THE Danes’ rejection of the euro, by 53% to 47%, was a brutal blow for their Social Democratic prime minister, Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, who has run the country since 1993. Some 60% of those who usually vote for his party are reckoned to have disregarded his advice and voted no. Is Mr Rasmussen now doomed? And who has benefited most from his discomfiture?
Certainly, he is badly wounded, and in the long run probably mortally. But he shows no sign of falling on his sword soon. After all, the entire party leadership campaigned for the euro alongside him. Henrik Dam Kristensen, the bright young social- services minister widely touted as the heir- apparent, was the most prominent of the ja-campaigners—and has been tainted by defeat too. The Social Democrats have no other obvious election winner to hand.
Most fancied to be Denmark’s next prime minister is Anders Fogh Rasmussen (no relation to Poul Nyrup). He leads the free-market Liberals, who are doing well in the opinion polls. But a general election does not have to be held until March 2002. Besides, the euro referendum was by no means a left-versus-right affair. The Liberals also campaigned keenly for a yes vote, yet a good third of those who generally back them said boo to the party’s leaders over the euro. The Liberals’ Mr Rasmussen comes out of the battle almost as bruised as his Social Democratic namesake.
On the right, Pia Kjaersgaard’s anti- immigrant nationalists of the Danish People’s Party, who stressed a perceived threat to Denmark’s national identity if the euro were embraced, are cock-a-hoop. Her party’s ratings have gone up from about 7% at the last general election to around 12%. But no mainstream party on the right, such as the Liberals, is likely to team up with her to form a government. Moreover, many people on the old-fashioned left (including Social Democrats) also rallied to the nej-sayers, because of the euro’s threat—as they saw it—to Denmark’s generous welfare system.
In geographic terms, the vote was evenly spread from island to island, from farmland to town. Only a handful of constituencies in the industrial heartland of Jutland, the biggest chunk of Denmark, voted yes. So, still more strongly, did rich suburbanites to the north of Copenhagen, the capital. Indeed, if there was a social division over the euro, it was between rich Danes, who mostly voted in favour, and welfare-dependent or public-sector people, who tended to vote against. Women were generally more anti than men.
The biggest mistake of the euro-vaunters was to stress the currency’s hoped-for economic benefits, while insufficiently attending to Danish worries about a feared erosion of political sovereignty. Nonetheless, it is precisely in this area that Danish politicians who sought a yes-vote are now most gloomy. For the Danish government now says it does not intend to hold any more referendums during this parliamentary term.
So Denmark’s opt-out on defence co-operation within the EU will stay. It may be harder for Denmark to continue to “punch above its weight” in the world. And Mr Nyrup Rasmussen may find it harder still, when he attends the EU’s grand summit in Nice this December, to vote against plans to reform the Union’s institutions by—among other devices—giving less clout to small countries.
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