The Euro-Referendum in Denmark

On September 28, 2000 a majority of the Danish voters said no to the Euro - 53.1% voted No and 46.9% voted Yes. This was a surprisingly high No-vote, since almost all the different opinion polls and "experts" etc., had been predicting a very close, almost fifty-fifty situation. The participation in the referendum was very high - about 88%, which is the highest percentage in a Danish EU-referendum since the first one in 1972 where 90.4% voted.

This was a No against all odds: the majority of the political parties, the unions, the employers' organisations and most of the newspapers had campaigned for a Yes, and the amount of money spent on the Yes-campaigns was much, much bigger than that spent on the No-campaigns. The parties in the government - Socialdemokratiet (Social Democrats) and Radikale Venstre ("Radical Left", which is neither radical nor left - it is a small bourgeois party) - campaigned for a Yes, as did also the main parties of the opposition: the Conservatives, Venstre ("Left" - again not a left party, but the biggest bourgeois party) and the small bourgeois Centrumdemokraterne. The LO - the national organisation of the unions - equivalent to the TUC in Britain - and most unions also recommended a Yes vote, in some instances even in joint campaigns with the employers' organisation.

The Yes-campaigns

The arguments put forward by the Yes-campaigners, especially the Social Democrats, changed quite a lot during the weeks and months of the debate before September 28. In the beginning the focus was on the economic gains that would be won from joining the Euro. This, however, was changed when a report from a group of "independent experts" called the "wise men" concluded that the gains would be small and uncertain.

Then there was a series of arguments about more political issues - it would be a "yes of solidarity and internationalism", "a yes to a project of peace", "the best way of controlling international capital" and so on. And all the time it was stressed that Denmark had to join because then the minister of economic affairs could be at the meetings where the decisions are made - exactly what will be decided at these meetings has never been revealed. Of course these arguments are completely empty - since when have European finance and monopoly capital, who have built, and control, the EU, been the defenders of solidarity and peace? How are we supposed to combat the domination of international capital by giving more power to a handful of financial people in a bank somewhere in Europe, and what has the attempt to build an EU-army got to do with peace?

Apparently the leaders of the Social Democracy also realised that these kind of arguments didn't work either, so in the last week or so before the referendum, the campaigning got more and more desperate and turned into threats: the effects of a No would mean the end of the welfare society, it would lead to unemployment and massive cuts (of course carried out by the government, i.e. the Social Democracy). Prime minister Nyrup Rasmussen said that various plans of action (a series of cuts) had already been worked out, that would be implemented when the negative reactions of the world market would make themselves felt after a No. As it turned out - and as one would expect - these kinds of threats didn't have the intended effect: many people felt that the Yes-campaigners were bullying people who were in doubt or saying no.

The No-campaigns

The Danish population is divided over the question of the EU - and so are all the parties and organisations. In most of the Yes-parties there are Euro-sceptic groups. In the Social Democracy, for example, there is the SNE, Socialdemokratisk NetvÊrk Europa. While the LO and, for example, the metal workers' union were pro-Euro, there are also unions that were against, especially on a local level. For example there is a group called FagbevÊgelsen mod Unionen (Unions against the Union).

Several parties also adopted an official line against the Euro. These were Socialistisk Folkeparti (SF, "Socialist People's Party"), Dansk Folkeparti (DF, "Danish People's Party"), Enhedslisten (EL, "The Unity List" - a small party uniting different left sects and the remnants of the old Communist party), Kristeligt Folkeparti (a very small Christian party) and various small groups, among them all the ultra-lefts. Besides there are two so-called "people's movements" against the EU - FolkebevÊgelsen mod EU and JunibevÊgelsen. In some of these parties there were also people who went against the leadership and supported a Yes. Especially in SF there is a small group of pro-EU people - the "modernisers" of the party.

After the referendum it was Pia KjÊrsgÂrd, the leader of the nationalist DF, who was on the front pages of most papers, and when CNN broadcast live, it was from DF's rooms. But in the debates leading up to September 28, DF had stayed a little in the background, probably realising that their nationalist arguments could make some No-voters vote Yes instead. (Their campaign was called "For krone og fÊdreland" - "For the Krone and the fatherland.") So the main participants in debates on TV, in the newspapers and so on were the Social Democratic leaders and Holger K. Nielsen, the leader of SF.

