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September 18, 2000


Danish Euro vote: Lessons for Britain

Mark Leonard and Mariell Juhlin

The Foreign Policy Centre’s research into public opinion on the Euro in Denmark and Britain shows that British pro-Europeans need to win the political as well as the economic arguments.

Although the political landscape in Denmark is very different – with a different set of arguments against the Euro and much greater distrust of politicians – the tactical mistakes that put the Danish vote on a knife-edge could be similarly damaging for the pro-Euro campaign here.

Similarities and Differences in the Euro debate.

Public trust in politicians who support the single currency is lower in Denmark than in Britain.
Even after the fuel crisis, Tony Blair scores much higher trust ratings than the Pro-Euro Danish Prime-Minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen. Only 8% of the electorate expressed “a lot of trust” in Rasmussen following his failure to implement a manifesto pledge to lower the age of retirement. (The “efterlon”)

Disastrous Timing
The Danish referendum campaign coincided with all-time lows in the value of the Euro against the dollar. It was also called two years into Rasmussen´s leadership, when the Government were suffering from mid-term blues.

Danish Economic Argument Was Not Convincing :
As the Krone is already pegged at a fixed rate to the Euro, it was difficult to persuade voters that full membership of the Euro would make any positive difference to them. Indifference was heightened when a commission of “Three Wise Men” concluded that the impact of the Euro would be marginal. In August nearly half of voters (48%) felt that the Euro would neither result in economic benefits or losses.

Few Floating Voters:
Less than half as many voters are open to persuasion on the Euro in Denmark than Britain. Danish public opinion has been hardened by a series of six referenda on European Questions, leaving few floating voters. In August this year, six weeks before the referendum on the Euro, 13% of the electorate didn´t know how they would vote. Six weeks before the Referendum on the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1998, 25% declared themselves undecided. Amongst Yes and No voters this time only 19% said there was a chance that they would change their minds. This contrasts with Britain where 45% of voters admit that they are open to persuasion on the Euro.

Key Issues in Denmark do not translate to British debate :
Few of the issues aired during the Danish Referendum campaign have resonance in Britain. Many feared that Denmark´s generous welfare state could be jeopardised by EU tax harmonisation. Similarly, EU sanctions imposed on Austria following Haider´s inclusion in the Government resulted in widespread debate on the influence of small countries within the EU.


Win the Political Argument on the Euro:

The Danish experience shows that trying to sidestep the sovereignty debate is a flawed strategy. Many voters believed in the economic benefits of the Euro but felt the political price was not worth paying. The Yes Campaign therefore has to make political arguments for joining the Euro – it cannot simply rely on presenting a list of potential economic benefits. It should argue that pooling sovereignty is the best way to maintain our influence within the EU: outside the Euro we will never punch our weight. This argument is already partly won: British public opinion is in favour of pooling sovereignty within the EU on the environment and defence

Concentrate on the Big Picture rather than Detail:

The Danish Yes Campaign were often ended up on a defensive footing – responding to scares stories about pensions and tax harmonisation – because they failed to set out a practical, non-federalist vision of the EU. A series of high profile speeches here by the Prime Minister could move the argument on from outdated fears of a federal super-state.

Don´t succumb to British versus EU posturing:

The understandable tendency of ministers to champion “Battles with Brussels” to prove that Britain is punching its weight in Europe can be counter-productive. Recent heroic interventions to “save the jammy dodger” from EU regulations may fuel Euroscepticism in the long run. Experience from Denmark should counsel against this strategy: Danish opt-outs from the Maastricht Treaty on asylum, immigration, police co-operation and common defence were hailed as victories by the Government. But this rhetoric heightened the image of the EU as a threat.

Be Credible – Don´t use alarmist tactics:

Danish voters failed to believe those predicting that a no vote would result in economic doom. In Britain, voters will be similarly suspicious of exaggerated claims, particularly if the economy continues to thrive. Pro-Europeans will need to point to the positive results in terms of jobs, investment, mortgages and political influence that joining a successful single currency would bring to Britain as well as the negative consequences of staying out.

