|Euro skepticism in Western Europe: Swedish Case|
2007 02 02
Establishment and enlargement of the European Union was related to welfare and assurance of political stability, however, more and more citizens are currently expressing their skepticism in terms of the EU, and the popularity of forces criticizing EU institutions is increasing.
Sweden joined the EU only in 1995, although the issue of membership was discussed back in 7th decade of 20th century. Major discussions were related to people’s worries that the EU might affect traditional Swedish neutrality policy. After the end of the cold war and disappearance of military threat, opponents of the EU lost their main argument, and during the referendum of 1994 majority of Swedish citizens said „yes“ to membership in the EU. Swedish politicians have clearly specified the EU as an integral foreign policy element for implementation of national interests of the country. C.Bildt, the current minister of foreign affairs of Sweden, evaluates the EU as an instrument capable of meeting the international challenges, such as assurance of international security, struggle against poverty and development of democracy. The Swedish public discourse highlights capacity of the country, together with the EU, to promote democracy in neighboring and other world‘s regions facing violation of human rights and living under authoritarian regimes.
After the cold war, changes in terms of security issues became obvious and international commitments of Sweden were more emphasized in the sphere of security. The Government started to see more opportunities to develop joint foreign and security policy of the EU, and Sweden has been taking active part in the European security and defense policy.
Although majority of population voted for membership in the EU, anti-integration ideas were obvious before the referendum. Left parties, which were against the membership, presented their arguments for evident cultural and national sovereignty differences between Sweden and Europe. Organization „Nej till EG“ („No to EU“) highlighted prostitution, drug liberalization, sexism, elitism and deficit of democracy in the EU. Northern states, considered as a community related by cultural, social and political affinity, were contra positioned to the European image based on negative stereotypes. Until now the Swedish Left Party has been pursuing its critical position in terms of the EU, and portraying the EU as a super-state, gradually eliminating sovereignty of Member States. This party even suggested that Sweden should secede from the EU. The Green Party is also skeptical towards the EU and its position is that the EU gives too little attention to ecological problems. Meanwhile the position of the Social Democratic Party is more moderate. It does not reject the supranational decision-making procedures on issues (e.g. environmental protection) requiring co-operation efforts from the EU Members States.
The Swedish Right-wing Party the Conservatives, while regarding free market as a major argument, has been maintaining moderate policy in terms of the EU.
Sweden differs from other West European countries in a way that major criticism on the EU comes from left wing parties, meanwhile main critics of the EU in France or other West European states are radical right parties.
Inquiries of the recent several years showed that if a referendum on membership in the EU was organized today, the Swedish would say „no“. Due to opposing position of society towards the EU Sweden is considered as an Euro sceptical state. Dissatisfaction in the EU is also reflected in the results of the referendum on joining the Economic and Monetary Union, which took place in 2004: the Swedish turned back on it. Although funding of those who voted for introduction of Euro was six times higher than that of Euro-skeptics, and despite media’s “yes” to introduction of Euro – these did not affect the opinion of society.
After unsuccessful referendums in France and the Netherlands, Sweden delayed ratification of the EU Constitution. Political elite of the country decided not to accelerate ratification of constitution and rejected a possibility of referendum by arguing that Constitution of the EU will not incur substantial changes.
Views of the Swedish political parties and society in terms of Euro integration were different. This can be explained by the following: the Swedish society is sufficiently educated and, consequently, is inclined towards contemplations, different views and critical evaluation. Members of the current Government say that the integration process shall keep in step with society‘s will. According to the executed survey, the Swedish are least interested in the discussions on future of the EU, however they are interested in political trends of the EU directly affecting their daily life. Meanwhile parties, organizations and public institutions are involved in extensive discussions on foreign and security policy, future perspectives of the EU and problems of the single market.
Prevailing public attitudes clearly indicate that a more intense EU integration is not attractive to the society. Twelve Euro zone states have already experienced economic decline, whereas Sweden, Denmark and Great Britain, staying out of the boundaries of this zone, do not experience the above economic difficulties. Therefore, with a view to changing societal attitudes in terms of the EU, Swedish political forces need to find other arguments.
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