In a staggering blow to the cause of European unity, Danish voters Tuesday rejected a treaty designed to bind the 12 nations of the European Community closer together.
The Danish referendum went against ratification of the so-called Maastricht Treaty by the narrowest of margins--50.7% against and 49.3% in favor, a difference of a mere 46,269 votes. The result calls into question the future of the agreement that established policies and a timetable for closer economic and political ties among the Western European nations.
“This is the worst setback to the EC since Charles de Gaulle threatened to walk out in 1966,” one EC observer said in Brussels late Tuesday. De Gaulle, France’s president from 1959 to 1969, often pursued independent and nationalist policies, to the distress of his European allies.
Under the community’s rules, the treaty could be put into force only upon ratification by all 12 members, even though leaders of those countries had agreed to the far-reaching terms in the Dutch city of Maastricht last Dec. 11. The Danes and the Irish chose to put the issue to popular vote--Ireland’s referendum is set for June 18--while the other 10 members were to ask their national legislatures to decide.
The treaty, in the form of a revamping of the community’s constitution, was designed to take the 12 nations another long step toward full unity after the single European market comes into effect at the beginning of 1993.
It would have given more powers to the executive European Commission in Brussels and to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, which in turn would push for the gradual building of a common foreign and security policy, leading to a common defense policy. It would also have included such monetary matters as an exchange-rate policy that would lead to a single European currency by 1999.
But the drafters made no specific provision for the treaty’s rejection by a member state, as has now happened with Denmark, the third-smallest member in the community. Denmark has a population of 5.1 million; the EC’s overall population is about 340 million. The Danish Interior Ministry said that about 3.28 million Danes voted, a turnout of about 82%.
A spokesman for Portugal, which currently holds the rotating EC presidency, said community foreign ministers will hold an emergency meeting in Oslo, Norway, on Thursday to discuss the implications of the Danish vote.
“The presidency will evaluate with Denmark and the other EC partners the consequences of this voting,” Portuguese Foreign Minister Joao de Deus Pinheiro said in a statement reported by the Reuters news agency. “As a first reaction, and as a European, I can’t but express my deep disappointment as well as my strong conviction that the ideal of European union must continue to be pursued.”
Danish Prime Minister Poul Schlueter, visibly shaken after the vote count was announced about 10:30 p.m., said he “deeply regretted” the result but added, “The voters have spoken, and now we have to make the best of it.”
The results came as a shock to the political Establishment. All of Denmark’s major parties, including the opposition Social Democrats, and trade unions had campaigned in favor of ratification. While early polls had shown the anti-treaty forces to be leading by a slight margin, opinion surveys in the last few days had indicated a reversal of that trend and a comfortable margin for ratification.
Leaders of the political parties called an emergency meeting for today to discuss what amounts to a domestic political crisis.
“What went wrong is that there is a gap between the Danish Parliament and the people,” Foreign Minister Uffe Ellemann-Jansen said. “There is a great crisis for democracy in Denmark. The consequences have to be answered.
“Danes did not reject the EC union, but they rejected their elected politicians,” he said.
The opposition to the treaty was led by left-wing groups and staunch conservatives, arguing from their different viewpoints that Denmark would be giving up too much of its decision-making powers to the EC headquarters in Brussels.
Women came out relatively strongly against the treaty because, as one political analyst said, they feared they would lose some social benefits and that local decision making would be taken out of their hands.
Others who voted against ratification said they were offended by the government’s “scare tactics” that suggested that jobs would be lost and the country isolated from the rest of Europe in the event of a “no” vote.
Indeed, EC observers suggested that the other member nations might try to work around Denmark, leaving it to its own devices as they push toward unity despite Tuesday’s vote. Such a development, observers said, might lead to a two-tier European Community, with those backing the treaty at one level and those quarreling with some of the unity provisions at another.
If there were fears in Denmark for its political and economic future, the community as whole was shaken and confused. For the Danish vote means that the Maastricht Treaty, hammered out after weeks of difficult bargaining at the top levels of government, will have to be renegotiated if it is to go into effect by the end of the year, as originally intended.
Observers said one solution might be to identify and renegotiate the terms that displeased 50.7% of the Danish voters.
BACKGROUND (Southland Edition, A6)
European Community leaders held a summit in the Dutch city of Maastricht in December to conclude parallel conferences on European political union and economic and monetary union. The Maastricht summit produced a framework for overall union, incorporating the two agreements and setting a timetable for their implementation. German Chancellor Helmut Kohl declared at the summit: “What we are doing now is irrevocable. On the way to political union, we are now crossing the Rubicon. There is no going back.”