EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Denmark votes no to the euro

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On 28 September 2000, the Danish electorate voted by 53.2% to 46.8% not to participate in the third stage of EU Economic and Monetary Union and the euro single currency. Most social partner organisations had called for a "yes" vote to the euro. The labour movement was divided on the question, with trade union leaders strongly recommending a "yes", but many rank-and-file members voting "no".

As part of the difficulties surrounding acceptance of the Maastricht Treaty on European Union in 1992-3, Denmark negotiated an opt-out from participation in the third stage of Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) and the introduction of the euro single currency from 1 January 1999 (DK0004175F). A referendum on reversing this opt-out was held on 28 September 2000, and resulted in a narrow, but still comfortable majority for continued non-participation in the euro-zone. As in earlier referenda concerning the EU, the turnout was high, at 88.1%, and 53.2% voted "no" and 46.8% "yes" to joining the euro.

The referendum confirms a trend which has been seen in each referendum since Denmark joined the European Community in 1972 - that the Danish population is divided into two roughly equal camps when it comes to the question of Danish attachment to the EU, and that the voting does not follow party lines. If voting had followed the positions of the various parties in the Danish parliament, the "yes" side would have won about 80% of the vote and the "no" side 20%.

A broad front of social partner organisations had recommended a "yes" vote to their members (DK0008193F). The Confederation of Danish Trade Unions (Landsorganisationen i Danmark, LO) had toured the country during the last month before the referendum in a campaign bus and the Danish Employers' Confederation (Dansk Arbejdsgiverforening, DA) had also intensified its participation in the debate. However, the result clearly shows that rank-and-file trade union members listen in some cases more to, for instance, Pia Kjærsgaard of the Danish People's Party (Dansk Folkeparti) than to the president of LO, Hans Jensen. The majority of the member unions of LO had recommended a clear "yes" to their members - the executive board of the Union of Danish Metalworkers (Dansk Metal), for example, unanimously recommended a clear yes to its members. The arguments of the trade union movement - in line with the employer side - were that a "yes" to the third phase of the EMU would ensure employment in Denmark and contribute to the creation of jobs, and that the "opt-out" from the single currency was an obstacle for the country and for enterprises.

"We have reached out to more than 1,000 enterprises all over the country, but in spite of an active campaign this has not been enough. The 'no' of the voters to a common currency in Europe is sad for Denmark and for Danish jobs," said Max Bæhring, the president of the union bargaining cartel for industry, the Central Organisation of Industrial Employees in Denmark (Centralorganisationen af industriansatte, CO-industri). Together with its equivalent employers' organisation, the Confederation of Danish Industries (Dansk Industri, DI), CO-industri had been behind a joint information campaign about the importance of the euro for Danish enterprises and employment in Denmark. There had thus been a rare consensus in favour of a "yes" vote. This was noted by some rank-and-file members, who apparently tend to become suspicious when the two sides of industry agree. Mr. Bæhring added: "We must now face the fact that Denmark will be on the sidelines - outside the work on the single European currency - when the euro is introduced in the 11 euro-countries on 1 January 2002. It is sad for Denmark and we must now try to counteract the detrimental effects thereof as much as possible for the sake of the competitiveness of Danish enterprises, the employment situation and the continued development of the Danish welfare society."

Similar disappointed comments could be heard from all quarters of the "yes" camp, including the LO president, Hans Jensen, who invited the government to continue to pursue a stable economic policy in order to ensure a continued basis for investments and employment. "We in the trade union movement must now reconsider our European policy and we take note of the fact that many member groups within LO have voted 'no' (...) because it is difficult to grasp the European project," said Mr Jensen. He added that it was necessary to engage the "no" voters in a constructive dialogue about future European cooperation: "If the 'no' of the Danes develops in the direction of opposition towards any further participation in European cooperation, then the effects will be disastrous for Denmark. I am sure that it is only a very small minority that wants Denmark to leave the European Union."

As is traditional, DA has kept a low profile and left it to the industry sector organisation, DI, to comment on the defeat. Hans Skov Christensen, the director general of DI, regretted the deterioration of the competitiveness of Danish enterprises which he believed would be a direct consequence of the "no" to the euro. For the industrial sector, it is of decisive importance to ensure the fixed relationship between the krone and the euro. It is also very important, in this phase, to remove any new burdens for trade and industry from the finance bill which parliament started to discuss in October 2000, declared Mr Skov Christensen.

This concluding remark from the leader of Dansk Industri is a clear signal that Denmark has woken up to "business as usual" after the referendum. The old bastions, it seems, are being refortified.

Following the "no" vote, it will be a tough test to implement what both the government and the social partners consider to be the policy of defeat. Nobody believes that any new referendum will be in the immediate future, but nobody will preclude the possibility of such a new referendum. Most "yes" supporters hope that time will work for them. As Mr Skov Christensen concluded: "With the referendum the euro theme is dead for a time. But it is possible that the Danish population will change its attitude in the light of future developments in Europe."

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