Danish actor from Howth looks set for seat

 

A resident of Howth, Co Dublin may well win a seat in the European Parliament - but not representing Ireland.

The popular Danish actor Jens Okking (59) divides his time between TV, film and theatre work back in Denmark and his home in Howth. He makes no bones about his love for all things Irish, not least the fishing and the whiskey.

But the outspoken social activist, a former Communist, has been drafted by Denmark's Eurosceptical June Movement as its star candidate and looks likely to be elected, although he cannot campaign due to his work. Following his successes in Brecht's Galileo and a TV series, Cops, Okking is taking only weekend acting work.

The existence and support for two Eurosceptical campaigns in Denmark's European elections make them quite different from general elections - the "June Movement" fights for reform of the EU, the "People's Movement against the EU" for disaffiliation. They share four of 16 seats.

The campaign started quietly, but a book by outgoing MEP John Iversen has put the cat among the pigeons. A defector to Denmark's governing Social Democrats from their left-wing rivals, the Socialist People's Party, Iversen as good as accuses his own government's ministers and leader of misleading voters about the real pace of European integration, which he supports.

Prospects for the Social Democrats have not been looking good. A few months ago it had slumped to 15 percentage points behind the Liberal (Venstre) opposition, paying a heavy price for a major package of economic and pension reforms.

A recent poll suggests a strong resurgence for Prime Minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen's party and a return to the fold of many of the voters who put them back in power - to the surprise of most - in March 1998. But Dr Palle Svensson, of the Department of Political Science in Aarhus, warns that such polls traditionally underestimate support for the Euro sceptics at this stage of the campaign.

And the revival still leaves the combined conservative parties - the Liberals (Venstre), the Conservative Party, the Danish People's Party, the Progress Party, the Centre Democrats and the Christian People's Party - with a comfortable majority.

The Social Democrats' misfortunes are compounded by the defection of a well-known former parliamentary leader and ex-Brussels diplomat, Mogens Camre. He upset many colleagues with his anti-refugee stance and is standing for the populist, anti-immigrant Danish People's Party - and is likely to take a seat from his former party.

Observers say the campaign will probably focus on the well-aired issue of MEPs' expenses and the future of European security.

The possibility of integrating all or part of the Western European Union into the EU is likely to stoke anti-EU fires in this still deeply Euro-sceptical country. Although members of NATO, the Danes have opposed any defence role for the Union. Rasmussen has, however, done his best to neutralise the euro as an issue, by carefully long-fingering a decision on joining while remaining ambiguous about his position.

The Liberals appear not to have suffered from the retirement of their charismatic leader, Uffe Elleman Jensen, and his replacement by Anders Fogh Rasmussen (no relation). They may actually gain a couple of seats at the expense of the three held by the waning Conservatives.

Polls suggests that the steady increase in support experienced by the left-wing Socialist People's Party may have come to an end, with voter support now at 12 per cent, probably enough to add a seat to their current one.

The Social Liberals, led by Finance Minister Mariane Jelved, are likely to hold the seat of the Prime Minister's wife, Lone Dybkjaer. Small consolation, perhaps, to a man whose party seems likely to be the big loser.