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Europe: Court Decision May End Danish Anti-EU Case

Copenhagen, 27 May 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Danish opponents of European Union internal integration suffered an important setback yesterday. It came in the form of a decision by the country's Supreme Court that refused to allow 11 anti-EU Danes to present important evidence at the start of the Court's consideration of their charges against Prime Minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen.

Rasmussen, a Social Democrat who has led a minority Left-of-Center coalition government since 1993, is accused of violating Denmark's constitution when he signed the Maastricht Treaty that created the EU out of the former European Community (EC) the same year. The 11 plaintiffs, all ordinary Danish citizens, say that in doing so Rasmussen contravened the law by ceding national sovereignty to a supra-national body.

The evidence the Supreme Court yesterday refused to allow to be introduced consists of a dozen thick volumes containing records of Danish government deliberations, some of them confidential, dating back to 1973. That was the year that Denmark became a member of what was then the EC.

The plaintiffs allege that the manner in which a succession of governments ratified various international conventions and changed internal laws to meet EC directives amounts to a breach of the country's constitution. They charge that this is especially true of Maastricht, which contains a provision that the EU in the future can move into what the Treaty calls "new areas for cooperation and unification."

Paragraph 20 of the Danish Constitution underlines the country's sovereignty in making decisions about issues described as in Denmark's "internal interest." This provision has been consistently interpreted by Danish courts to apply to, among other things, taxation, education, social benefits, immigration and telecommunications.

Rasmussen was initially sued by the 11 plaintiffs shortly after a 1993 Danish referendum narrowly approved the Maastricht Treaty. The year before, Danes had rejected the Treaty by a similarly narrow margin. During the past four years, the case has been considered by two Danish lower courts, and last year the Prime Minister was ordered to pay some $10,000 in legal costs.

But with yesterday's decision by the Supreme Court, most analysts now believe that the case will be dismissed. Some international observers now even describe the case as "a flash in the pan."

Still, some analysts note that this is the first time Denmark's Supreme Court --- like Germany, the country has no special constitutional court -- will decide a case that has a direct bearing on government policies. They maintain that, since the case has no legal precedent, the result may be unpredictable.

However, even if the Court finds that the government did breach the constitution, it is unlikely the that Denmark will be forced to re-ratify the Maastricht Treaty and other international agreements and regulations dating back 25 years. But future integration within the EU could be significantly affected.

In the worst-case scenario, the EU would be faced with a crisis similar to that of 1992, when Danes initially turned down Maastricht. At the time, EU integration was thrown into disarray. If history repeats itself, many critical EU objectives, including the 15-nation group's planned enlargement to the East, could be delayed or even derailed.

The Supreme Court is expected to hand down its decision well before the middle of next month, when the EU holds a critical summit meeting in Amsterdam. The summit is due to conclude the organization's Inter-Governmental Conference on institutional reform, commonly referred to as "Maastricht Two."

Knowing its own electorate's split feelings on further EU integration, the Danish Government has already made clear that any changes in the Maastricht Treaty that can be interpreted as reducing national sovereignty will again have to be approved in a new referendum. This could mean that, regardless of the outcome of the case against Rasmussen, the EU's current enlargement timetable may be in jeopardy anyway.