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EU: Denmark Could Join EMU Earlier Than Thought

  • Anthony Georgieff

Copenhagen, 1 January 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Denmark, one of three European Union countries that has opted out of the EU's Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), may be giving up its national currency, the krone, earlier than was thought.

Speaking in Copenhagen yesterday only hours before 11 EU member-states formally adopted a new single currency, the euro, Economy Minister Marianne Jelved, referred to a recent Danish public opinion poll that showed more enthusiasm for the euro than had existed before. She said that the apparent change in opinion may provoke a referendum on the issue, in her words, "much sooner than expected." A referendum on whether Denmark should join EMU had previously been planned for 2001 at the earliest.

The poll showed, for the first time, what analysts call a "beyond-a-reasonable-doubt" majority of Danes in favor of joining EMU. Only a small majority of those polled -- 48 percent for, with 42 percent against -- supported giving up the krone. But analysts say the poll result is nonetheless important because it shows in what they describe as "statistically certain terms" that, if there were a referendum on the issue today, the likely response would be "yes."

Denmark, along with Britain and Sweden, decided not to participate in the EMU even though, like the other two outsiders, it met all the stiff criteria for doing so. (Greece, the other EU member out of the EMU, was found not economically qualified to join.)

Copenhagen's decision dates back to 1993, when the Danish government attained four exclusions from the Maastricht Treaty that set up the EMU in order to convince its citizens to approve the treaty in a referendum. In addition to the EMU, the exclusions dealt with common EU citizenship, common legal and police practices, and immigration.

A year before Copenhagen's decision (1992), Danish voters rejected the Maastricht Treaty in a referendum that sent shock-waves throughout the EU. But once the exclusions were granted by Brussels, Danish voters approved the treaty in a second referendum a year later.

Denmark's current minority Social Democrat-led government clearly favors joining the EMU, but is very cautious about decisions that smack of giving up national sovereignty. Anti-EMU, indeed anti-EU, sentiments remain strong in Denmark. The krone is seen by many Danes as a symbol of national independence.

Danes are skeptical about the Euro for more than sentimental reasons. Many fear that their national government will not be able to implement independent financial, economic, and social policies if it is deprived of its most important tool, the national currency.

In the meantime, Sweden, which joined the EU three years ago, appears far less enthusiastic today about the EMU than Denmark. A series of recent opinion polls show that a majority of Swedes would not now favor joining the EU if the country had the choice today. Deputy Prime Minister Lena Helm-Wallen said yesterday that she would not recommend that her country join the EMU any time in the future. Helm-Wallen, a former foreign minister, said she was deeply concerned about what she called the "undemocratic" decision-making within the monetary union.