Referendum on the monetary union in Sweden, september 14th 2003


Corinne Deloy,  

Fondation Robert Schuman,  

Helen Levy


14 September 2003

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Deloy Corinne

Corinne Deloy

Author of the European Elections Monitor (EEM) for the Robert Schuman Foundation and project manager at the Institute for Political Studies (Sciences Po).

Robert Schuman Fondation

Fondation Robert Schuman

Levy Helen

Helen Levy

On September 14th, the Swedes will have to answer "yes" or "no" to the following question : "Do you think Sweden should introduce the euro as its currency?" The formulation of this question has been the object of numerous debates. The opponents to the monetary union have put forward, without being heard however, that they would wish to have a reference to the adoption of the Swedish crown and the transfer of monetary power to the European Central Bank (ECB).

Unlike the United Kingdom and Denmark, who have negotiated an "opting out" clause (a clause of exemption by which a country decides not to bind itself to one of the treaty's provisions) for the third stage (transfer of responsibilities) of the Treaty on EMU, Sweden merely postponed its entry to the economic and monetary Union (EMU) year after year. Further the parliament decided, that only a popular vote could allow the country to join the euro zone. Thus a victorious "yes" at the referendum on September 14th is required for the Scandinavian Kingdom to become member of the EMU.

Sweden has fulfilled the four criteria of economic order laid out by the Maastricht Treaty to join the euro zone. Interest rates and prices are stable : inflation reached 2,3% in 2002 and national budget deficit as well as public dept were at 1,8% and 50% of GDP last year. Finally, the Swedish crown is a currency that has not suffered any devaluation over the last two years. Sweden can be proud to have a growth rate that is twice the average of the twelve countries that have taken on the single currency (that is 1,9% and 1% of GDP) as well as a relatively mild unemployment rate : 4,5% opposed to 8% in the euro zone (figures of 2002).

If the "yes" should take it away, Sweden will adopt the European currency on January 1st 2006, by circulating, from this date forward, the euro notes and coins (with the exception of 1 and 2 cent coins, sums will be rounded off to the next 5 cent), that is without a transition period during which banks and administration work with a double system. The definite value of the Swedish crown in euro will be known on July 1st 2005 and merchants will use the double price display for ten months, from September 2005 until June 2006. In case of a victory of the "no", the Prime Minister Göran Persson (social-democrat party, SAP) has already announced not to step back, reminding that the former Norwegian Prime Minister, Gro Harlem Brundtland, had kept his post after his compatriots had, for the second time, voted against membership to the European Union (November 27-28 1994). Further he is convinced, that a second popular consultation will be organised if the Swedes reject the monetary union on September 14th, specifying however, that this will not take place before the end of his mandate in September 2006.

On September 15th, the social-democrat party (SAP) had a victorious outcome at the general elections gathering 40% of the votes and 144 of the 349 seats in the Riksdag, a monocameral parliament. On October 21st, Göran Persson introduced his new government that he counts on to bring Sweden into the euro zone. Characteristic of this government : two key posts, the Minister of economics and the Vice-Prime Minister are taken up by Leif Pagrotsky and Margareta Winberg, faithful collaborators to Göran Persson, but all two of them are opposed to the introduction of the single currency. The Prime Minister, no doubt preferring his opponents close to him to better control them, in this way wishes to show that he takes the eurosceptics of his own formation very serious as well as the opponents to the single currency in the country. Also Göran Persson had to pass an agreement with his traditional political allies, the Left wing party (VP) and the Greens (MP), two formations that are not in favour of the monetary union.

The electoral campaign

According to Göran Persson, it would be abnormal for Sweden to stay away from the euro. "At a moment where a process of such political importance and such progress has been achieved, I do not see why one would want to stay outside" he declared last December. In May he affirmed that not being part of the euro zone would be dangerous for Sweden. The Prime Minister has stressed the economic advantages brought to the population by the adoption of the single currency, as well as the gained influence Sweden would benefit from within the European Union. "As well, it is important to say yes to the euro in order to preserve or gain more influence on the European Union's policies" he declared, adding that a stronger European Union could be a possible counterbalance to the United States. Further the Prime Minister has estimated that the adoption of the euro could cause a reduction in interest rates, currently at 2,75% (against 2% in the euro zone). If Göran Persson is convinced of the necessity of his country to take on the single currency, this is not the case for all the members of his majority formation in the parliament. The division of the Social-democrat party has particularly caused difficulties for the government's electoral campaign. Last may, Göran Persson had to turn to the opposition to make common action possible, which is capable of holding back the flood of opponents to the euro, which is getting bigger week after week. Except for the Centre party (C), the other opposition formations – the Moderate Union party (M), Christian-democrat party (KD) and the Liberals (FpL) – support the adoption of the euro. The bank association, the employers' syndicate and a significant part of the national press are also in favour of Sweden joining the EMU.

