Part III
    
Sweden's
'NO!' to
EMU

     
Opposition to the European Monetary Union was surprisingly strong among young people.


"Do you know
what EMU means?"
  "Extra many underpaid."
(Illustration: Robert Nyberg)
    
On the day of the referendum, an extensive exit poll-- i.e. an interview survey of voters as they left the polling stations-- was conducted by Swedish national television in co-operation with university researchers. It turned out that the survey underestimated the size of the final margin by roughly eight percent, so it is likely that the following figures understate the "No" vote among the various categories. But the exit poll is the best available source of information in such matters, and there is little doubt that it accurately reflects general voting patterns and preferences.

Among other things, exiting voters were shown a list of ten issues and asked to indicate which of them weighed most heavily in deciding how to vote. Among "No" voters the three most important issues were democracy, national sovereignty, and retention of national control over the key interest rate. For "Yes" voters, the three most important issues were the opportunity to influence the EU, peace in Europe, and the Swedish economy.

On a separate question, 72 percent of "No" voters were opposed to the idea of the EU becoming a "United States of Europe", while only six percent were in favour and 22 percent undecided. Those who voted for the EMU approved the idea of a "U.S.E." by a margin of 52-20 percent, with 28 percent undecided.

To the question of whether or not Sweden should leave the EU, "No" voters responded in the affirmative by a margin of 43-34 percent (23 percent with "No opinion"). Ninety percent of "Yes" voters wanted to remain in the EU; only three percent wanted out, and seven percent had no opinion. Altogether, 58 percent said they wanted to remain in the EU, 25 percent that they wanted to leave, and 17 percent had no opinion.

The survey data also indicate that women were much more strongly opposed than men to joining the EMU. Of the women who were interviewed, 62 percent said that they had voted against, and 36 percent said they had voted for membership. Among men, the ratio was only 50-48 percent against.

All four age-groups of the survey were also opposed. Those aged 18-21 voted against by a margin of 70-26 percent. For the 22-30 age-group, the margin was 56-41 percent. The least negative were those aged 31-64, with a margin of 54-45 percent. The 65+ age-group voted against by 57-41 percent.

The strong opposition among younger voters is of great potential significance for the future of the European Union, as it has been widely assumed that resistance to the EU would gradually diminish with the passing of older generations that are presumably handicapped by "nostalgic attachment" to the nation-state.

Blue-collar workers opposed joining by 69-29 percent, but white-collar workers were in favour by a margin of 52-46. Business owners and managers were also in favour, by 54-44 percent; but the size of the opposition within this category was quite remarkable, given the heavy pressure to support the business establishment's view that membership in the EMU is crucial for the future of the entire economy.

With regard to political preferences, only among those who identified themselves as Conservatives and Liberals did majorities vote in favour of the EMU (72 and 67 percent, respectively). Social Democratic and Christian Democratic voters ignored the advice of their party leaders and voted against by majorities of 53 and 57 percent. It is quite possible that the majority of Social Democrats voting "No" would have been even greater if Anna Lindh, the party's most popular figure, had not been murdered days before the referendum.

Those who identified with the three "No" parties-- Left, Centre and Green-- rejected the EMU by a combined margin of roughly 85-12 percent. (For the current distribution of seats in parliament, see Swedish Election 2002.)
    

Bitter reaction
   
The reaction of the Swedish establishment to the rejection of its pet project by such an overwhelming majority was not a pretty thing to see or hear. Many comments exuded contempt for those who had failed to understand the virtues of the EMU-- a contempt often related to the fact that only in the urban centres of Stockholm and Malmö did majorities vote in favour.

The Social Democratic mayor of Stockholm, normally a gracious soul, suggested that the ney-sayers in the provinces lacked the necessary competence and sophistication to make an informed decision: "Stockholmers are more open for new impressions, have more international contacts and higher education," stated Annika Billström. "The gulf between the capital city and the countryside must be narrowed." This was a theme familiar from the referendum campaign of 1994; on that occasion, however, the simple country folk had failed to impede the forward march of the urban sophisticates toward Europe.

An acerbic variation on the same theme was offered on the night of the debacle by the governor of Stockholm County, who entertained viewers of national TV by imitating the accent of a country bumpkin from Borlänge, a town in rural Dalarna: "Of course it's a no, a blank no," explained Gov. Ulf Adelsohn, a Conservative. "How could it be anything else with the Swedish people? They sit in Borlänge and wait for more welfare." (This is a man who has spent most of his life feeding long and well at the public trough.)

The subtle wisdom of the mainstream press can be illustrated by an editorial in the country's leading newspaper, Dagens Nyheter, which suggested a parallel between rejection of the EMU and the murder of the foreign minister: "It has been said that, in the EMU referendum, the people protested against the establishment. Perhaps. But consider the fact that Anna Lindh's murderer also protested against the establishment."

