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Friday, 29 September, 2000, 14:30 GMT 15:30 UK
King Canute: Lessons from a great Dane

One way or another, the Danes' rejection of the euro is going to have an impact on the British decision.

If Denmark's economy suffers, it could bolster the yes to the euro campaign. If it booms, it could bolster the keep the pound campaign.

It's not the first time a Dane has shown the inhabitants of this island a thing or two.

Danish King Canute ruled England in the very early years of the last millennium. Through no fault of his own, popular misunderstanding has left him with a reputation for arrogance for believing he could turn back the tide.

Danish finance minister, Mogens Lykketoft: Couldn't turn tide of public opinion

But the real story paints Canute in a much better light. In 1016, Canute became ruler of England after a period of bloody fighting. But his reign became characterised by a lack of strife at home and from overseas, prosperity, and respect for the church. Art, trade, and justice flourished.

He was so successful, his supporters and courtiers became fawning, boasting of his power. But Canute was a God-fearing man, and wanted to prove them wrong.

So to illustrate how little power he had, he forbade the tide from coming in, and sat on the beach to defy it. Legend has it he said: "Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings."

If they choose to take a lesson from history, both sides in the euro debate in the UK could draw encouragement from Canute.

Save the pound Join the euro
(Message: Political power cannot do everything) (Message: There are some things you just can't stop)
The Keep the Pound campaigners could claim there are limits on the power of politicians. However much Mr Blair and Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy support entry to the euro, if the people don't back it then they are powerless to enforce it.

Mr Blair and Chancellor Gordon Brown have so far not exercised a lot of political will to persuade people that entry is right. Their position remains to support entry in principle but only if the economic conditions are right. And if that were the case, the UK would only join after a referendum.

But Tory leader William Hague is convinced that even if lots of government firepower were put into making the case for the euro, and even if it was a major election issue, people would still vote not to join it.

The supporters of euro membership can take the completely opposite position. However much people want to stand in the way, they could claim, stubbornness in the face of something inevitable - such as greater European unity - will be fruitless.

A greater degree of European integration will happen whether or not the UK is part of it. The no vote by Denmark could, it has been predicted, lead to a two-speed Europe, with some euro-countries on the inside and some on the outside.

If it is going ahead anyway, the logic goes, the UK will be better off being on the inside. The Minister for Europe, Keith Vaz, said on Friday that British jobs depended on being "at the heart of Europe, shaping its agenda".

Tide mark

And perhaps it's not too fanciful to suggest that Canute might have had split loyalties himself. For although he loved England (it has been said that England conquered him, rather than the other way round), as the ruler of all England, Denmark, Norway and part of Sweden, he himself did a fair bit for international integration.

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