Only focus on issues where Europe can add value

The pro-European case should focus on issues like the single market´s impact on jobs – not on areas where national Governments could successfully act alone. There is a tendency to indiscriminately deploy any pro-European arguments that are in line with public opinion, trumpeting shorter working hours and parental leave as EU achievements, even though there is no logical reason why a British Government could not legislate for these itself.

Don´t rely on business to convert waverers:

Although a significant majority of business was in favour of the Euro, the scepticism of high profile bankers gave the impression to voters in Denmark that business opinion was split.

Run a campaign that appeals to women:

The Danish referendum campaign conspicuously lacked pro-European figures that would appeal to women. The Yes Campaign failed to narrow the far higher levels of scepticism amongst women than men – a trend mirrored in Britain. 48% of Danish women opposed the Euro compared to 37% of men in a recent opinion poll.

Don´t preach to the converted:

Yes Campaigners in Denmark spent a disproportionate amount of time campaigning amongst the business elite who were already broadly in favour of the Euro.

“Denmark shows that “Its the politics, stupid”. Of course people care about jobs and mortgages but they still won’t vote for the Euro if we don’t win the argument on sovereignty too. We have to point out the consequences of being sidelined in Europe”, says Mark Leonard, Director of The Foreign Policy Centre.

Sources and Data:

(a)8% trust in Danish Prime Minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, Gallup, nr24 1998. By January 2000 Rasmussen was still languishing behind Anders Fogh Rasmussen and Bendt Bendsten in the polls. Source: Gallup Denmark: Telephone interview between 18-21/1/2000.

(b). Unconvincing Economic argument: the “Three Wise Men” were all chairmen of Danish Economic Council (

(c) Economic argument not convincing: Gallup poll based on telephone interviews with 1010 voters, selected representatively from 10/8 to 20/8. They were asked “ If Denmark decides to join the Euro, do you think it will generate economic benefits or losses, or that it will have no effect at all?

(d). Source: Gallup Denmark, nr5, 1998 and Gallup Denmark nr13b, 2000.

(e). Undecided voters: Gallup poll based on telephone interviews with 1010 voters selected representatively from 10/8/2000 to 20/8/2000. The question for those declaring in favour or against the Euro. Would you say that you have reached a conclusive decision with respect to the Euro, or is there any chance you may still chance that you may still change your mind”.

(f). Source: MORI, June 2000: Yes and No voters were asked if they would change their voting intention if they thought it would be good for the British Economy.

(g) The big picture: A vision for a non-federalist EU is set out in Mark Leonard´s pamphlet: Network Europe, (Foreign Policy Centre, 1999)

(h) Prime Minister should lead public debate: The Prime Minister is delivering a speech on the future of the European Union in Warsaw on Friday 6 October.

(i) Women’s vote: 27% of women would vote in favour of a single currency compared to 35% of men. Source: MORI September 2000. They were asked the question: “If the Government were to strongly urge that Britain should be part of a single European currency, how would you vote?”

(j)Gallup Denmark poll: telephone interviews with 1010 voters, selected representatively, from 10.8 to 20.8 2000. Core Question: “What would you vote, if there was a referendum on Denmark´s participation in the common European currency tomorrow?”

This briefing forms part of The Foreign Policy Centre’s European Programme , examining ways to reconnect the European Union to its citizens.

Research by Mark Leonard, Director of the Foreign Policy Centre, and Mariell Juhlin, a researcher on Scandinavian politics and economics.

More on British public opinion and the Euro can be found in Professor Robert Worcester´s pamphlet: How To Win The Euro Referendum published by the Foreign Policy Centre (2000). An outline of a new pro-European and non-federalist vision of the future of the European Union, see Mark Leonard’s Network Europe (The Foreign Policy Centre, 1999). See Reports .

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