Jewish World Review Oct. 10, 2000 / 11 Tishrei, 5761
Major political actions can issue from a melange of motives, as did Denmark's decision against adopting the European common currency, the euro. The 53.1 to 46.9 vote reflected, in part, fear that joining might eventually lead to Denmark's being compelled to lower taxes.
Danes are intensely proud of their welfare state. Seventy-one percent of Danish women have jobs, the second-highest percentage of any nation (Sweden is higher), and many of the jobs are in the welfare state. Women voted heavily against the euro. They worry that "harmonization," which is Eurospeak for minimizing national differences in domestic policies, might require Denmark to reduce financing of social services.
Furthermore, the European Central Bank favors lower taxes and fewer regulations to stimulate economic growth. However, the question is not whether Denmark is right in favoring high taxes (68 percent top income-tax rate, a 25 percent value-added tax) but whether it has a right to do what it wants.
Denmark, a nation of 5.3 million, may have spoken for a majority of the 375 million people in the 15 EU nations. Denmark is the first nation in which the people have been allowed directly to decide on adopting the euro. It probably will be the last for some time. Sweden and Britain, the only other EU members that have not adopted the euro, were tiptoeing toward referendums. However, because most members of Europe's political, business and media elites strongly favor ever more integration, they will not risk rejections.
But Britain's next general election, which could come as early as next May and must come by May 2002, may become, in effect, a referendum on the EU as a threat to British sovereignty and self-determination. Prime Minister Tony Blair's views about the EU are characteristically blurry. By saying there are five economic tests that must be met before Britain will adopt the euro, Blair feeds the meretricious fiction that only economic, not political--indeed, constitutional--arrangements are at issue.
The views of the Conservative Party leader, William Hague, are clear. He regards the common currency as the thin end of a potentially enormous wedge, dividing the British people from their tradition of parliamentary supremacy. A recent poll showed 70 percent of the British, including a majority of Labor Party supporters, oppose the euro.
German voters would reject the euro if given a chance, according to polls taken before Denmark showed that rejection is not followed by heavens falling. Also before Denmark voted, Ireland's arts minister, Sile de Valera, granddaughter of one of the founding fathers of the Irish republic, said the EU's incorrigible bossiness, its unending blizzard of fiats and regulations, is threatening "our identity, culture and traditions." This, even though Ireland has received $28 billion in aid from the EU since joining it in 1973. Perhaps nations respond to prosperity--Ireland's economy is the fastest-growing in the EU--by giving higher priority to noneconomic values.
The fact that Denmark's currency is already linked to the euro, and hence Denmark's latitude in setting monetary policy is severely circumscribed by the European Central Bank, makes the "no" vote more rather than less significant. The vote was not only against making the existing monetary arrangements irrevocable, it was against the EU's political pretensions, one manifestation of which is the idea, emanating from Germany, that Britain and France should turn over to the EU their permanent seats on the U.N. Security Council.
In the end, Denmark's pro-euro campaign was reduced to trotting out a popular movie producer, who sounded like Rodney King, saying people should vote "yes" because it is nice for European nations "to get along." Indeed it is. However, across Europe, the popular impulse is against centralization and toward devolution--a sometimes disintegrative impulse that threatens the integrity of the nation state.
In France, where centralization is a civic religion, Paris is contemplating increased autonomy for Corsica to dampen disorderly demands for it. And since the creation of legislatures of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, the Church of England's services, as trendy as they are sparsely attended, include prayers for "the parliaments"--plural--"in these lands"--plural.
Against both centrifugal and centripetal forces, Denmark has asserted the value of self-determination in a framework of nationhood. Democracy is in Denmark's
10/05/00: The Agony of Debate