The Implications of Sweden’s “No” – A Dutch View

The votes are in, the Swedish people have spoken: 56% of the voters said “No,” and so they prevail, for a while at least.

I had hoped to find something interesting to tell you about the referendum’s result in the national press of Germany: the nation that, after all, was once the guiding power behind the idea of one single currency for all of the EU, yet which now, by its misbehavior in getting its own fiscal house in order and staying under the 3%-of-GDP limit for government budget deficits, is quite possibly driving away those EU members (such as Sweden) who do not use the euro but are/were contemplating that. But the on-line German newspapers that I’ve looked at for today aren’t very on-the-ball: they’ll tell you little else than what you already will have been able to find out from your own newspaper of choice (with one exception, noted below). OK, they quote Bundeskanzler Schröder lamenting the continued absence of Sweden from the ranks of EU countries using the euro. Well, he would lament, wouldn’t he? I’d definitely file that bit of news under “dog-bites-man.”

The national press that I came across that handles well the issues and implications arising out of Sweden’s “No” is the press in the Netherlands – a country that certainly was for the introduction of the euro back in the late-80s/early-90s when the Maastricht Treaty was just over the horizon, but, despite its enthusiasm, was hardly influential on the scale of Germany to insist that “the euro will happen.” Oh, and it’s also a country that is doing just fine in holding to the rules and keeping its budget deficit under 3%. Actually, it’s a country which, far more than others, might actually be counter-acting French and Germany to make the euro a more attractive proposition to those countries still not using it. I’m referring here to the stink Dutch politicians are starting to raise about the way Germany and France are violating the Stability Pact. The big countries can get away with that as they choose, the Dutch object, whereas small countries trying the same thing would run straight into penalties meted out by the European Commission.

(Or maybe the complaint is slightly different. I remember that Portugal – definitely a small country – last year also violated the Stability Pact with a government deficit of over 3%. The Commission then also deliberated solemnly about lowering the boom on the Portuguese with the prescribed fines, but in the end decided not to. Germany was also violating the Pact, but they weren’t about to fine political powerhouse Germany, and then going ahead and fining Portugal anyway would have exposed the hypocrisy for all the world to see. So maybe the argument instead is that if you allow some to get away with violating the Pact, then you have to allow everyone to get away with it, and the whole thing gets carted off to Hell in a Handbasket.)

Well, some Dutch politicians are starting to say towards the whole mess “avast that, ye scurvy dogs!” – or words to that effect – and to insist that Germany and France indeed be assessed the fines that the Stability Pact prescribes for its violators. And this to me seems very fertile ground for a EuroSavant weblog entry in the near future, finding and discussing what has appeared in the press about this.

But for today, let’s first take a look at what the Dutch newspaper Trouw has to say about the Swedish “No” to the euro.

It has quite a lot to say: one article basically reporting the results, and then two accompanying commentary pieces. One of them, Moord Lindh/Geschokt, maar ongebroken (“The Lindh Murder/Shocked, but Unbroken”), essentially congratulates the Swedish people for their level-headedness in the face of the horrors of the past week. Anna Lindh’s murderer (whatever may have been his motives) only accomplished one thing when it came to the euro-referendum, namely a healthy turn-out of eligible voters actually going to vote, at a rate in excess of 80%. They streamed to the polling stations to vote in her honor – but then voted not necessarily in her honor, but for what they had determined to vote for all along, i.e. mostly against the euro.

And then a back-handed compliment to the Dutch, as well as the Swedes: When such a shocking murder occurs right before an important voting event – like, for example, Pim Fortuyn’s assassination in the Netherlands just before the Dutch general elections in May of 2002 – the temptation is great to postpone the planned election/referendum to allow the powerful emotions that it awakes in that society to subside before it has to make such an important decision. But any such postponement can awaken powerful emotions itself; it’s best simply go ahead with the voting and trust in the collective maturity of the electorate, something Swedish voters have clearly shown that they possess.

A quick reaction from the EuroSavant side: Yes, Swedish voters showed great maturity, but I’m not so sure that the Dutch election that immediately followed Pim Fortuyn’s murder provided the convincing example that going ahead with the referendum as planned was the correct course of action. For you could say that going ahead with the Dutch elections last year right after Fortuyn’s murder was not the right thing to do; determined to “not let the murderer win,” the Dutch electorate catapulted Fortuyn’s LPF (List Pim Fortuyn) party up into the second-strongest position in the entire country. This soon turned out to be a mistake; the LPF turned out to be little more than a collection of second-rate characters with extremist views and little notion of how politics was supposed to work in this country. The end-result was that Holland “lost” almost a year to ineffective government, before the inevitable government break-up and early return to the polls in January of this year allowed the electorate to recognize its mistake and correct it. Sad to say, the murderer in a sense did win (although he supposedly gunned down Fortuyn out of his animal-rights convictions; a really strange connection of thought with deed that really makes you question whether he was really acting on his own, but let’s not get into that here); the LPF was nothing without Pim Fortuyn himself, because only Pim Fortuyn had the wit, the determination, the intelligence, to advance some ideas (a few of them perhaps not so pretty) whose advancement had apparently been overdue within the Dutch polity for quite some time. When I heard that the Swedish government was determined to hold the referendum anyway after Lindh’s death, I was ready to write an essay, to add to those listed over on the left side of this weblog, expanding on my argument above – namely “Of course you want to postpone voting on such an important, and irreversible, economic decision!” The short window in which to do so (before the holding of the referendum itself would make the point moot), combined with “outside world” intrusions, meant that I didn’t get around to that; and at this point I think I do need to congratulate the Swedish electorate that, with their electoral maturity, they would have proven wrong what I would have written. For the irrational, soft-headed “sympathy effect” from Lindh’s death, putting the “Yes” side over the top and bringing the euro to Sweden, did not happen.

