29th Sep 2023

Swedes weigh up implications of euro-vote

  • Sweden's 'nej' will have far-reaching effects on Sweden, the euro zone and the wider EU (Photo: European Commission)

As the dust settles on one of the most emotional weeks in recent Swedish history, commentators are already analysing the implications of Sweden's decisive 'nej' for Sweden and for Europe.

It is generally agreed that the political implications for Sweden are enormous.

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Prime Minister Göran Persson has always stressed that he would not resign in the event of a no vote, saying that the euro vote was not a vote of confidence in the government. But he has also said, "right now I'm depressed. I think I'd like to become a priest or a teacher or a forestry worker".

Some Swedish media are even calling for a new election. The Sydsvenska Dagbladet said, "the only reasonable course is a new election. The voters have revolted. The air must be cleared". Leading daily Dagens Nyheter said in a leader column, "this is a slap in the face for the entire political and economic establishment".

Whether Mr Persson stays or goes - and it seems almost certain that he will stay despite this setback - he faces a monumental task.

He must unite a country and a party split by the issue of the euro. The exit poll of 7 000 taken after polling stations closed showed that social democrat voters were split 50-49. Mr Persson must somehow re-unite these two wings of the party.

Furthermore, he must do this without one of his most able colleagues.

Sweden's \"collective suicide\"

Some think the economic fallout from the vote will be worse than others. A campaigner for the pro-euro organisation Sweden in Europe told the EUobserver, "Sweden has the highest suicide rate in the world and the people have decided to commit collective suicide".

But the markets do not see it quite as dramatically. They had heavily priced-in the likelihood of a Swedish 'nej' and the krona was relatively unscathed in today's trading.

"In the short-term, there will be no dramatic change", said Stefan Lundgren, head of the SNS - a leading political think-tank, whilst admitting that Sweden would lose some influence in EU decision making.

Impact on the euro zone

It is the impact of the vote on the euro zone which will be the most telling. The European Commission tried to put a brave face on last night's results, but even Göran Persson admitted that the result showed "scepticism of the EMU project".

Many in the Swedish 'yes' camp - including Mr Persson - have blamed the failure of their campaign on the problems of the euro zone and squabbling over the Stability Pact. It was certainly difficult to persuade the Swedish voters to join an economic zone in recession when Sweden is currently enjoying relatively high growth and low unemployment.

British and Danish eurosceptics strengthened

There will be a decisive impact on the UK.

A UK foreign office spokesman said that there would be no impact on the UK's official position, but in fact, it is widely agreed that the result in Sweden effectively rules out a referendum in the UK until after the next General Election - due in 2006.

In Denmark - the other country to remain outside the euro zone, the Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said, "when some day we are to take a decision on the question, I think the Danes will make their own decision regardless of what has happened in Sweden".

But there is no question that Sweden being outside until 2010 at least removes one of the strongest arguments used by the pro-euro side: that countries face isolation outside the euro zone.

Eurosceptics in both countries will be bolstered by Sweden's rejection of the euro.

Now to the constitution

This may well be a warning sign to politicians given the forthcoming referenda on the constitution.

One of the main problems faced by the pro-euro lobby in Sweden was that the 'no' camp were able to present them as 'the establishment' and set up a 'them and us' situation.

Olof Petersson - also of SNS - told the EUobserver, "the problem they faced was that the more resources they had, the more the no side could say they were the establishment".

This situation will no doubt repeat itself as governments persuade their electorates to vote 'yes' to whatever the IGC eventually comes up with.

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