Lindh and the Euro – The View from Denmark

Outside reality intruded for a while to hold up my planned survey of commentary in the Danish press over the murder of Swedish foreign minister Anna Lindh and the effect of that incident on the upcoming Swedish referendum over whether to adopt the euro. But I did gather the relevant URLs on the subject from the main Danish on-line dailies, and am posting this early enough for there still to be suspense about the referendum’s outcome (for prompt EuroSavant readers, anyway.)

I start with Berlingske Tidende’s rather simplistic editorial leader, Svenskernes valg, or “The Swedes’ Choice.”

The first sentence, itself constituting the whole of the first paragraph, states it plainly: “A yes will benefit us all.” BT assumes that a wave of sympathy-votes arising out of Lindh’s murder will have a decisive effect in bringing about a “Yes” result. Not only does the paper find that to be a very good thing – the silver-lining to this tragedy – but it also sees nothing wrong with such emotional considerations tipping the balance in this way. After all, it has been a campaign “to be decided for many by emotions.”

What it all boils down to, according to BT, is this: “Sweden should say yes to the European project. A political project that in its essence is about creating peace, security, and economic prosperity in Europe.” (I thought the Swedes did utter this “Yes,” namely back in 1994 when, in another referendum, they (barely) approved their country’s entry into the EU in the first place.) Sweden has got to have a seat at the table where the important currency-related and thus economic decisions are being made, which will affect the country whether Sweden has input on them or not.

Not content with urging adoption of the euro on the Swedes, BT also takes advantage of the opportunity to put in for a Danish euro, as well. Look at Denmark, o Sweden! the editorialist writes, “whose strange and ill-timed reservations towards EU cooperation [so, not just towards the euro, but towards “EU cooperation” in general!] is a subject for mockery and head-shaking in the rest of Europe.” Indeed, BT opines, reversing the argument’s polarity, Denmark needs Sweden to vote “Yes” to the euro to provide a positive example of the benefits that participation brings, in counterdistinction to the negative example of what non-participation brings that Denmark now provides anyone who cares to look.

Yes, trumpets BT, “Denmark needs Sweden’s vote for the EU to ensure that our common nordic values remain anchored in this European project.” Again, I thought that Sweden was voting for the euro, not the EU – Sweden, like Denmark, is already a part of the EU. And so is Finland, which by the way adopted the euro from the very beginning (that is, from January 1, 1999). So Finland doesn’t count as having “nordic values”? I know they speak a very different language there (although in the western part of the country Swedish is also very prevalent), but somehow I (and most others, I think) have always included Finland in the group of nordic or Scandinavian lands.

Not a very convincing editorial, in sum, at least in my view. What we have here is “hijacking an incident to further your own cause”; but, because the piece was explicitly labeled a “leader” – i.e. editorial – and not a news article, observant readers should know what they’re reading and it should be OK.

Jyllands-Posten’s leader, entitled simply “Anna Lindh,” is quite a bit more cautious about her death’s effects, and so much more convincing, if less far-reaching in its conclusions. Above all, JP concentrates on what we don’t yet know. How can we wail about a “blow against Sweden’s open society,” when it’s quite possible that Lindh’s assailant was a mere purse-snatcher (a “tasketyv“) or other sort of non-political madman? If that latter happens to be true, then she was simply the unfortunate victim of a street crime of incredibly unfortunate timing.

One thing’s for sure, though, JP concludes: the police need to find out who this murderer was and apprehend him as soon as possible, to clear up all these issue. The fact that Olof Palme’s murderer of 1986 was never found does not provide a reassuring precedent. As for the decision to go ahead with the referendum anyway, JP doesn’t agree or disagree, but merely calls it “difficult,” because if “Yes” wins, euro-opponents are sure to cry foul against the government for taking advantage of the sympathy-effect of Lindh’s death to push through a decisive (and very hard to reverse, if it is reversible at all) policy measure that it wanted but that the majority of citizens really did not.

As a Danish newspaper, JP naturally takes care to draw out of Lindh’s murder the issues for Denmark. Palme’s assasination, and now Lindh’s murder, surely collectively point to something going wrong in Swedish society. Apart from lying just across the Sund, Swedish and Danish societies are obviously similar enough that Danes need to assume that eventually this could happen in Denmark. What to do about that prospect? Opening up such difficult questions for consideration should be the valuable lesson that Danes can draw out of this tragedy.

