Europe’s New Watershed

COPENHAGEN: The people of Belgrade have presented Europe with another watershed moment. Shadows from a decade of Balkan wars may at last be lifting. Clear heads, clear sights, and – most important of all – clear public consent will be needed if Europe is to move forward. In this regard, it is important to draw the right conclusions from Denmark’s “No” vote in its recent referendum on whether or not to join the euro.

The Danes are no more anti-European than anyone else. Xenophobia is no more widespread in Denmark than in other European countries. It was not just an unholy alliance between extreme left and extreme right, as some concluded, that defeated the euro.

Denmark’s “No” must be regarded as a warning to Europe’s leaders – they should be far more careful when starting an open dialogue with their electorates on basic European issues, such as Europe’s role in assuring Balkan peace. Otherwise they might run into the same saddening surprise as their Danish colleagues, where 4 out of 5 members of Parliament voted “Yes” on a policy only supported by 47% of their constituents.

My assertion that Danes are not anti-Europeans finds support in a recent Eurobarometer-poll: Voters in all EU-countries were asked if they regard enlargement of the Union with the applicant countries in Eastern and Central Europe as “a priority”. This was supported by close to 60% of Danes. Indeed, Denmark topped the list. In France and Germany support was a meagre 20%.