June 2nd 1992 was a remarkable day in the history of Denmark, and perhaps in the history of post-World War II Europe. In a referendum a majority of Danes rejected the Treaty of Maastricht, which a few months earlier had so laboriously been knit together by the ec heads of government, their foreign ministers and Brussels bureaucrats. It is true that the No victory was won by a very narrow margin—50.7 per cent against, as opposed to 49.3 per cent for, a difference of approximately 40,000 votes. Nevertheless, rejection of the Treaty dealt a severe blow to the political and economic establishment in the country; and, notwithstanding Denmark’s relatively minor status within the ec, it certainly disturbed the Eurocrats. Furthermore, it seems to have played a decisive role in François Mitterrand’s decision to put the issue to the French people in a similar referendum.
It is no easy task to explain the No majority. In the pre-vote propaganda campaign the Yes side included the leaderships of all the major parties: the Conservative and Liberal parties in the Schlüter government, a united Social Democratic leadership, the Radical Liberals, and the Centre Democrats. The small Christian Democrat party was split. Only the ultra-liberal Progress Party and the Socialist People’s Party advocated a No vote, The Yes side represented a parliamentary majority of more than 75 per cent. In addition, the employers’ associations, the farmers’ organizations and, most notably, the trades-union leadership, unanimously recommended acceptance. They all poured millions of kroner into the campaign.
Media coverage followed the same pattern. With the exception of one independent paper, all daily newspaper editorials argued strongly for a Yes—although the letters pages indicated mixed attitudes among readers. The two national television channels abandoned their traditional neutrality, and packed their information and debate programmes with Yes supporters.
The odds therefore seemed heavily stacked against the No campaigners. Moreover, the latter formed an alliance of extremely diverse interests, ranging from old-time communists, democratic socialists, rank-and-file trade unionists, committed environmentalists, conservative nationalists, and ultra-liberals (from the Progress Party).
The nucleus of the opposition was the Popular Movement Against the ec, which was established before the 1972 referendum on Denmark’s entry. It is a broad cross-party organization with a long tradition of
Significantly, there are signs that even powerful pro-European interest groups, such as the farmers and fishermen—since the 1960s the strongest advocates of the Common Market—are beginning to grow restless. Although in the case of the latter groups an overwhelming majority reaffirmed their commitment by voting Yes, the referendum result makes clear that such core support is beginning to break down, as dissatisfaction mounts at the constant intervention from Brussels into the functioning of a free-market economy. More and more people in the key sectors regard the future Inner Markets as some kind of authoritarian planned economy that will permanently narrow the scope for decision-making by independent producers. They encounter decrees from the bureaucrats every day and consider them harmful to their own business interests, as well as to the national economy. Although such economic independence is largely illusory, for groups such as the farmers it is nevertheless a strongly held belief, and consequently resentment is felt at the interference of Eurocrats who have no experience of practical life.
A substantial part of the No vote came from a growing group of neo-nationalists, representing differing political viewpoints. The organized opposition to the ec has always included a small nationalist section who argued against the loss of Denmark’s thousand-year-old independence and sovereignty. On this occasion, however, they were joined by a large number of voters who had accepted ec membership as long as it dealt only with economic cooperation, but who rejected the proposed political union as a development that would destroy the Danish nation. Long-term plans for a common defence policy, together with replacement of the national currency, the krone, by the ecu, signal for many the elimination of the sovereign Danish state. Some of these nationalists are strongly xenophobic, some even racist, arguing that in a political union with open borders Denmark will lose control over the admission of immigrants and political refugees; a wave of international crime will then sweep through our peaceful country. In short, the Danish national character stands to be corrupted by foreign influence.