A Comforting Myth
Sweden’s national sovereignty is
rapidly being disposed of by its leaders,
while the people are kept in darkness or
distracted with visions of cheaper hamburgers

 Al Burke




Acknowledging persistent scepticism about the ultimate purpose of the European Union, British Foreign Minister Jack Straw recently declared that it was imperative to straighten out "befuddled voters" on that matter.

According to Straw, the EU is ”a union of sovereign states who have decided to pool some of that sovereignty, the better to secure peace and prosperity in Europe and the wider world. . . . The union exercises only those powers which are explicitly and freely conferred on it by the member-states.”

That having been clarified, the British foreign minister then proceeded to explain why it was necessary to ”pool” (i.e. surrender) an additional measure of sovereignty in the areas of foreign policy, political asylum, etc.

This has become a familiar style of reasoning among those who seek to justify the steady expansion of EU authority at the expense of the member-states’. The basic message is: We only need to surrender our sovereignty if we choose to. But in order to ”secure peace and prosperity in Europe and the wider world”-- and who does not want that-- we must choose to do so. There is no choice, really.

Blank cheque

It was apparently in this spirit that the Swedish parliament voted overwhelmingly last June to divest itself of sole legislative authority over a wide range of issues in order to prepare the way for the transfer of additional powers to the EU. The decision, which applies to such areas as foreign policy, national security and judicial authority, must be ratified by the next parliament. But given the dimensions of the first vote, 248 in favour and only 47 against, final ratification seems fairly certain.

A related decision which enables the Swedish parliament to approve EU agreements before they have attained their final form-- a sort of legislative blank cheque-- was approved by a majority of 208 to 89.

The two decisions seemed to nullify a large portion of the Swedish constitution, which is based on the principle that all political power stems from the people. They were not even informed, however: The mainstream press treated the entire business as a minor footnote and, largely as a consequence, there was hardly any public debate. It is doubtful that most citizens are aware of what is being done to their constitution in their name.

The parliamentary surrender betrayed a solemn promise of EU enthusiasts, as noted by political scientist Sverker Gustavsson, who used to be one of them: ”What is now at stake is the credibility of the assurance that decided the outcome of the 1994 referendum on EU membership. The transfer of power was to be of a limited nature and apply only to trade and commerce-- so stated we who argued for a ’yes’ to the EU. Foreign policy, judicial and general-welfare issues were not to be decided beyond the reach of Swedish democracy.”

Hamburger policy

The next major transfer of sovereignty to the European Union will take place when, as seems likely, the Swedes are persuaded by massive propaganda to approve membership in the European Monetary Union (EMU) in a forthcoming referendum. The potential implications of that step for general welfare are discussed elsewhere in this section.

Joining the EMU will transfer fundamental power over economic policy from elected Swedish officials to a small group of appointed technocrats in Frankfurt, Germany, whose task is to enforce a strict neo-liberal policy regarding inflation rates, budget deficits, etc. Questions of general welfare are irrelevant to their concerns.

That is not what the Swedish people are being told by the political establishment and the mainstream press, which instead emphasize the direct personal benefits that are said to derive from the EMU and its uniform currency, the euro.

”Cheap hamburger with the euro” was the headline in Sweden’s leading daily newspaper when the new currency was introduced in the initial twelve EMU countries at the start of 2002. Another popular theme is that the single currency eliminates unnecessary costs and bother when travelling within the EU.

As it turns out, costs have not declined with the introduction of the euro. They have risen so sharply in some of the participating countries as to provoke consumer boycotts in protest. As for the ease-of-travel argument, opinion surveys indicate that it is a minor issue for most travellers.

Better without

The principal argument in favour of the EMU is the improved economic development which it is supposed to engender. A dire future was predicted for the three EU countries which chose not to participate from the start. However, the economies of Denmark, Great Britain and Sweden have performed equally well or better than the EMU average. Sweden has had the highest growth rate, lowest inflation and best unemployment trend of all fifteen EU countries.

Given all this, the obvious question is why Göran Persson and most of the Swedish establishment are so determined to drag the country into the EMU. That is a great mystery, and there are no doubt several contributing factors. Of course, there are powerful economic interests at work, not least those elements of the corporate elite that have long been hostile to the Swedish model of society. There are also a great many politicians who have staked their careers and reputations on the EU , which probably helps to explain the certitude of true believers in the project’s indisputable worth.

That the EU has not performed nearly as well as promised has been interpreted as a sign that it has not been granted sufficient power and authority. Thus, the constant pressure to relinquish ever greater portions of national sovereignty in what appears to be a desperate hope that by such measures the clumsy apparatus can somehow be made to function.

It is a process that seems to be replicating the early history of the USA, which also started out as a loose federation of independent states. Appropriately enough, the U.S. is endlessly cited as the standard by which to measure the Union’s development. The goal is to become at least as big, rich and militarily awesome as the superpower across the Atlantic.

A more peaceful alternative has not been seriously considered. On the contrary, an EU army of (initially) 360,000 troops is already being formed, with a mandate to ”make peace” anywhere within a radius of 4000 kilometres from Brussels-- with or without the blessing of the United Nations. Of course, it has very little to do with peace. When plans for the EU army were being drawn up in year 2000, M.P. Lars Ångstrom of the Green Party observed that, ”Four working groups are now discussing how the EU’s military force can be co-ordinated with NATO’s. As far as I know, there are no working groups discussing how to co-ordinate the EU’s minimal capacity for civil crisis management with the United Nations or the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. . . . It is intended that the military force now being built up by the EU can be used without a mandate from the U.N. We are abandoning international law and proceeding toward international anarchy. ”


Whatever the reasons for the Swedish establishment’s support of the EU/EMU, it spans a broad range of the political spectrum. Jonas Sjöstedt, Member of the European Parliament for the Left Party, notes that: ”With regard to major, fundamental changes to the EU in recent years, the Conservatives and Social Democrats have been in sympathetic agreement. This applies to the growth of EU power over member-states, increasing the larger member-states’ influence at the expense of the smaller. . . the militarization of the EU, the far-reaching extension of EU power over our legal system, etc. They advocate the same economic policy, the same monetary union, and the same arbitrarily powerful EU Commission. Their foreign policies are characterized by the same submissive subjugation to the United States.”

