Danish `Yes' Unblocks EC Unity, but That's About All

SPOILERS NO MORE

JUST as releasing the brake is a necessary but insufficient step to setting a car in motion, Denmark's "yes" on May 18 in its second go at the European Community's Maastricht Treaty won't be enough to get European integration moving.

But if leaders across Europe and EC officials in Brussels expressed so much relief and satisfaction with the vote, it is because they knew the project for a European "union" was going nowhere without first unblocking the Danish impasse.

The 12-nation EC can begin "pulling out of a period of waiting and moroseness," said EC Commission President Jacques Delors after the referendum results.

The EC, virtually paralyzed since the Danes shocked Europe by rejecting the treaty last year, should now be able to address more openly Maastricht's implementation and such issues as a stalled European economy, the Community's sputtering Single Market, and the fragile European Monetary System, Brussels observers say.

The solid "yes," with 57 percent in favor and 43 percent opposed, makes Denmark the 11th EC member to ratify the treaty and is expected to boost Britain's plodding ratification process. (British anxieties soothed, Page 7.)

Nonetheless, the obstacles on the road to European integration, with the Maastricht plans for a single currency later in the decade and steps toward a common foreign policy and defense, won't be cleared up by one referendum. Europe's preoccupations have shifted significantly since EC leaders signed the treaty in December 1991.

Poignant evidence of this appeared on late-night news in France May 18, when reports on Denmark's vote lagged behind stories on rising French unemployment and news that for the first time since the Bosnian war began, Sarajevo was without bread. Earlier in the day, France's new pro-European, center-right government unveiled its European policy before a deserted parliament, and a fresh poll showed that if they voted today, the French would reverse their weak approval of the treaty in September and turn dow n Maastricht.

"The fact is that until the [European] governments are seen as having some success in bringing down unemployment, progress toward the kind of integration outlined in Maastricht will not be very great," says Soren Morch, a historian at the University of Odense in Denmark. As long as unemployment that already affects 17 million EC residents continues growing, "it will lead to stronger nationalist sentiments," he adds, "and little public interest in European union."

Unlike a year ago, the Danes this week voted on a tailored treaty that allows Denmark to "opt out" of Maastricht's central provisions: a single currency, a common foreign and security policy, a common European citizenship, and increased police and judicial cooperation.

DESPITE the Danish vote, debate is certain to continue on what effect Denmark's initial "no" and the granting of these exceptions will have on the Community's development. For some, the essential point is that the darkest cloud over Europe's integration process has been lifted, while others say the process has been fundamentally altered.

In any case, no one expects any grand proposals for getting European integration moving again any time soon. "The question of how [the EC] proceeds over the next two to three years was not decided [Tuesday] in Denmark," says Peter Ludlow, director of the Center for European Policy Studies in Brussels.

Adding that future action will be "decided by European leaders and determined by their political situations at home," Mr. Ludlow says he expects "a relatively quiet, possibly stagnant period" until after German legislative elections next year, and French presidential elections in 1995.

In changing their vote, the Danes did not convert to support a more activist Community. What they were expressing, according to exit polls, was a resignation that Denmark risked a dangerous isolation, especially in the economic arena, if it voted "no."

Uneasiness over the consequences of a "no" in an unstable Europe was another factor that resigned a people viscerally opposed to "union" to a yes vote, Mr. Morch says.

"It was the fear of war" that underpinned the acceptance of Maastricht, Morch says. "It was not an approval of what Europe has done, but worries about the spread of the disintegration we are seeing" in the former Yugoslavia.

In that sense, the vote indicates a growing if grudging public acceptance of something European officials have been saying for months: Post-cold-war Europe has no choice but to forge a unified position from which to address the continent's instability.

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