The welfare state

What was very interesting in the different campaigns was that the main arguments used to persuade the voters were basically more or less the same on both sides and from all parties: all the leaders talked about the need to defend the Danish welfare state, the so-called Danish model, to fight the bureaucratic and undemocratic aspects of the EU, to build a peaceful Europe - the only difference was that the No-campaigners said that this could best be done without the Euro, while the Yes-campaigners argued that standing outside of the Euro would damage "Danish interests" and thus do harm to the welfare state and that the best way to defend the welfare state would be as a full member of the EU.

The fact that we are in a period where no parties (except maybe some extremists) dare to speak out against the welfare state is very important. Of course we know that there is a steady flow of cuts that is slowly dismantling the welfare state. The Social Democrats in government are doing that now, and so would any other Danish party in government, if they follow the rules of capitalism.

The Danish working class has fought to build a civilised existence through the welfare state - this was probably as good as it could get under capitalism and it was only possible as an historic exception in a special period of capitalist development. In our present period capitalism will be forced to remove many of the gains of the past, and the government - whether reformist or bourgeois - will be forced to carry out this policy.

In words no party dares to say what is the real situation - even the former ultra-liberals from Venstre are talking about the welfare state as something positive, and yet it is only a decade or so ago that their present leader wrote his infamous book "From social state to minimal state" in which he more or less demanded the abolition of the Social Democratic welfare state. They all know that any serious attacks on the welfare state will probably create huge dissatisfaction and resistance, so all the political leaders talk about "developing" the welfare state, "creating new possibilities and choices for the people" and so on. Poul Nyrup Rasmussen has even made himself quite a reputation for giving out "guarantees": in the last election campaign he promised not to make cuts in a the rules for early retirement, but after the election these things were cut anyway, which created huge unpopularity for the Social Democracy, sending the party to historically low levels of support in the opinion polls and at the same time boosting the support for the populist DF. Still he apparently hasn't learned anything from this experience, because in the last weeks of the EU-referendum campaign he issued another "guarantee" - that there wouldn't be any cuts in the pension system. Apparently that did not work.

A majority didn't believe in all these assurances and didn't accept the threats. The No represented - for many people - a vote against uncertainty, opposition to any cuts and fear for the general future of the Danish welfare system, a vote of big mistrust in the established leaders of all the main parties and "the elite" in general. The mistrust in the political elite is shown by the very widespread "joke" that "if we don't vote yes, we'll just get another referendum in October." One of the two main tabloid papers - one of the few anti-Euro papers - even used this in a commercial. Of course this is not a joke - it is what really happened after the No in the 1992 EU-referendum. A recent opinion poll as to why people voted like they did on September 28 showed that 37% of No-voters voted No because they didn't want more "integration" in the EU and more "union", and 23% indicated that they had a "general mistrust in the EU". At the same time only 11% of the Yes-voters voted Yes because they thought it would improve their economy. This opinion poll also showed that a very large part of the population had a deep mistrust of Danish politicians in the question about the EU.

Who voted what

This whole attitude is also reflected in the distribution of Yes and No votes throughout the country. In previous EU-referendums there had been a bit of an "area influence" - people from the countryside voting more Yes, and people in the cities voting more No. But this time the Yes-percentage in the cities on the whole has increased, while the No-percentage has increased in the countryside.

The surveys that have been made show that the division was really one of income: generally the richer you were, the more likely you were to vote Yes, and this was reflected in the fact that one of the only places with a Yes-majority was in the rich people's residential areas north of Copenhagen, whereas some of the biggest No-votes came from the traditionally Social Democratic working class suburbs west of Copenhagen and other places where there is also a larger number of people who are in one way or another dependent on the welfare system. As in all previous EU-referendums the No-percentage was much bigger among women than among men - also reflecting the fact that women generally have lower incomes and are more dependent on the welfare system.

