Monday, February 28, 2005

Denmark names the day

Traditionally one of the most Eurosceptic members of the EU, Denmark is to hold a referendum on the proposed EU constitution on 27 September.

This announcement follows in the wake of the recent announcement by the Dutch government that it will hold its referendum on 1 June and, with France expected to hold its poll in May or June, the pace of ratifications is hotting up.

As with other treaties, the EU constitution is supported by the political élites of Denmark, with four-fifths of the Danish parliament in favour. On the basis of a Eurobarometer poll published in December, voters are also in favour. Forty-four percent say "yes" compared with 26 percent "noes" while the "undecided" are at 30 percent.

Despite this, ratification in Denmark is by no means assured as Danish voters are singularly independently-minded. They ignored their élites and voted down the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 and then blocked the government’s move to join the euro in 2000.

As well he might, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Denmark's freshly re-elected prime minister, yesterday expressed confidence that the long lead-in to the new referendum augured well for success. "We will have quite a long time for a full debate and for a public information campaign," he said.

According to The Financial Times, Rasmussen appears to have decided to hold the referendum this autumn in an attempt to seek the approval of the constitution before opponents in Denmark gather momentum, which could increase as the debate in the UK becomes more heated.

The treaty's opponents include the anti-immigrant Danish People's party and the Red Green Alliance, a group that unites environmentalists and former communists.

Pia Kjaersgaard, the Danish People's party leader, yesterday criticised the new treaty as "an elitist project" aimed at creating a "United States of Europe". "I'm convinced that the Danish people do not want to be part of an EU state," she said.

Ole Krarup, a member of the European parliament for the People's Movement against the EU, said the constitutional treaty was "the final step to a militarised EU superstate aiming to control Denmark down to the tiniest detail".

The Danes may well agree.

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