International Papers

Euro? Nej, Thanks

After Swedish voters voted against giving up the krona in favor of the euro in a referendum Sunday, European newspapers started speaking in tongues: “Nej!” proclaimed a front-page headline in France’s Libération; “Nej means nej,” echoed an op-ed in Britain’s Guardian; and the Times of London declared, “For British Europhiles, Sweden’s ’Nej’ must be doubly painful.”

It was an emotional vote, coming just over a week after the shocking murder of popular pro-euro Foreign Minister Anna Lindh—described by the Times as Sweden’s “Queen of Yes”—but with almost 81 percent turnout, the nays took 56 percent of the vote, while the ayes secured just 42 percent. Although the result wasn’t entirely unexpected, it was shocking. An op-ed in the Times of London described it as “an earthquake that will leave the economic and political topography of Europe permanently transformed.” As the Guardian explained, the establishment was overwhelmingly in favor of joining the common European currency: “Every big political party, every major national newspaper, every representative of Swedish big business and the stock exchange, they all called for a yes vote.” And, columnist Paul Foot added, the vote wasn’t decided by a sentimental attachment to the krona: “A far more important issue was, and is, the euro’s threat to democracy, the right of people to have some say in the nature and behaviour of the governments that represent them.”

Sweden’s Sydsvenska Dagbladet described the referendum results as “a resounding slap round the head” and attributed the outcome to a unified leadership for the no campaign, while the yes camp was “fumbling to find a coherent message.” The paper also reported that Swedes who had visited eurozone countries several times in the past year supported the euro 2-to-1, while voters who had never visited a euro-using nation were 2-to-1 against it. “The more we come into contact with the euro, the less fixated with the krona we become.” Svenska Dagbladet of Stockholm worried that the nation would lose by staying out of the single currency: “European integration rolls on with Sweden less involved than it would have been after a ‘yes’ victory.” Dagens Nyheter called the decision “a vote of no confidence against the political system.” (Translations courtesy of BBC Monitoring.)

Most commentators concluded that in the wake of the Swedish vote, it is extremely unlikely that Britain will face a referendum on joining the euro any time soon—and if it did, the chances of a yes vote have slipped considerably. The Swedish decision comes three years after Denmark decided to stay out of the common currency, and both decisions have dented the aura of inevitability that had attached to monetary union. The economies of the three countries operating outside the “eurozone” have outperformed those within it, making claims about the economic benefits of unification less convincing. What’s more, with the European Union about to expand to the east, the euro’s air of exclusivity will wane. As a Times op-ed put it: “[O]nce the eurozone is adopted by the poorer nations of central Europe, not only will it seem less attractive to the people of Scandinavia and Britain, it will also be disassociated from ‘first-class membership’ of the EU.”

The Financial Times said the euro issue was “about the nature of the EU and its relations with its citizens” and noted that “whenever voters in existing EU countries are asked a European question they reply with a No or the narrowest of Yeses.” These voters are not necessarily opposed to the union itself, but they do resent the organization’s elitism: “The euro is seen by many as the epitome of a policy driven by the elites—an important factor in Sweden, where an anti-establishment mood took hold against a pro-euro campaign dominated by political and business leaders.” The editorial concluded, “The lesson of Sweden is that voters will be persuaded to join only when the eurozone looks an attractive place.” An op-ed by Europhile Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee agreed that the European Union isn’t yet living up to its potential: “Most pro-euro analysis of the Swedish disaster has focussed on how badly the campaign was fought—too establishment, too complacent, too late starting. But maybe the way the EU operates just isn’t good enough to inspire trust, let alone enthusiasm.”