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EU: Denmark's Referendum Determines Ratification Of Amsterdam Treaty

Copenhagen, 28 May 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Danish voters go to the polls today to decide Copenhagen's stand on the Amsterdam Treaty on European Union (EU). The EU has said rejection of Amsterdam by Danish voters would be a setback - not only for Denmark - but, for the rest of Europe, as well.

Latest opinion polls suggest a comfortable majority of 'yes' votes, with about a ten percent lead over 'no' votes. But, with the same polls suggesting a quarter of those eligible to vote still 'undecided,' the outcome of the referendum is far from certain.

The percentage of those expected to vote 'no' has increased significantly in the days ahead of the referendum. An eleven-day general strike this month, ended by government intervention, apparently turned many workers into Amsterdam opponents.

Recent months have seen a sometimes heated political debate on EU integration for this small but prosperous Nordic nation of 5.3-million, whose per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) puts it in the top ten richest countries in the world.

While most mainstream political parties, including the governing left-of-center coalition, favor approval of the Amsterdam Treaty, some smaller organizations vehemently oppose it. Those who favor approval say that, should the outcome be negative, Denmark will be isolated from the EU decision-making process. The whole idea of EU integration might be delayed. This could also have consequences for the EU's enlargement to the East.

But, those who argue against approval argue that, ratifying the Amsterdam Treaty, a small country like Denmark will cede matters of national interest, such as immigration and security, to supra-national bodies. Interestingly, those most strident in their opposition to the treaty stand on the far left and far right of the political spectrum. For example, while the far right wants a 'no' to Amsterdam, because the result would be tighter immigration control, the far left wants a 'no' for the same reason, but with a different argument. Most of those expected to vote 'no' advocate continuation of some existing stipulations, such as free trade and movement of people. But, they wince the moment security, common social and foreign policy and the common European currency are mentioned.

Denmark has opted out of the European Monetary Union for the time being. Ironically, it is one of the few countries which clearly meets all criteria for Monetary Union.

The referendum takes place amid international concern that history may repeat itself in Denmark. In 1992, Copenhagen rejected the Maastricht Treaty, and, thus, plunged the Union into disarray. After that, French voters nearly killed the Maastricht Treaty months after the Danes. Matters were settled, however, after Copenhagen got some exceptions to the treaty that were narrowly approved in a second referendum in 1993. But opposition to 'more union,' within existing structures, remained high.

Denmark is seen as the only one of the 15 EU members, where ratification of the Amsterdam Treaty is anything more than a formality. Some observers in Copenhagen say that, should Denmark really vote 'no,' the country might find itself in the position of having to decide whether it should remain within the EU at all.

The referendum determines whether or not Denmark ratifies last year's Amsterdam Treaty, spelling out the EU's expansion to ten Eastern states. All 15 EU members must ratify the treaty before it can take effect. Denmark's constitution requires that any treaty affecting the country's sovereign decision-making must be endorsed by popular vote.