Persson dislikes dates
GORAN PERSSON always knew he faced an uphill task in persuading Sweden’s wary voters to embrace the euro. The Social Democratic prime minister now faces an even trickier job after Denmark’s rejection of the currency in last month’s referendum. Publicly, Mr Persson plays down his disappointment over the Danish nej, claiming it will have a negligible effect on its larger Nordic neighbour. Yet already he is making noises intimating that the referendum he, earlier this year, had promised Swedes may be delayed—perhaps until as late as the autumn of 2004. Had the Danes voted yes, Swedes would have probably been due to have their say in the autumn of 2002, after a general election that the Social Democrats look quite likely to win.
The ex-communist Left Party, which backs Mr Persson’s minority government in parliament but is against the euro, has been quick to tackle the prime minister over dates. Mr Persson now professes to be “in no rush” to have a referendum. He insists, as he has before, that the Swedes will not have to vote until their economy is more closely aligned with the euro-zone’s. Its wage settlements, in particular, need to be more closely in step.
Meanwhile, the Swedish economy is doing rather well. With a floating krona, low inflation, low interest rates, booming exports and falling unemployment, fears that the currency might come under speculative attack without the protection afforded by euro membership seem less potent.
So Mr Persson may be wise to play for time. The Swedes, who voted by a narrow margin in 1994 to join the EU, are among its most grudging members. Opinion polls consistently suggest that most Swedes are against joining the euro. The latest poll, taken just after the Danish vote, suggests that only 31% of the Swedes, the lowest figure ever, would say yes, while 42% would say no.
Mr Persson is mindful, too, that a full-blooded debate on the euro could damage relations with the Left and with the Greens; both parties co-operate with the Social Democrats in parliament, and both are euro-sceptical. Moreover, the Social Democrats are themselves split on the issue.
Few Swedes believe that the Danes have put the kibosh on their chances of joining the euro for ever. But no longer does it seem inevitable that sooner or later Sweden will sign up for membership. Small wonder that Mr Persson is hedging his bets—again.
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