In the mainstream Danish newspaper Politiken there were many, many articles on the Lindh murder, but none labeled as an editorial per se. There were articles on the incident itself, on the police dragnet, on the reactions of Swedes both great and small, but my own interest lies in the effect of the knifing on the euro-referendum, and I found Politiken’s treatment of that in an article entitled Sympatien går til ja-siden, or “Sympathy Goes to the Yes-Side.” (But you could translate that one yourself. Isn’t Danish easy? If you try hard, and buy yourself a Danish-English dictionary, you could just go read these newspapers on-line yourself, you don’t really need me!)

Here’s the executive summary of this article: Yes, there will certainly by a “sympathy effect” attracting more votes to the “Yes” side in the referendum, even if the “No” side wants to try to delude itself to believe that that’s not the case. Politiken cites an excellent quotation from one Stig-Björn Ljunggren, said to be a respected Swedish political observer: “This tragic event will benefit the yes-side. Sympathy for Anna Lindh and empathy for her family will for many have the consequence that they vote yes. When one takes into account that perhaps two million voters still had doubt about how they should vote before the assault against Anna Lindh, this can naturally have great significance for the election result.”

As for the parties seeking a “No,” they had no problem with the collective decision to stop campaigning after Lindh’s death but to ultimately go ahead with the vote. After all, polls showed that they were comfortably ahead at that point, by about 9-10 percentage points. And anyway, in the words of Maria Wetterstrand, leader of the anti-euro Miljöparti (Environment Party), “I’m convinced that the voters are rational people, who will not couple the two things together [i.e. Lindh’s death and how they vote on the euro].” Still, in the opinion of all the people supposed to know about this sort of thing (e.g. political commentators, professors of politics, a few more of whom are quoted in the article), Ms. Wetterstrand is being a bit too sanguine.

The article goes on to talk about the fact that, whatever their differences, all the parties in consultation with Swedish prime minister Göran Persson affirmed not only the decision to “push through” (“gennemføre“) with the referendum, but also their pledge to “respect [its] results.” Now, if you think about it, this is a strange statement, from a couple of perspectives. One: This referendum is apparently not binding on the government – i.e. the government can do what it wants with respect to joining the euro or not, no matter what the people decide in the vote. But, especially in a country with a tradition of popular democracy and politicians staying close to the people (rather too close in Anna Lindh’s case, unfortunately, but this separate issue of whether Swedish politicians need to surround themselves with bodyguards is one I do not want to address), it’s rather hard to take any other stance than to say “Of course we’ll ‘respect’ the referendum’s result, we’ll do what it says.” Two: Yet, actually, maybe one can disobey the “will of the people,” as expressed in the referendum, on the sly, by being devious in how you define the referendum. And, as the Economist points out in its latest issue (subscription required), Prime Minister Persson, before the murder, seemed to redefine a “Yes” to mean “Not necessarily right away, but only when/if conditions are right,” while supposedly redefining “No” to mean “No, and that’s it, and no asking again for another ten years.”

Now, if this is true, then Persson is being disingenuous, to say the least. With a “Yes” vote, it is true he will be in the driver’s seat to decide whether Sweden actually takes up the euro; but he surely is not going to be around Swedish politics long enough to ensure – in some sort of avenging-angel, chip-on-his-shoulder sort of way – that another referendum for the euro doesn’t come about for another ten years. I’m fairly sure that, theoretically at least, another referendum could be held the very next week – or at least the very next month – after the one on Sunday.

Again, all of this makes this pledge to “respect the results” somewhat strange; does that mean that you’re dispensing with all this game-playing on the side, Prime Minister Persson, so that “Yes” means “Yes” and you really will adopt the euro as soon as practically possible? Or if you still are “game-playing” in this way, so that “Yes” really means “Yes or Maybe” in the eyes of those charged with executing Swedish policy, then what did that pledge to “respect” the results really mean, if anything?

Note that in a past weblog posting I already made note of previous comments from the Economist about Persson equivocating in this way about a “Yes” result. At that point (i.e. before Anna Lindh’s murder) the reason was supposedly because Persson was looking at a euro regime in which Germany and France are apparently free to violate the Stability Pact with impunity, was not liking what he saw, and so was determined to preserve some latitude for himself to in fact not take Sweden into the euro, even in the event of a “Yes” vote, if during what you could call “due diligence” it turned out things were really rotten there. I would imagine that these considerations are still at least in the back of the Swedish PM’s mind – ikke sandt? (that’s Danish for “n’est-ce pas?”) – even as he has so many more considerations weighing on him in the wake of Anna Lindh’s murder. (I’m writing “cute” here because, in fact, I’m not sure – what do you think? Any Swedes or Danes out there, in particular?)

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