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EU: Sweden Looks Set To Vote 'No' On Euro Single Currency

  • Breffni O'Rourke

Swedes vote in a referendum on 14 September on whether to accept the euro. At the moment, the outcome looks like a firm "no" to the European Union's single currency. The pro-euro government of Prime Minister Goran Persson is working hard to turn around public opinion, but the job will be a hard one.

Prague, 10 September 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The Swedish crown seems likely to be jingling in the pockets of Swedes for some years to come, if public opinion polls are anything to go by.

That's because opinion surveys give a strong lead of 10 percentage points to the "no" side in the 14 September referendum on whether Sweden should join the European Union's common currency -- the euro.

Prime Minister Goran Persson is putting an optimistic face on things, saying he believes the electorate can be persuaded to support the pro-euro side in the next few days. Some one-third of Sweden's 7 million voters say they have not made up their minds yet.

One of the parties supporting the euro's introduction is the People's Liberal Party.

Spokesman Joakim Bergstrom says, "It is important for both economic and political reasons [to join the euro]. We believe that Sweden in the long run will have a more stable, solid economy with the euro than without the euro. We also believe it is important for Sweden's role in the new Europe that we take part as a full member of the community."

On the other side of the fence is the Centre Party, which is anti-euro. Spokesman Henrik Hansson criticizes the way the government is conducting its campaign: "On the 'yes' side, they are becoming more and more [panicky]. They are panicking. They are becoming desperate, and now the latest thing they are saying -- they are trying to make the 'yes' look a bit more soft. They are saying that 'yes' means only that we will enter the eurozone if it is good for Sweden. So what they are actually doing is they are trying to undermine the referendum."

Hansson argues that this approach by pro-euro supporters is designed to convince the public that a decision on the single currency can be taken later by politicians, depending on the country's best interests. Hansson says that is a tactic which takes the power of decision out of the public's hands.

At present, the euro circulates in 12 of the EU's 15 member states. Sweden, Denmark, and Britain are the exceptions. In Sweden, as elsewhere, the business lobby is pro-euro because the single currency would simplify trade with EU partners and put Sweden into the economic mainstream.

But there are anti-euro groupings on both the right and the left of the political spectrum in Sweden. Some conservative Swedes are reluctant to give up the crown, a symbol of national identity, and to cede control to the EU.

"I think for most Swedish people, it is important that we have control of our own politics, our own financial and taxation powers, and all that," says Magnus Persson, an analyst at the Swedish TT news agency.

On the left, Swedes who favor the famed social protection of the country's social security system fear the euro could threaten the high-tax regime that makes that system possible.

And on the broad economic front, Sweden has enjoyed solid growth outside the eurozone, undercutting the lure of the single currency. Last year, Swedish growth was almost 2 percent, or more than double the eurozone rate. For the Centre Party, that is proof enough.

"We know what we have [in the crown], and there is a saying, 'If it works, don't fix it,' " spokesman Hansson says.

The EU would welcome a positive vote on the euro because Sweden is a well-developed economy with excellent stability. As economic analyst Claus Papenbrock of the Deutsche Bank in Frankfurt says, "[Sweden] would add another stability-oriented country [to the eurozone] just ahead of the entry into the EU of Eastern European countries [in 2004]. It would certainly be desirable to have not only Sweden but also countries like Denmark and Britain [in the eurozone]."

Bergstrom of the People's Liberal Party says that whichever way the vote goes, the Swedish public and the country's political establishment will have to live with the decision for a long time.

"If the Swedish people say 'no' to the euro this autumn, I believe Sweden will remain outside the euro for at least 10 years," Bergstrom says.

A negative vote in Sweden will make it less likely that Denmark or Britain will adopt the euro anytime soon.

In London, the pro-euro government of Prime Minister Tony Blair is mired in controversy over the Iraq conflict and has little extra time to devote to its stated goal of winning over a skeptical public to the euro.