The Jewish Stake in a Changing Europe
Other European Updates:
France and the Middle East Conflict
The Jewish Stake in a Changing Europe
Rightist Violence in Germany

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October 2000

The rejection of the "euro" – the common currency of the European Community (EU) – in a referendum by the people of Denmark has significance of special concern to Jews and minorities. Generally interpreted as a small country’s fear of domination by the larger members of the Community, the vote reflected an assertion of national concerns and is being exploited by a party with an anti-foreign and anti-minority program.
The rejection of the "euro" in a referendum by the people of Denmark reflects the assertion of national concerns being exploited by a party with an anti-foreign and anti-minority program.
Jews may not figure specifically or prominently as targets of this and similar parties in Europe, but they are invariably included.

Denmark, a liberal country with a long tradition of democratic and socially progressive governments, now has an ultra-nationalist party led by Pia Kjaersgaard, with a xenophobic, anti-European rhetoric similar to that of Joerg Haider in Austria or Jean-Marie LePen in France. This Danish development tends to be overlooked in the world’s media, as much happening in Scandinavia has trouble breaking into the headlines in the papers of larger countries.

Extreme right groups also operate in other countries, such as the National Democratic Party (NPD) in Germany and in some east and southeast European countries, but none of these have so far come close to a major role or to joining a government. In Austria, France and Denmark, these parties are either coalition partners or have to be taken seriously as a significant political factor by democratic governments.

The Danish vote does not imply that the 53-percent majority opposed to adopting the euro is anti-European or supports Ms. Kjaersgaard’s nationalist party. But it is being interpreted as reflecting the voters’ concern that the interests of a small country like Denmark will be overlooked or submerged by those of the larger ones, especially France and Germany, who are pressing hardest for European unity.

One of the things that bothered many Danes, according to observers of the campaign for the referendum, was the EU’s imposition of sanctions against Austria after the entry of Haider’s party into the government. This did not imply support for Haider, but fear that the same thing might happen to Denmark, as another small country, if it acted in a way that displeases the "big ones".

We thus encounter opposition by a small country to strengthening a Community dedicated to fostering democracy, equal rights and safeguarding the interests of minorities. The lesson seems to be that democracy is just as important among countries as it is within countries. In the case at hand, it may mean that more care and more discussion are required before the Community takes steps against one of its members – particularly the smaller ones – if it is to avoid counterproductive effects on its larger and more fundamental objectives. Among these goals are the protection of human rights and minorities -- a key rationale for Jews to support the advance of the Community toward a truly united Europe. It is an area in which the ADL-initiated European-Jewish Information Center (CEJI by its French initials) in Brussels plays an active and effective role on behalf of European Jewry.

The Danish vote also was a setback toward that "deeper" European union that the advocates of a truly integrated continent, as German foreign minister Joschka Fischer articulated it earlier this year, have in mind. That kind of Europe would in the end be close to a federal union like the United States. Opposed to this concept is the union of nations" that General deGaulle had envisioned and that continues to hold the support of those who want to preserve a substantial measure of national sovereignty within the Community.

Beyond "deepening" the Community’s purpose and powers, there is the issue of widening its membership through the adherence of central and east European countries once under Communist rule. Here, too, Jews have an interest. The Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Rumania and others have Jewish communities that would benefit from the protection of the human rights provisions to which all members of the European community are required to adhere. There are tentative time tables for the admission of individual countries, but events such as the vote in Denmark and some strong reactions against the bold approach advocated by Mr. Fischer show that national feelings remain strong, and that efforts by big countries – chiefly France and Germany – to press forward too fast, can be counterproductive.

The original reason for forming a Community, which began modestly as a six-member economic union – the European Coal and Steel Community – was to banish once and for all intra-European wars, and particularly to bind Germany into a new Europe in which she would no longer be tempted or able to wage aggressive war. This has long since been accomplished.

Now the choice is between a Europe endowed with so much supranational power as to worry its smaller member countries, or a more flexible Community that preserves essential national features of the member states and allows the admission of the new applicants from central and eastern Europe. It would seem that the latter approach is in the Jewish interest – for two reasons: it would provide less rationale for nationalist and extremist reaction against the "Superstate"; and it would give the Jewish communities in the former communist-ruled countries the benefit of protection of the human rights and anti-discrimination institutions and provision of the Community.

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