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Jewish World Review Sept. 22, 2000 / 21 Elul, 5760

George Will

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Saying No to the Euro -- IN THIS election season, the world's attention should be on . . . Denmark. No vote this year involves larger stakes--national identity; self-governance--than those at issue in Denmark's Sept. 28 referendum on adopting the euro, the European Union's single currency.

Proponents of the euro are relying, as usual, on two arguments. One is patently false, the other tellingly spurious.

The falsehood is that this is "just about money." Actually, it is another giant step toward creation of a European superstate, a Leviathan requiring surrender of nations' sovereignties, leaching away the prerogatives of national legislatures. Cultural homogenization--"harmonization," in the EU's prettified patois--would follow. Monetary union entails a unitary state, not a Europe of democratic nations. As William Blackstone understood more than two centuries ago, "The coining of money is in all states the act of the sovereign power."

Pro-euro forces stress that the value of Denmark's krone is linked to the currency of Germany, which uses the euro. Anti-euro forces respond that Denmark retains the right to de-link from Germany, and that the linkage proves that adopting the euro must serve a political rather than an economic agenda.

Last summer, when Denmark's Prime Minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, who is pro-euro, said Denmark could always later choose to withdraw, the Italian president of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, retorted that euro membership is "by definition permanent." All the "opt-out provisions" and "reserved powers," devices used to entice reluctant nations into the EU's web, are apt to be eventually declared inoperative.

The spurious argument is the last resort of intellectually bankrupt political causes: inevitability. Danes, say those advocating replacement of their 1,000-year-old currency with the 21-month-old euro, "have no choice." But Denmark, like Britain, is flourishing outside the euro, which is sinking in value. And an economic panel, called the Three Wise Men, has concluded that any economic benefits of joining the euro would be "slight and uncertain." So much for the euro proponents' scare-mongering about rejection triggering high interest rates and capital flight.

Recent polls showing anti-euro leads of 5 to 11 points suggest Danes may make the choice they supposedly do not have. In Denmark, as elsewhere, proponents of the euro include most elites of business and labor, all Danish broadcasting, and 46 of 48 newspapers (one is neutral). EU single-currency propaganda is directed even to primary school pupils.

But speaking by telephone from Copenhagen, Holger Nielsen, the anti-euro chairman of the Socialist People's Party, says laconically, "We have no money but good arguments." Actually they have some money, some of it sent from Britain by a saving remnant of Thatcherites. Jens-Peter Bonde, an anti-euro member of the European Parliament, says, "This is David and Goliath, but don't forget who won."

Democracy will win if the euro loses Sept. 28. Indeed, Denmark's disinclination to bow to Brussels has already strengthened the embattled ideal of a Europe of self-governing nations.

Seven months ago the other 14 members of the European Union, in a spasm of autocratic high-mindedness, imposed feckless sanctions on Austria to express disapproval of an outcome of Austria's democratic process.

Austria's sin against the (unwritten, unannounced) EU standards of political hygiene was to include the right-wing Freedom Party in its governing coalition. The party won 27 percent of the vote in last October's national elections. The party's offenses include unwelcoming policies regarding immigration, unsavory comments by its leader, Joerg Haider (who is not in the government) about Austria's Nazi past--and, perhaps most intolerable to the EU, skepticism about the virtues of the EU.

Danes disliked the EU's extralegal bullying of a small nation, so the EU, knowing the issue was helping Danish opponents of the euro, appointed a panel to rationalize removing the sanctions. Which it did last week, reporting that Austria's treatment of immigrants is superior to that of many other EU members, and that Freedom Party ministers have been admirable, especially concerning restitution for Jewish property stolen during the war.

The sanctions were farcical--limits on political, military and cultural interactions, and at an EU summit in Portugal, the usual group photograph was not taken, so some fastidious leaders could avoid being photographed with Austria's duly elected Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel, who is not from the Freedom Party. These sanctions that were born of EU arrogance were jettisoned cynically in an attempt to manipulate Danish opinion.

Rather than being reassured, Danes should note that the EU, instead of repenting its presumptuousness, contemplates yet another bureaucracy, this one to "monitor and evaluate" the member nations' fidelity to "European values," as bureaucrats shall define them. By firmly saying "no" to the euro, Denmark can slow the continent's slide into "harmonization"--a bleak harmony unenlivened by democracy and national diversities.

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