Of the big Yes-parties it was also among Social Democratic voters that there was the biggest percentage of No-voters - some surveys say 40% of Social Democratic voters voted No, but the fact is that many traditional Social Democratic voters at the present time wouldn't classify themselves as Social Democratic voters. There has been a more or less steady flow of voters away from the party in protest against Nyrup Rasmussen's broken "guarantees", the interference of the government against the workers in the big strikes in 1998 and so on. But if we still classify these people as Social Democratic the percentage of Social Democratic voters voting No would be much, much bigger.

No alternatives from the left wing

The Marxists think that the No vote is a positive development - it is a big blow to the so-called "political elite", bourgeois and right reformists alike, and it shows that a majority of the Danish working class will not be prepared to accept cuts and "reforms" to the welfare state without protesting. But at the same time this is a very confused No. It is a No to a lot of things, but it is not a Yes to something else - there have never really been any alternatives.

The left-wing No-campaigners - SF, EL, the ultra-lefts and the No-groups in the Social Democracy and the unions - have all been more or less entangled in different "popular" campaigns together with all kinds of bourgeois and nationalist groups. There hasn't been one word of independent working class policy from these people. They have just used the same arguments that other No-campaigners have used. But without a clear Socialist perspective these arguments are really hollow:

"We still want to be able to control our own economy" - yes, but we, i.e. ordinary working people and youth, don't have any control over the economy and we will never have that under capitalism, inside or outside the Euro or EU.

"We want to keep the special Danish model and the welfare state" - yes of course, but this is being dismantled, and this will continue whether Denmark is inside or outside the EU, as the welfare state is being destroyed in all capitalist countries.

"We don't want to give up our democratic rights to the EU bureaucrats" - no of course not, and every step in the direction of more EU-integration is a lessening of democracy, but what about the present democracy in Denmark - do we control our own lives, do we have anything to say about our workplace, our schools and the economy and politics? etc., etc.

An independent working class alternative

And what has happened after the No vote? Has Denmark suddenly been changed into something better, do we have en eternal "guarantee" of the welfare state? Of course not. Denmark is still a capitalist country in a capitalist Europe, and the Danish economy is still dependent on the world market and on Europe, the Krone is tied to the Euro, and the Danish government will pursue the same policies as before. After the referendum the yes-campaigners have tried to explain their defeat. Apparently they haven't realised that a majority of the voters actually disagree with their policies - they try to explain the no-vote with "we haven't been good enough at informing", "obviously people haven't understood what we've been saying", and so on. The leader of the DSU (Young Socialists) has said that now they have to be even more aggressively pro-EU in order to "convince" young people. This can only lead to new defeats for the leadership in the future, as more people will see through their empty words.

And what have the No-campaigners done after the No vote? The leaders of SF are negotiating with the government in order to reach some kind of "compromise" on the EU question; the EL is hardly saying anything; the DF is having another round of internal fights and expulsions which is more or less their trademark; the "people's movements" are only "active" when there are referendums - so in short: nothing.

However, another important development has taken place in the weeks after the referendum, something which is an even bigger victory: the childcare workers in Copenhagen have been on an "illegal" strike against proposed cuts from the Social Democratic-led local city council. The after-school centres had previously also been open before school, but it was proposed that that be changed, which meant that many childcare workers would be forced to work less (with less pay), and of course it would also be a big problem for the children and their parents.

The strike enjoyed enormous sympathy from the children's parents - as a consequence of the strike they are going to get a refund of the money they have paid for the childcare, and in some places they have decided to give that money to the childcare workers, who have lost a lot of income from being on strike. There have been big demonstrations, and all this support combined with the fact that the workers succeeded in getting other types of childcare workers to threaten to join the strike led to victory.

The Social Democracy in the city council has been forced to make an agreement with SF and EL that cancels the cuts in the morning openings. Of course we'll still have to see these promises turned into reality, but right now it looks like a clear victory. One of the spokespersons of the strikers said on the radio that the best thing about this strike was that it had showed that the class struggle was not dead.

All this contains a valuable lesson for Danish workers and youth: if we want to defend our rights and welfare and even expand it, it's no use just relying on being in the EU or outside the EU; it's not enough just to put our trust in the Yes-side or the No-side. The only way to progress is the unity of the working class itself, its understanding of its own strength and its will to fight against the cuts of capitalism and for a new socialist order, which is the only real guarantee for a life with welfare and progress.