Göran Persson’s almost single-handed conversion of Sweden into a vassal-state of the U.S. empire is described elsewhere on this web site (see Collateral Damage and Things by Their Right Names). Toward the close of the recent election campaign, he did appear to qualify his previous ”unconditional support” for the United States’ so-called war on terrorism. But that was most likely for tactical reasons, and may have been based on the good fortunes of party colleague Gerhard Schröder in the German election campaign that was taking place at the same time.

Seeking re-election as chancellor, Schröder overcame a large deficit in opinion polls by promising to keep Germany out of the war against Iraq which the U.S. government seems determined to initiate. That promise got an enthusiastic response from German voters and is credited with securing Schröder’s re-election. There is little doubt that Persson took note and, at least temporarily, rediscovered the peaceful inclinations of the Swedish people.

Those inclinations remain very strong, to judge by the available evidence; and though attitudes toward the U.S. are generally favourable, a great many Swedes seem to have a much clearer grasp of U.S. foreign policy than their current prime minister has been able or willing to acquire. Writer Åsa Moberg notes, for example, in her diary from the days following the terrorist attacks in the U.S. on 11 September 2001:

”I listened with one ear to [a popular radio call-in programme], and of course all the discussions were about the terrorist attacks. But what surprised me was that all except one caller had said, more or less directly, something like, ’The attacks were horrible. But what do the Americans expect, the way they behave in the world?’ One person referred specifically to the coup in Chile [which occurred on the same date in 1972] as an example of something that makes it difficult to tell the difference between what is terrorism and what is not, and if the dividing line does not run between that which promotes U.S. interests and that which does not.”

Sneaky Persson

Swedes’ preference for their country’s traditionally peaceful foreign policy is also reflected in a long series of opinion surveys which indicate that a stable majority continues to reject the idea of membership in NATO. This is undoubtedly why Prime Minister Persson continues to insist that he has no intention of leading the country into that organization. But for all intents and purposes, he has already done so.

There are now full-time military observers at NATO headquarters; Swedish troops are serving under NATO command in the Balkans, and under British command in Afghanistan; the national defence industry has been sold off to U.S. and other foreign interests, and is now part of a development and marketing consortium whose other five members represent NATO member-states; the Swedish military has hosted NATO exercises; etc., etc.

It is evident that this process was greatly facilitated by Sweden’s entry into the EU in 1994-- painfully evident to the Social Democratic Minister of Defence at the time, Thage G. Peterson, who now regrets that he advocated membership: ”At this point, it is clear that Sweden has abandoned both neutrality and non-alliance. There has been no troublesome debate, neither in the nation nor within the Social Democratic Party. The Swedish people have not been alarmed by giant leaps amidst great sound and fury. It is by a series of small, sneaky steps that Sweden has been divested of its neutrality, non-alliance and popular army.”

Such pronouncements by former ministers are, of course, exceedingly rare. But not even this broadside could rouse Sweden’s mainstream media from its stupor, and the opportunity it provided for public discussion soon expired. Stifling debate with silence is something of a Swedish speciality.

Passive acceptance

The experience of Thage G. Peterson may help to explain why there has been no massive protest against the steady erosion of Swedish sovereignty for purposes that are opposed by a sizeable majority of the population. If a former minister of defence with solid roots in the Social Democratic Party is not able to provoke a public debate on such matters, who can? The thought control exercised by the mainstream press has been very effective on all matters relating to the EU and the U.S. empire (regarding the latter, see The Word from the White House).

In any event, Swedes are generally not the protesting type. Theirs is a consensus culture with a strong emphasis on conflict-avoidance; even the most blatant manipulations may provoke no more mutinous response than suppressed bitterness or silent retreat. Thus, the once-influential peace wing of the Social Democratic Party has allowed itself to be effectively marginalized, and the party’s once-predominant contingent of EU sceptics has allowed itself to be purged, silenced or repelled. For a Machiavellian politician like Göran Persson, neutralizing such opposition has been like stealing candy from a baby.

It could be said that the Swedes are so peaceful by nature that their country can easily be led into war. It has to be done with a certain finesse, of course. The Persson government appears to have mastered the art of introducing drastic changes by small degrees, as Thage G. Peterson and others have pointed out. It can be difficult to perceive the extent of the transformation or its consequences until long afterward. Furthermore, the issues are often complex and difficult to analyse, even for the well-informed. For average citizens, it is usually necessary to rely on the judgement of those who work with such issues every day and presumably have access to special information. This is certainly the case with foreign policy, which has always been shrouded in diplomatic secrecy.

In this context, it is probably not possible to overestimate the significance of Göran Persson’s skills as a media performer. He has perfected a calm, confidence-inspiring delivery that plays very well on TV and radio. To a large extent, the dismantling of Swedish sovereignty is an ongoing media event, carried by a steady stream of reassuring pronouncements from the prime minister.

Of course, Sweden will retain a large measure of autonomy for the foreseeable future, not unlike the individual states of the USA. But with a foreign policy whose basic outline is shaped in Washington and Brussels, no currency of its own and an economic policy that is strictly enforced by unaccountable technocrats in Frankfurt, the sovereign state of Sweden is likely to become little more than a comforting myth.

— 14 October 2002   

Al Burke  is editor of Nordic News Network