15th Jul 2018

Former PM: Swedish no to euro was boosted by tragedy

Exactly two months after the Swedes voted overwhelmingly not to join the euro, former Swedish Prime Minister and leading yes campaigner Carl Bildt tells the EUobserver what has changed in Sweden since the vote and how the tragic murder of Foreign Minister Anna Lindh affected the outcome.

Mr Bildt, who has also been tipped recently to be Sweden's next Commissioner, has a firm view on how Anna Lindh's murder affected the outcome of the vote. Sweden voted by 56-42 not to join the single currency.

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"The tragic murder and the way it was handled clearly lead to the massive no majority that we got. Without it, the outcome would have been rather narrow", Mr Bildt says.

"The yes side was increasing by 0.5 percent a day in the preceding weeks, and we had every reason to expect a surge in support in the last few days along the lines of the '94 referendum (on whether or not to join the EU)".

"But now all campaigning, including the critical TV debates, was cancelled, breaking the upward movement in yes support. This was replaced with an appeal for everyone to vote 'to defend democracy', which had the effect of remobilising all the no voters that had started to doubt".

"Thus, the tragic murder had a profound effect on the result. Whether a yes was achievable is however a much more uncertain issue".

\"Remarkably little\" has changed in Sweden

The former Conservataive Prime Minister also says that "remarkably little" has changed since the no victory in the referendum.

"It is astonishing how limited the debate about the outcome and its consequences have been. To some extent this can be explained by the tragedy and its impact".

\"No political leadership\"

One of the most interesting things about the Swedish euro referendum campaign was the overwhelming superiority of the "yes" campaign in terms of both money and the profile of their main supporters.

But Mr Bildt blames their defeat on political splits within the government.

"During the campaign itself, there was also enormous attention given to the fact that the government was openly split with ministers arguing in public against the euro".

"But the most important reason is the failure by the political leadership over the last years to give a clear leadership on these issues. European issues have been remarkably absent from the political debates".

Kicked into the long grass

Mr Bildt sees Sweden as a country somewhat uncertain over its future, and with a political landscape where, in parts, nostalgia for the past is seen as much more important than visions for the future.

"Thus, for the nostalgic left as well as others, Europe is seen more as a threat than as a promise", he says.

Mr Bildt believes that the failure of the political leadership to lead the debate on the euro issue means that it will be put on the backburner for the foreseeable future.

He says, "a new referendum on the euro is most unlikely within this decade. And there is a marked reluctance to contemplate it also on other European issues, although the need for a far reaching and wide debate on these issues should be obvious".

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