Human history appears to disclose a clear trend of development from smaller to ever-larger social and political units. The history of the nation-state is only a couple of centuries old, and many argue that the transition to a global community is both inevitable and desirable. In that perspective, the national tensions currently occasioned by the ongoing process of globalization may be regarded as transitional, indicating nothing more alarming than a period of adjustment.
If that is indeed the case, then the nation of Sweden appears to be fulfilling its historical destiny by voluntarily taking the first steps toward its own dissolution. However, no such tendency can be observed in the United States or at the next-lower level of major powers such as China and India. It is only smaller nations that are being urged to merge into larger and presumably stronger units, in a process that parallels the one taking place in the corporate world. The fact that small nations may often play a useful role by virtue of their limited size-- as Olof Palme pointed out-- has simply been ignored. To become big and powerful is the name of the game.
Apart from the neo-liberal concessions to market forces noted above, the most significant self-divestiture of Swedish sovereignty has been entry into the European Union, engineered in large measure through the Social Democratic leadership's successful manipulation and intimidation of its own constituency. Membership in the EU virtually ensures continuation of the neo-liberal policies that were the underlying cause of the country's economic crisis of the 1990s.
It has also led to the steady erosion of Sweden's international leadership in such areas as environmental policy, human rights, disarmament and foreign aid. Where has Sweden disappeared to? has become the common lament of disappointed admirers from around the world who once looked to the land of Palme for support and inspiration.
The answer to the question of Sweden's retreat from the world scene is fairly obvious: The EU is dominated by members of NATO and, as many predicted, the Swedish government has subordinated its foreign policy to the interests of that military-political instrument of the United States. Support for the Kosovo catastrophe was a logical expression of an ongoing process which is clearly leading in the direction of NATO membership (see Collateral Damage). The only obstacle is stubborn resistance to that idea by a large and growing majority of the Swedish people.
But the wishes of the majority have been ignored before, and will almost certainly be disregarded again when the political establishment calculates that the time is ripe. The creeping incorporation into NATO is especially ironic, given that one of the most persuasive arguments for membership in the EU was that it is a peace project which deserves support in its noble work. The sad fact is that Sweden used to be a peace project, but is currently being integrated into the most powerful war machine in world history.
At home, EU membership has contributed to an unprecedented level of political alienation, as many of those who were pressured into giving their reluctant consent in the 1994 referendum-- with threats of even higher unemployment, cuts in general welfare, etc.-- draw the conclusion that they have been duped.
Not surprisingly, the negative reaction has been especially strong among Social Democratic voters. Nevertheless, the party leadership has continued to alienate them by violating solemn promises to defend Swedish sovereignty within the EU, conducting a purge of EU sceptics among potential candidates to its parliament, and other suicidal behaviours.
Roughly two-thirds of Swedish voters now say that they would reject membership if the referendum were held today, making them the most disillusioned in the Union. Participation in EU elections has plummeted, as it has in all other member-states. The thing is a democratic disaster.
_According to the country's economic elite and the politicians who do its bidding, the people simply do not understand what is good for them. But adherents of neo-liberalism and the EU have been singularly unsuccessful in providing a credible rationale for persisting along the path they have chosen or stumbled onto-- most likely because the explanations offered are full of contradictions and dubious assumptions.
The government insists, for example, that it has no choice but to follow the EU's neo-liberal economic policy in order to avoid exorbitant interest penalties from the international money markets that have been financing the nation's (neo-liberal) budget deficit. But it fails to mention that the option of borrowing from the Swedish people-- and thereby offering said money markets some healthy competition-- was eliminated by the very act of joining the EU.
This is now an established pattern: A neo-liberal policy results in negative consequences which are then used to justify that policy and more of the same, leading to further negative consequences, more circular arguments, and so on. It all suggests that the ongoing surrender of Sweden's national sovereignty may not be necessitated by some inexorable historical imperative, after all.
United States of Europe
The next and probably final test of that issue will be the forthcoming referendum on the European Monetary Union (EMU). Membership would in all likelihood mean an end to what little national control remains over economic policy, with mounting pressure for additional cuts in tax levels and the public sector. It would also remove a major obstacle to the formation of a United States of Europe, the ultimate goal of many EU enthusiasts.
Thus far, arguments in favour have followed the now-familiar pattern of indiscriminate threats and warnings. When the EMU was launched last year, for example, advocates predicted that the Swedish krona-- a little ripple-currency, according to the interminably mistaken Carl Bildt-- would inevitably go under in the backwash of a surging ecu. When it turned out to be just the opposite, EMU enthusiasts began to urge membership in order to rescue the economy from a krona that had become too strong. Whatever works.
This kind of desperately delusional behaviour suggests that it will be a very long time, if ever, before the EU can provide a legitimate substitute for the robust democracy that emerged in the nation of Sweden during the 20th century, thus providing the political foundation for its Nordic model of society. The size and complexity of the EU, alone, makes such a healthy development improbable. It is far more likely to remain an incoherent construct dominated by corporate interests through the services of the best lobbyists, politicians and journalists that money can buy.
In short, there is at present no viable alternative to the nation-state of Sweden. But given the powerful and destructive forces at work, as noted above, how to ensure its survival? More generally, how to resolve the growing conflict between the operation of the global economy and the needs of the human communities which it is presumably intended to serve?