Denmark throws wrench into European Community reform plan

The decision this week by the Danish Parliament to block long-sought changes in the European Community's 28-year-old charter has angered EC officials. They say it throws into question the very raison d'^etre of the organization. No one here believes Tuesday's vote will lead to the eventual collapse of the 12-nation trading bloc. But EC officials say the Danish vote plays unfavorably into the hands of those who place national interests above efforts to build a united Europe.

The Danish Parliament saw the proposed EC reforms as a threat to its sovereignty. By a narrow margin, Parliament rejected an agreement worked out by EC leaders last month. The reform package seeks to improve the international competitiveness of Western Europe by removing barriers to internal trade, and to streamline the organization's decisionmaking process by increasing the use of majority voting.

The Danish Parliament was concerned that its power to control the country would be whittled away. Losing the right to veto EC decisions, as was proposed in the reform, aroused fears of being pushed around by Denmark's larger neighbors. Those fears were further fueled by the Jan. 1 entry of Spain and Portugal into the EC.

After the vote, Foreign Minister Uffe Ellemann-Jensen was dispatched to several key EC capitals to negotiate changes in the reform package which might make the deal acceptable to Parliament. But there seemed little chance that the other EC countries would budge.

The Danish Parliament's ``Common Market revolt'' comes at a time of growing anger within the NATO alliance over Denmark's recalcitrance on NATO issues.

Last month the NATO secretary-general, Lord Carrington, criticized Denmark's refusal to pay its share of modernizing NATO's nuclear forces. ``Those who claim a share of the benefits should carry a fair share of the burden,'' he said.

That sentiment has been running deep at EC headquarters here these days, with officials finding it increasingly difficult to understand the Danish point of view.

Every year, Denmark receives more than $1 billion in EC subsidies to support the development of exports and agricultural production. Officials point out that the country's farming sector has grown by 40 percent since Denmark joined the EC in 1973. A Danish pullout from the community would bankrupt the entire farming sector, according to Danish officials.

Prime Minister Poul Sch"ulter has said that he soon may decide to hold a national referendum as a way to assess public feeling on EC reform. Some analysts have said that such a vote would be tantamount to testing public sentiment on membership in the EC.

A recent opinion poll found that 48 percent of the population favors reform. But other polls show that about half favors withdrawal from the EC. A poll released by the EC this week found that only 35 percent of the Danes favor membership -- the lowest percentage in the EC.

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