BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: World: From Our Own Correspondent
Front Page 
World 
Africa 
Americas 
Asia-Pacific 
Europe 
Middle East 
South Asia 
-------------
From Our Own Correspondent 
-------------
Letter From America 
UK 
UK Politics 
Business 
Sci/Tech 
Health 
Education 
Entertainment 
Talking Point 
In Depth 
AudioVideo 

Saturday, 30 September, 2000, 13:40 GMT 14:40 UK
Danes bite back at Europe
Anit-euro Danes celebrate victory
Danes start the real debate over who controls Europe
By Europe correspondent Justin Webb

A friend who works for the European Commission was in a state of great excitement.

He had witnessed a moment of high drama at a commission press conference - not a normal occurrence.

But this week was not a normal week in Europe.

The drama came during some turgid elaboration of a vital but dull piece of European business. It might have been a working paper on the harmonisation of widget diameters.


Five million plucky Vikings had pillaged the EU encampment, made a bonfire of their currency, and hopped it home to the bosoms of their gorgeous families

Suddenly according to my informant one of the journalists appeared to snap. He could bear it no longer. Leaping to his feet he demanded to know whether anyone in the building had noticed that something had changed.

Had the eurocrats not twigged that while they were going on as if we were all happy to have our widgets harmonised - five million plucky Vikings had pillaged their encampment, made a bonfire of their currency - and hopped it home to the bosoms of their gorgeous families.

Actually that is not exactly what he said but it was certainly the thrust of his argument.

Thoughtful debate

Was he right? It's easy to be seduced by the Danes.

Copenhagen is a marvellously welcoming city - all fish restaurants and stylish furniture shops and people cycling everywhere looking healthy and happy.


They had had a genuinely thoughtful debate. Apparently the library in one part of Copenhagen ran out of referendum literature so heavy had the demand been for enlightenment

Add to that a slightly bookish air - a lot of the men smoke pipes and look thoughtful - a rich history - they have the oldest royal family in Europe and they invented the concept of the national flag - and hey presto you have the perfect antidote to the eurocrat.

They did make a fine sight this week as they went to the polls. They had had a genuinely thoughtful debate - with public meetings well attended, newspapers reporting factually on what people were saying - apparently the library in one part of Copenhagen ran out of referendum literature so heavy had the demand been for enlightenment.

And then having digested the facts and opinions they Danes calmly and quietly made their decision.

Pillaging for fun?

I watched hundreds of people walking purposefully across Copenhagen's central square to cast their vote after work.

In the excitement of the result it has not been much reported - but it strikes me as astonishing - that the turnout was nearly 88%.

So what have they achieved?


It is quite possible that the Danes have made an economic mistake. But that is to miss the point of what they have done. It was a shout of protest against what Europe has become

The Vikings famously pillaged for fun - did their descendants do any more this week? In one important area I don't think they did.

For all the hopes of those who fear and despise the single currency, it's difficult to believe that the absence of Denmark from the Euro zone will make much difference to anyone - except perhaps Denmark itself.

It seems reasonable to point out that the krone - incidentally a currency they've only had since 1924 - is anyway pegged to the euro so they must follow its fortunes without influencing the people in charge. It is quite possible that they have made an economic mistake.

Hearts not heads

But that is to miss the point of what they have done. This vote was cast with hearts not heads.

It was a shout of protest - a kick, not perhaps a well-aimed one but a kick nonetheless - against what Europe has become.


The greatest message to come out of Denmark is the simplest: the European Union - in all its guises - is perceived to be outside democratic control
The fact is that the big ideas that drive the European project do not come from the people.

European integration is driven from the top down, sometimes for the best of reasons.

The countries of Europe used to fight wars with each other, and if you think that was ages ago, drive a few miles south from where I live in Brussels and look at the graves.

Look at those neat white crosses and you can see only too well why the leaders thought they should push the continent in another direction - towards harmony, towards ever closer union.

But the fact is that times have changed, memories have dimmed, and people are unwilling to be led.

The greatest message to come out of Denmark is the simplest: the European Union - in all its guises - is perceived to be outside democratic control.

It does things to us that we do not have any obvious way of doing things to it. Very few of us get the chance to make this point in a vote - the Danes seized their opportunity.

I don't think they've harmed the euro and I don't think they've done their own economy much good. But I do think they have done something much more far reaching. They have, in a dramatic fashion, kick-started the debate about who is in charge in Europe. In that they have done us all a service.

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
BBC RADIO NEWS
BBC ONE TV NEWS
WORLD NEWS SUMMARY
PROGRAMMES GUIDE
See also:

29 Sep 00 | Business
Euro stable after Danish 'no'
29 Sep 00 | Business
Q&A: What now for the euro?
29 Sep 00 | UK Politics
Danish vote sparks euro row
29 Sep 00 | Europe
European press review
Links to more From Our Own Correspondent stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more From Our Own Correspondent stories