A theme that was picked up and disseminated by the international press was that "No" voters were trapped in the past by their own anxiety. The New York Times quoted the conclusion of Sweden’s Minister for Infrastructure, Ulrika Messing, that the no-vote was due to ”fear of the new”. (During the campaign, Ms. Messing had expressed an apparent fear of debate by energetically supporting Prime Minister Persson's gag rule on cabinet colleagues opposed to the EMU.)

Some argued that the negative outcome was due to a failure to communicate. "We did not succeed in getting our message across", explained Prime Minister Persson and other EMU enthusiasts-- without explaining how that could be possible, given the "Yes" campaign's enormous advantage in financial resources, media coverage, etc. The possibility that the message was fundamentally flawed has yet to be conceded. Not even the collapse of the EMU's stability pact, just two months following the referendum (see Part IV), has produced the slightest acknowledgement that all those "No" voters may not have been so stupid and ignorant, after all.

In short, the reaction of the confounded establishment has reflected the same sort of arrogance that characterized the "Yes" campaign and, consequently, what appears to be a complete lack of insight into the reasons for its spectacular failure.

This has been remarked upon by, among others, the leader of the Centre Party: "As soon as it became clear that the 'No' side had won," Maud Olofsson has observed, "the 'Yes' side started making excuses and looking for scapegoats. None of them had made any mistakes, of course. . . The simple explanation they have given is that the people did not understand their own best interests. . . .

"I am particularly offended by those on the 'Yes' side who accuse 'No' voters of believing that Sweden is superior to all other countries, while at the same time claiming to be superior to all those who voted against the EMU. How does that fit together? That attitude indicates an unfortunate bitterness and arrogance which can only serve to increase the distance between ordinary citizens and those who hold political and other forms of power."
  
 
   
   
Sophisticates vs. Simple Folk
  

One of the celebrities enlisted by the "Yes" campaign was the author, Björn Ranelid, who travelled around the country to tell audiences why he was planning to vote for the EMU. The essence of his argument appears to have been: "The word and the soul are stateless and have no weight. The air, the water and the human thought are like the fish in the sea. They recognize no national borders."

That makes no more sense in the original Swedish than it does in translation. But, in fairness, it must be noted that Ranelid's mystifying prose was not typical of the messages conveyed by EMU enthusiasts. He can, however, be counted among the urban sophisticates who, according to the mayor of Stockholm, "are more open for new impressions, have more international contacts and higher education", and are therefore better qualified than simple country folk to decide upon such complex matters as the EMU.

Ranelid's sophistication may be compared with the following observations of Gösta Hellman, a pensioner from the town of Luleå, far from Stockholm in the presumptively unsophisticated North. They were broadcast on public radio's popular call-in programme, "Klarspråk" ("Straight Talk").

Before the referendum: "The EMU is a disastrous economic misconstruction, with a common interest rate for countries with incompatible industrial and agricultural sectors. Changes in the key interest rate required by the ups and downs of the business cycle become impossible. Out in Europe, the sea is raging. Spain and Ireland, with overheated economies and runaway inflation, clamour for higher interest rates. Germany and France struggle to meet the demands of the stability pact, and will in all likelihood fail to do so for the third consecutive year. But the reduction of the key interest rate which is necessary to stimulate their economies is nowhere in sight."

Afterwards: "Can feelings of delight, pride, sadness and helpless resignation somehow be related to the outcome of the EMU referendum? The answer is yes, at least in my case. Delight, because I belong to the ney-saying majority that early on perceived the weakness of the EMU's structure of regulations. Pride, over the ability of Swedish young people to see through the massive 'Yes' campaign-- an ability to maturely analyse the factual basis underlying the volumes of words in the public debate. How otherwise to explain that 70 percent of those aged 18-21 put their feet down and voted 'No'. At least some aspects of the Swedish education system clearly deserve high marks.
     "Helpless resignation in the face of the losing side's frustrated reaction. Instead of analysing the reasons for the rejection of the EMU, they carry on with their myths about the fears of the poorly educated, their nationalism, their inability to grasp the broader context, and their unreflecting acceptance of EMU opponents' fear-mongering propaganda.
     "Sadness, because with my upraised finger I can feel the wind blowing steadily and with increasing force, driving us forward 10-15 years into the future-- to the great battle over our membership in the superstate of which politicians out in Europe so clearly speak. Sadness because, as an 80-year-old, I may not be around to celebrate the triumph of wisdom and human solidarity that is implicit in the inevitable reformation of the European Union."
   

   
      
   
Part IV . . .  

Part I
Part II