BRUSSELS — TAKE a spin around any number of European Community cities like Brussels, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, or Madrid, and before long you are likely to run into stickers, posters, or license plates sporting the 12 gold stars on a blue field that symbolize the EC.
Not so in Copenhagen or anywhere else in Denmark. The 5.1 million Danes are happy to make up a small, progressive country with a certain independence from the European giants to the south, and they continue to harbor an ambivalence toward the Community they joined 20 years ago.
"The idea of flag-waving pro-Europeans is very foreign to the Danes," says one Danish government official. "You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone displaying a sticker with the 12 stars."
The Danes' ambivalence toward Europe will be tested when voters decide tomorrow on a binding referendum on Denmark's acceptance of the Maastricht treaty on deeper EC political and economic integration.
Recent polls show a slight movement in favor of ratification, but the tightness of the race indicates just how uncertain the Danes are about signing on to a process they fear is leading to the "United States of Europe."
Much of Europe is watching the Danish campaign attentively, in part because no one is quite sure what it would mean for the Maastricht accords if the Danish voted no. But it would clearly send a powerful earthquake rumbling through a Europe where qualms about deeper integration have been building since several EC members began parliamentary debates on treaty ratification.
French President Francois Mitterrand, who this spring rejected the idea of a French referendum on Maastricht in favor of parliamentary ratification, stated recently that Denmark's rejection would be "sad" but that the remaining 11 members would simply forge ahead on their own. EC experts say the situation would not be that simple, however, and that a renegotiation of at least parts of the treaty might indeed be necessary - something EC leaders want desperately to avoid.
The Maastricht treaty includes a number of specific points that worry the Danes. The foundation it lays for a common foreign and security policy conjures up visions of a single European army, something most Danes oppose. The treaty's social policy and inclusion of environmental policy under EC jurisdiction also have led to fears that Maastricht would mean a weakening of Denmark's strict social and environmental regulations. Sovereignty in general is a pertinent issue of debate.
But observers say the referendum's outcome may hinge on issues and sentiments with no direct link to the treaty.
"People are busy discussing little details or issues completely outside the treaty, while the grand lines of what Maastricht means for Denmark are left aside," says Bjorn Bredal, cultural editor of Copenhagen's Weekend Avisen newspaper.
The great wave of anti-government sentiment that has swept across much of the West this spring could wash over Denmark, Mr. Bredal notes. "The center-right government has been in office for 10 years now, so many people are tempted to use the referendum as a vote of censure."
But perhaps most important, Bredal says, is the vague and troubling notion many Danes are experiencing that "little Denmark is about to lose itself in an enormous bureaucratic ensemble," he says. "For a people accustomed to short distances and government right at hand, it's unsettling."
Those qualms only deepened earlier this month when EC Commission President Jacques Delors began hinting publicly that a forthcoming Commission report on the Community's enlargement to 20-25 European states proposes institutional changes that would reduce the power of smaller EC countries over Community affairs.
Danish Foreign Minister Uffe Ellemann-Jensen, who is campaigning hard for a "yes" vote was enraged. He demanded and got a public denial from Mr. Delors that small countries would lose power in a future Community, but the uneasiness remains.
"People know a larger Community couldn't operate the same way, but they don't want to hear it right now," says one government official. "Their hope is that their Scandinavian neighbors will [become members] to increase the voice of small countries before any further changes are discussed."
In the end, most observers predict a "yes" vote tomorrow, saying it will probably be the uncertainty of what saying no to the Community could mean for Denmark that will push voters to approve. "People who aren't sure will take the risk to trust the political leaders who are telling them it is good for Denmark," says one official.
Yet if the outcome is "No," Bredal says it could be women who tip the balance. "During this debate we've heard many women criticizing a Europe, run by men in gray suits, that is increasingly unresponsive and removed. For them the Community of Maastricht would be worse still," he adds: "male, cold, distant."