summer or fall.

In particular, the effort to establish a common EC currency was battered by September's turmoil in European currency markets. EC disarray over the war in the former Yugoslav federation has made the promise of a common foreign policy something of a joke.

Beyond ensnarling the Maastricht ratification process, last year's vote in Denmark unleashed an EC-wide tide of sentiment against European unity. Voters in France approved the treaty by a bare 51 percent to 49 percent. In Germany, opinion polls showed majority opposition to a common EC currency.

The EC's executive commission has proposed little more this year than an economic stimulus package that is mostly a repackaging of previous proposals.

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