Analysis of the EEC referendum in Denmark in 'Le Monde' in 1972

The Danes voted on membership of the EEC on 2nd October 1972, and two days later, the French newspaper Le Monde published an article in which the referendum and the Danes' opinions on the EEC were analysed. In the referendum, 63,7 % of Danes voted yes to membership and Denmark became a member of the EEC on 1st January 1973.

The flag of the EU. Blue rectangle with yellow stars.
French article deems Danish public economic realists after 1972 referendum.


Denmark had tried to become a member before 1972. The first attempt was in 1961, but the negotiations floundered in 1963 when France blocked the UK's entry into the EEC. Denmark withdrew its application thereafter as it did not wish to be a member without the UK. Over and above domestic conditions, this was primarily to do with Danish export. 

1967 saw the second attempt, but the negotiations floundered again largely for similar reasons. After the unsuccessful negotiations, Denmark turned its attention towards Nordic cooperation and started what would prove to be long and difficult negotiations around the establishment of NORDEK (a Nordic Economic Union). In 1970, it was clear that this would never come to fruition. In the meantime, the French president Charles de Gaulle, who had been the main obstacle to fruitful EEC-negotiations with the UK, resigned. This opened up the possibility of new negotiations with both Denmark and the UK, and this went ahead after NORDEK's final breakdown. An agreement was entered into and signed by Danish prime minister Jens Otto Krag on 22nd January 1972, and the Danish parliament decided to hold a referendum, the results of which would be binding, on 2nd October 1972. 

With the negotiations and Krag's signature in place, the 'yes' and 'no' campaigns were initiated. The no-side was centred around the 'people's movement against the EEC' (Folkebevægelsen mod EF later Folkebevægelsen imod EU), the political parties on the far right and left, and various organisations with specific political or economic interests. But scepticism could also be found elsewhere, such as within the ranks of the Social Democratic Party. Despite growing scepticism in the Danish population, the yes-campaign won a convincing victory. 

The article from Le Monde, 1972

Two days after the referendum, the French newspaper Le Monde published an article entitled 'A marriage of convenience' in which the victory for the yes-campaign was attributed to economic realism and Danish export, and not as an expression of Danish enthusiasm for the European project. It was considered that the Danish membership would not run completely smoothly because Denmark also had to consider the other Scandinavian nations that were outside the common market.

This article was originally published in French under the title "Un mariage de raison" on 4th October 1972. 

A marriage of convenience

The Danes have now voted clearly and overwhelmingly in favour of joining the Common Market, thus removing the last obstacle to the birth of an enlarged European Community on 1 January next year. Of course, there will only be nine instead of the ten members that had been hoped for a year ago. While the resounding Danish ‘yes’ vote does not dispel the unpleasant impression left by Norway’s ‘no’ last week, it nevertheless marks a new beginning.

Danish ‘yes’ campaigners had been worried about the effects of Scandinavian solidarity after the negative outcome of the Norwegian referendum, but in Denmark economic realism won the day. Voters most sympathetic to Oslo may well have been put off by the spectacle of the almost insoluble political crisis that followed the victory of the anti-Europeans in Norway. But the real reasons for the Danish vote are to be found in the country’s specific situation. More industrialised than Norway but, at the same time, a big exporter of agricultural products to Britain and Germany, Denmark lies at the heart of northern Europe. It would have had greater difficulty than Norway in living outside the Community, even though some of the consequences might have been mitigated by an association agreement.

As it is, the coalition of farmers, industrialists and mainstream political parties (both Conservatives and Social Democrats) easily defeated the nationalist and far-left groups. Even in Copenhagen, a majority voted ‘yes’.

Presumably confident that his main task has been accomplished, Mr Krag [Jens Otto Krag, Social Democrat Prime Minister 1962-68 and 1971-72]  has decided to hand over the reins of government to another man. 

But there is a fly in the ointment: the ‘yes’ vote was overwhelming, but it does not seem to have been delivered with any great enthusiasm. There is little sign of the momentum generated by great ideas, which were conspicuous by their absence during the referendum campaign. The younger generation has little interest in the European cause as such, and seems to have taken some of the Norwegian opposition’s arguments on board. In short, the mathematical success of the ‘yes’ vote in no way dispels last week’s criticism by Mr Mansholt of the negative image which Europe and its ‘undemocratic’ Community machinery has created among the general public. 

Denmark’s ‘marriage of convenience’ with Europe will not be frictionless. The Danes are probably ready to cooperate loyally with their eight partners, but they are by no means inclined to accelerate the integration process, least of all its political aspects. In this respect they are similar to the British and French, but they could find themselves at odds with people, especially in smaller countries like their own, who are calling for progress towards supranationality.

Moreover, Denmark is part of the Scandinavian world, both geographically and historically. In the future, it may well face difficult choices between its obligations to the EEC and its duties to what it considers to be, despite everything, its true family. 

Still, even within the Europe of the Six there is no shortage of countries still struggling with similar contradictions ...

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