Swedish no will not boost Euro-left

Submitted by Anon on 2 October, 2003 - 9:55

By Rhodri Evans

On 14 September Sweden voted 56% to 42% against joining the euro.

The Social Democratic government, the main opposition parties, and the major newspapers all favoured the euro. But the voters rebelled.

Blue collar workers, 18 to 30 year olds, and the people of small towns in the north of the country all voted strongly to keep Sweden's separate currency, the krona.

The Swedish result makes it much more unlikely that Tony Blair will go for a referendum on euro entry in Britain any time soon. It also signals trouble for the European Union.

The EU is drafting a new constitution, and will have to put it to a vote in Ireland and Denmark, at least. On present showing they will get a no vote, which could sink the whole project and greatly complicate the process of integrating new countries from Eastern Europe into the EU.

The confusion of our enemies, Blair and the EU elite, is not, however, necessarily our triumph.

The labour movement has to develop effective unity and coordination across the national frontiers, in the cause of levelling up standards and social provision Europe-wide and demanding Europe-wide democracy.

It does not help us particularly if a greater proportion of the inexorably cross-border coordination of capital is done behind the scenes, rather than through open political processes. Nor is there any particular advantage to us from a two-tier EU, with a more integrated inner core (the euro zone) and a looser periphery.

On the whole, and all other things being equal, a single currency is better from the working-class point of view than varied national currencies. That does not oblige us to vote yes to the specifics of the euro, with its Maastricht criteria and its unelected European Central Bank - but it does oblige us to beware of the "no to the euro" outcry.

In Britain, especially, a boost for the anti-euro cause is chiefly a boost for the Tories.

Britain has a strong right-wing, big-business anti-euro lobby primarily because of Britain's exceptional links with the USA.

It is not the same in Sweden. Swedish big business solidly supported euro entry, and the political line-up over the referendum was more like that in Britain over EU entry in the early 1970s, where the Tories and right-wing Labour were for and the Labour left and the unions almost all against.

The Swedish parties campaigning for no to the euro were the Left Party (ex-Communist Party) and the Greens, the parties on whose support the minority Social Democratic government relies for a working parliamentary majority, plus the right-wing Centre Party.

According to the Left Party: "The European elite want to transform Europe into a superstate. European monetary union is the engine of this transition... The referendum is not about the euro. It's about power - your loss of power and the elite's gain". The Greens' slogan was "No to EMU, yes to democracy".

As in Britain in the 1970s, though, the idea that Swedish workers can have greater sovereignty over their affairs by keeping their country to some degree apart from Europe is an illusion.

Between the 1930s and the 1980s Sweden, with an exceptionally good position in the world economy and the advantage of keeping out of World War Two, did develop an exceptionally strong welfare state. That Swedish exception began to break down drastically as long ago as 1990, when a financial crisis forced a sharp change of direction by the Social Democrats. As the Financial Times reported at the time: "Under intense pressure from overseas financial opinion that forced up interest rates... and led to a huge outflow of capital from Sweden, the Swedish government is having to abandon a long-held commitment to full employment and the Welfare State. The international money-markets have become the arbiters of Sweden's future, not the Social Democratic ideologues."

The laws regulating Sweden's central bank were changed in 1999 to make stability of the krona its all-overriding priority. After the 14 September vote, Swedish bosses immediately made demands for business tax cuts, more "flexible" labour markets, and sickness pay cuts, to "compensate".

The way forward for Swedish workers is not in trying to salvage the Swedish exception, but in uniting with workers across Europe in levelling up standards and rights across the continent. It may be significant that the only section of the Swedish electorate to vote strongly for the euro was immigrants.

The Socialist Party of Sweden, a revolutionary group linked to the LCR in France, had the slogan: "No to EMU - for a red Europe in a red world."

Whether consciously or not, it echoes the German Communist Party slogan of 1935 when the Saarland, under League of Nations administration since 1919, voted on integration with Nazi Germany. "For a red Saar in a workers'-council Germany", they cried, while calling for a no vote.

The circumstances are very different. But in its lack of connection between the immediate action proposed and the "red" future invoked, its substitution of word-association for political argument, the Swedish slogan does resemble the German. How will Sweden staying out of the euro conceivably make Europe, let alone the world, "red"?

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