Denmark's Second Chance

May 18, 1993

Democracy is not, usually, a system where the leaders tell the people to vote and after the people vote wrong, give them a second choice with instructions to get it right this time. But Denmark's referendum today on ratification of the Treaty of Maastricht, after the paper-thin rejection a year ago, amounts to just that.

The treaty, creating a European Community currency by century's end, requires unanimous ratification by the 12 EC members. So when the 4 million Danish voters couldn't quite ratify, such great powers as Germany, France, Italy and Britain were denied what they had negotiated. Britain's government accepted the treaty with several exceptions. So the Danes, whose earlier rejection was based on fear of losing social benefits, are assured that Denmark can opt out of the currency and other clauses.

In other words, the Danes are voting less about whether Denmark must share a European currency but whether France and Germany may. Almost the entire Danish political and business leadership, which favored the treaty a year ago, is telling Danes they would never be forgiven if they prevented Europe from moving forward now. Less opposition is mobilized than a year ago, and polls suggest a comfortable ratification.

Acceptance would trigger ratification moves by the British government, which fears Conservative rebellion against it in the House of Commons, and by the German government, which faces a legal challenge. Danish rejection now, however, would probably halt the shaky British government of Prime Minister John Major in its tracks, and provoke a move toward an "inner Europe" of France, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg, leaving the others behind.

Since Maastricht, nationalism has reasserted itself in Europe. rTC The treaty calls for common foreign and defense policies, which the Yugoslav crisis has shown to be impossible at the present time. Meanwhile, the existing European exchange rate mechanism is falling apart under the pressures of the German-led recession.

Over the long term, European unity is an inexorable force that Danish rejection of the Maastricht treaty cannot halt. For the shorter term, Europe has tried to digest too much too soon, and has probably come to a pause, which Danish acceptance cannot prevent.

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