Looking at the syndicates, the general workers confederation (LO) has finally mobilised, not without having for a long time hesitated, supporters of the single currency. The syndicate, which counts two million members, representing 80% of Swedish workers and employees, supports the Social-democrat party in power ; six members of government, among them the Prime Minister himself, are members to it. Last April, the confederation has decided to abstain from campaigning for the euro and to take on a neutral position, as a consequence of the government's refusal to create the buffer fund asked for by the syndicate to prepare for a potential European economic crisis. Göran Persson was in fact worried to frighten the opposition that saw this fund as a resurgence of the workers funds over which Sweden had been torn apart around thirty years ago. Finally, in mid June, the Prime Minister and the LO's General Secretary, Wanda Lundby-Wedin, have co-signed and article in the daily journal Dagens Nyheter, in which they engaged to install "a framework for a stability policy" in the perspective of the introduction of the euro. "The people believe the euro implied more unemployment and a lower capacity to fight economic crises in Sweden. There is fear that this cooperation may signify a need for the Welfare State to adapt to lower ambitions elsewhere in Europe" the two leaders write, explaining that the budgetary margins allowed "that a worse state of the economy would not automatically lead to reductions of the Welfare State". The General Workers Union has thus signed, on august 13th, an agreement with the government for the flexibility of public finance in case of a victory of the "yes" to the euro. "There are more elements weighing in on the 'yes' because we would then have a positive policy for our members in case of a Swedish membership" declared Wanja Lundby-Wedin. The official communication by the syndicate states nevertheless, that "the agreement does not signify that the LO renounces its neutrality towards the referendum on the introduction of the euro in Sweden".

The budget of the electoral campaign is divided as follows : the camp for a "yes" will receive 42 million crowns (4,8 million euros) and the opposing camp 48 million (5,5 million euros). Meanwhile, the sums allocated by the parliament to the representing formations at its heart benefit from the supporters of the euro, who are in the majority, and receive 22,5 million crowns while opponents to the single currency reach no more than 7,5 million.

Last June, the "no not yet" by the British government, who postponed the organisation of a referendum on the adoption of the euro, has provided both camps with arms. "They are giving a clear signal : they want to join" Göran Persson has affirmed. "This is a sign for Great Britain, it is about knowing when to adopt the euro and when not to adopt it" Gunilla Carlsson has declared, who is responsible for the campaign in favour of the European currency of the Moderate Union party. At the same time, the British decision has comforted the opponents of the single currency. "It is clear that this a great help to the 'no' camp" Sören Wibe has underlined, head of the Social-democrats who are against the adoption of the euro and true leader of the campaign in favour of a "no". "This shows that Sweden will not be the only one outside the euro zone in the foreseeable future" Per Gahrton is satisfied to say, a green European deputy. Finally, the head of the Centre party (C), Maud Olofsson has seen the British decision as a proof that "the argument according to which Sweden will stay outside the euro zone alone is not credible".

Last March, opponents to the Swedish entry into the EMU have had to expose their arguments in a television programme entitled "Europe yes, euro no". The supporters of the maintenance of the crown hold that the current system of floating exchange is beneficial to Sweden and think that the country's entry in the EMU would take away the country's economic autonomy (Sweden represents 3% in the euro zone), all decisions would be henceforth taken by Frankfurt without any guarantee for its outcome. The opponents to the single currency also put forward the democratic deficit of the European Central Bank and insist on the euro's instability. Finally, according to them, Swedish economic policy, and especially financial policy, that Swedes consider as a principle guarantee for their model of the Welfare State, with the euro will become completely dependent on that of the European Union's biggest countries. "The economic policies taken within the frame of the Economic and Monetary Union are bourgeois : less taxation, less Welfare State" as declared Lars Ohly, head of the left-wing party. In fact, eurosceptics might actually be more frightened by the perspective of a common fiscal policy than by a European monetary policy.

Politically, three formations are officially engaged in the battle against the adoption of the single currency : the left-wing party, the Greens and the Centre party. These formations are accompanied by many of the militants in the Social-democrat party and several Ministers. In April, Göran Persson has reclaimed more discipline from the members of his opposed to the euro, requiring that they may prove their loyalty or resign. On May 1st, a part of the Social-democrats hostile to the introduction of the single currency have marched up in Stockholm under the banner which read "Göran, we will vote 'no'anyhow". Four Ministers of the government, Leif Pagrotsky (Economy), Margareta Winberg (Vice-Prime Minister), publicly disowned by the Prime Minister recently, Marita Ulvskog (Culture) and Lena Sommestad (Environment), are not in favour of Sweden's entry into the EMU. Further, two Secretaries of State, Lotta Fodge and Gunilla Thorgren, have rejoined the movement of the Social-democrats for the no to the euro.

The public opinion and the euro

Last November, the opponents to the single currency outran the supporters of the euro for the first time in the opinion polls. A survey realised by the opinion institute Sifo and published on November 22nd 2002 revealed that 41% of Swedes were against the abandon of the crown and 37% that did not think so, 21% of those asked declared themselves undecided. Since then, the percentage of opponents to the euro has not stopped to increase, surpassing 46% in February up to 49% in June, even reaching 50% in April. On the other side, the number of supporters of the single currency has regularly jumped, rising up to 41% in February and falling to 32% in June.

Three weeks away from the referendum, the camp of the "no" to the adoption of the single currency still holds the lead. According to the latest survey realised in the second week of August by the Temos institute and published by the country's two main daily journals, Dagens Nyheter and Sydsvenska Dagbladet, 49% of Swedes declare themselves hostile to the abandon of the crown while 35% are in favour of it and 16% remain undecided. On August 15th and 16th, the institutes Sifo and Gallup gave out similar figures. The political authorities and the government of Göran Persson will certainly not have too much of three weeks remaining before September 14th to convince the Swedes of the advantages, they would have from adopting the European currency.

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