Let’s go on to Trouw’s second commentary piece, a much more interesting one entitled Zweden/Een deuk in het mooie zelfbeeld, or “Sweden/A Dent in a Pretty Self-Image.” It seems that Sweden has had a pretty self-image of itself indeed since the Second World War, at least according to Åke Daun, professor emeritus of ethnology (the article doesn’t reveal where). Sweden was a rich, peaceful, serene society where every one of its citizens was taken care of – an avant-garde commonwealth, even, an inspiration to other nations. That’s one reason why the 1994 decision (and referendum) over entry into the European Union was so controversial – in one sense, it was seen as Sweden lowering herself into a close association with a bunch of other countries not so far advanced. Even after EU accession, that feeling of superiority has persisted, according to Prof. Daun: “We talk about ‘Europe’ as if we ourselves are not a part of it. [British people, perk up your ears!] It is a place where very rich, but also very poor people live, where children sometimes get a pedagogical slap, and where the phenomenon ‘housewife’ exists. For Swedes this shows that the other European countries are slower than we. We march ahead, the rest follow later.” That also explains the stiff resistance to the introduction of the euro – again, of a “lowering” of the country that is alleged to be necessary. (And indeed, the misdemeanors of the French and German governments could make entry into the eurozone look all the more like such a “lowering.”)

After Anna Lindh’s murder, as the article’s title implies, that feeling of superiority has taken a dent. And so has the sheer feeling among Swedes of having a society which is in control of itself. And while there is zero evidence that the assassin was anything other than a native Swede – indeed, the department store security camera photos which Swedish newspapers (and others) have now printed (like, here) show that he is a young, Caucasian man – according to Prof. Daun this feeling of being out of control arises out of the steadily-changing ethnic composition of Swedish society. These days a full 20% of the population was born somewhere else, or is not of Swedish ethnicity, and unfortunately by-and-large these people stick to themselves in communities at the edges of Swedish cities. They also are, inevitably, relatively underprivileged economically.

And that recalls a remarkable thing about Sweden: that although Sweden has also been affected by the phenomenon of an influx of “non-Swedes” into the country (immigrants, asylum-seekers), an anti-immigrant political party on the pattern of the Flemish Vlaams Blok, or the Danish Folkeparti, or, yes, the Netherlands’ LPF, has yet to arise. That is said to be mainly due to the topic of immigrants and what to do about them being still a taboo subject in Swedish political discourse. The dominant Social-Democratic Party of Prime Minister Persson (and of Anna Lindh) certainly has nothing to say on the subject; neither do any of the other six Swedish political parties with representation in the Riksdag, the Swedish parliament.

But that reluctance of the actors making up the current Swedish political establishment to address this issue, that is becoming more and more of a concern to the average Swedish voter, just means that the political pressure keeps building up unseen. And while Anna Lindh’s murder apparently did not constitute an incident sufficient to set off this political explosion, the result of the referendum can also be interpreted as an indication of this built-up pressure. Seemingly the entirety of this establishment – politics and business – was for the adoption of the euro, after all, but the man-in-the-street said “No” anyway. And it seems (as reported in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung) that “No” voters were disproportionally dominant among lower-income and lower-education voters – precisely those voters the most ready to get agitated about “foreigners” coming into the country and stealing “their” jobs and their houses.

As a final note, let me briefly mention the commentary from the Algemeen Dagblad, by Niels de Groot, entitled ‘Ja voor Anna? Mijn hart zegt nee’, or “Yes for Anna? My Heart Says No.” Here’s the interesting tidbit Mr. de Groot brings to light: If Sweden were to adopt the euro, then the Swedes would at least get to pick one, or maybe three, or maybe up to eight neat Swede pictures or symbols to put on one side of the eurocoins they would then be allowed to mint. (I write about this topic of the various national symbols on the eurocoins here.) Now, if they’re anything like the other monarchies which are EU members and have adopted the euro (i.e. Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Spain), you would think that the Swedish king Carl Gustav XVI would figure prominently on that Swedish eurocoinage. But Lars Leijonborg, leader of the Swedish Folkparti, or “People’s Party” (which is pro-euro) actually proposed that, should Sweden accept the euro, Anna Lindh’s portrait be put on those coins! Oooh – a cheap move! And it makes it all the more impressive that the Swedes would have nothing of that sort of emotional milking of Lindh’s death for a “Yes” vote.

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