- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 27, 2000

The most extraordinary thing happened on the way to Thursday's referendum on the Euro in Denmark. It was discovered that the issue had developed a gender gap. It turns out that the women of Denmark are against the common European currency, and the men are in favor. Opinion polls show that almost 60 percent of women oppose the Euro and almost 60 percent of men support it. Women may be from Venus and men may be from Mars, but Euros are from the European Central Bank in Frankfurt, so what kind of sense does that make?
Elections this year, both in the United States and in Europe are very much focused on the question: What do women want? With the vote shaping up as of this writing to favor the "No" vote narrowly, by 46-42 percent, Danish female voters are responsible for some very important decisions. Indeed their preference could well deliver another painful blow to the already tumbling Euro at a time when the 18-month-old currency can ill afford it. Analysts in Denmark (who are mostly men, of course) have concluded that women vote with "their hearts more than their minds," which sounds pretty insulting, but may have some truth to it, one regrets to say.
Just as one hates to clock the time of Vice President Gore's resurgence in the polls to "the big kiss" but nonetheless finds it hard to argue against the extraordinary coincidence of the two, so it probably has to be acknowledged that the gender gap in Denmark may be true to the emotional penumbra surrounding the Euro. This penumbra includes issues such as fear of immigration, a reluctance to accept further European integration, and particularly angst over seeing the generous Danish welfare state diminish. It is also interesting to find that the anti-Euro campaign is headed by a woman, Pia Kjaersgaard, leader of the far-right nationalist Danish People's Party, though the coalition for a "No" spans both extremes of the political spectrum (with the moderate left and moderate right united in their fight for a "Yes.")
The threatened assault on the Danish welfare state has done more than anything to hurt the pro-Euro side, and the same scaremongering tactic has worked brilliantly on the senior-citizen vote. In this it has, unfortunately, been greatly helped by the bungled defensive action taken by the government of Prime Minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen. Now, there is no factual basis for the notion that social pensions would be in danger, though it is generally true that governments within the Euro-zone commit themselves to holding the budget deficit to 2 percent and national debt to 60 percent of GDP. In fact, Denmark has comfortably qualified for membership all along with its current, generous level of social services.
The panicked reaction of the government did not help at all. The prime minister took the extraordinary step of issuing a public statement, guaranteeing to keep social security at its current level until the year 2045 a pledge that is well beyond the willing suspension of disbelief even by his most ardent supporters. Not surprisingly, the result was a massive loss of credibility on Mr. Nyrup Rasmussen's own part. He even briefly considered asking the other 14 EU leaders to certify in writing that they would not tamper with Danish social security, a plan that had to be hastily abandoned when it was leaked to the press. (This would have been in violation of a fundamental principle of Danish politics, that outside interference invariably backfires. In 1992, Chairman of the European Commission Jacques Delores helped the forces arrayed against the Maastricht treaty mightily by going on Danish national television and suggesting that the Danes vote "Yes.")
"More women than men are skeptical about doing away with the krone [currency]," wrote Drude Dahlerup, who heads the anti-Euro June Movement, on the newspaper Politiken's EU debate Web page. "My own No is not especially a women's no, and yet I feel myself clearly in harmony with the feminine EU-skepticism." Whatever the distinction here, it would seem pretty elusive.
Other Danish female politicians have been fiercely insulted by the suggestion that women allow their emotions to dictate how they vote. Wrote Ritt Bjerregaard, the former EU commissioner for environmental affairs and a point women for the "Yes" forces, "Saying that women only react from the heart is nonsense. Women do react from the heart but they are also keenly aware of the nature of power. They know that they must participate and not just let the men have all the influence." Unfortunately, her pleas for a "Yes" seem to be falling on deaf ears among her Danish sisters.
"I cannot make the female EU skepticism conform to my own image of today's assertive, even aggressive women who are supposed to have the courage and heart to break down barriers and think outside the box," wrote Anne Grethe Holmsgaard, a member of the Socialist People's Party and the director of Denmark's Technical University, which educates the majority of the country's engineers.
Could it be that the female voters of Denmark (and of the United States in their own way, too) are not quite as progressive and tough-minded as they would like to think? This is a tempting conclusion and a troubling one, too, if we have in fact entered an age where their votes carry more weight than ever.
E-mail: Helle.Bering@washtimes.com

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