The social partners and the euro referendum

In a referendum held on 14 September 2003, the Swedish people voted 'no' to joining the euro single currency, with 56.1% of those voting opposed. The main trade union confederations had all taken part in some way in the campaign for a 'yes' vote - although some blue-collar unions affiliated to the Swedish Confederation of Trade Unions (LO) took the opposite view - as had the main employers' organisations. However, surveys indicate that 65% of LO members voted 'no' to the euro.

On 14 September 2003, Sweden held a referendum on whether the country should join the euro single currency. All political parties had ended their campaigns before the date of the referendum following the murder a few days earlier of the Foreign Minister, Anna Lindh, an event which had left the nation in shock. The government stressed the importance of all citizens voting in the poll, in the circumstances, and the turn-out proved to be 82.1% of those entitled to vote. Only in 1994, when the Swedes voted to join the European Union, had the turn-out in a referendum been higher, at 83.3%.

Outcome

The referendum produced a strong 'no' vote to the euro. Of the votes cast, 56.1% were opposed, 41.8% were in favour, and 2.1% were blank (the final result of postal votes are not yet included at the time of writing, but they are not expected to change the current situation). The predominance of the 'no' vote was large across the whole country. Only in the regions of Stockholm and Skåne (in the far south of Sweden) were 'yes' votes in the majority, while in most northern regions over 80% of the voters were opposed to euro entry.

A preliminary exit survey of 10,000 voters, conducted by Swedish Television, the University of Gothenburg and the Royal Institute of Technology (Kungliga Tekniska Högskolan) found that female voters (58%) were more opposed to the euro than male voters (46%). Of members of trade unions affiliated to the blue-collar Swedish Confederation of Trade Unions (Landsorganisationen, LO), 65% voted 'no'. A small majority of white-collar workers were in favour of the euro (49.5% to 48.8 %). Professional workers were the most 'euro-positive' group of workers, with 57.2% voting 'yes'. About 65% of farmers, unemployed people, early retirees and workers involved in labour market programmes were opposed to the euro. Another preliminary conclusion from the survey is that older people were more positive to the euro than young people. Sören Holmberg, a professor of political science at the University of Gothenburg, who was in charge of the survey, stated that the referendum makes evident very large divisions in Sweden between the cities and the countryside, the south and the north, men and women, blue-collar workers and white-collar/professional workers, employees in the public and private sector, and old and young people.

The campaign

The public campaign over the euro referendum started early in summer 2003. The governing Social Democratic Party (Socialdemokratiska Arbetarepartiet, SAP) was in favour, along with the Liberal Party (Folkpartiet), the Christian Democrats (Kristdemokraterna) and the Conservative Party (Moderata samlingspartiet). The Left Party (Vänsterpartiet), the Green Party (Miljöpartiet de Gröna) and the Centre Party (Centerpartiet) were opposed.

From the beginning, the 'yes' side dominated in the media and public debate. On 13 July, the Social Democrat Prime Minister, Göran Persson, and Wanja Lundby-Wedin, the head of LO, announced that they would cooperate in the necessary measures to join the euro and the third stage of EU Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) in the event of a yes 'vote' in the referendum. They promised to make a joint proposal for a 'buffer' scheme to protect Sweden from adverse economic developments in the euro-zone, an issue which had earlier been a stumbling block in the discussions between the government and LO. The July announcement was not welcomed by all LO's member trade unions, especially the two unions that had declared officially at an early stage that they were totally against the euro and EMU - the Swedish Transport' Workers Trade Union (Transportarbetareförbundet, Transport) and the Commercial Employees' Union (Handelsanställdas Förbund, Handels).

On 1 September 2003, an article signed by six trade union and employers' organisation leaders was published in the Dagens Nyheter newspaper, which attracted comments in the media. The article made it clear that these social partners though it important to work together for a 'yes' to the euro and proposed the establishment of an independent economic council to contribute to the EMU stability goals. The proposed council would analyse the economic and political situation and report twice a year from 2005. It would be independent from the government, parliament, political parties and the social partners, only providing them with economic data for decision-making. The six social partner organisations behind the proposal would each select one economist and the council would be chaired by an independent economist. With the help of such an economic council, the transition from the krona to the euro would not be so problematic, according to the organisations concerned.

The signatories of this proposal on the trade union side were the three main confederations - the blue-collar LO, the white-collar Swedish Confederation of Professional Employees (Tjänstemännens Centralorganisation, TCO) and the Swedish Confederation of Professional Associations (Svenska Akademikers Centralförbund, SACO). The employer-side signatories were the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise (Svenskt Näringsliv), the Swedish Association of Local Authorities (Svenska Kommunförbundet) and the Federation of County Councils (Svenska Landstingsförbundet). Some of these organisations had earlier declared that they were neutral in the referendum campaign. However, the leaders signing the article were seen as clearly pro-euro.

The immediate reaction to the proposal from trade unions was mixed. Out of 16 unions affiliated to LO, the chairs of 10 stated that they supported the LO chair and that they personally were going to vote for the euro. Furthermore, the chairs of the LO unions for industry, metalworking, paper and forestry, electricians and building declared that they too were positive towards the euro. The chairs of the unions for hotels and restaurants, transport and commerce announced that they should vote against the euro.

The 'no' side of the euro campaign was generally less high-profile, with many of its supporters confident of winning the referendum, if only by a small margin. The five ministers in the government opposed to the euro were told by the Prime Minister not to take part in the campaign, which upset many 'no' campaigners. The pro-euro Social Democratic government made alliances across party lines, with the aim of boosting the 'yes' vote. Prime Minister Göran Persson held a 'yes' press conference together with the leader of the opposition Liberal Party, Lars Leijonborg - a development which was highly unusual in the Swedish political context. The late Foreign Minister, Anna Lindh, appeared on a yes 'platform' with the managing director of Ericsson, Carl Henric Svanberg, an important representative of Swedish export industry. Ms Lindh also campaigned among Swedes living abroad together with Carl Bildt, a former Prime Minister and member of the Conservative Party.

During August and September 2003, the opinion polls (DN/TEMO, Svenska Gallup and others) found that the 'no' vote stood around 49% and the 'yes' vote around 42 %.

Reactions

The immediate reactions among the social partners after the 'no' vote in the referendum were relatively few and moderate in tone. The LO chair, Wanja Lundby Wedin, commented only that she was satisfied with the high rate of participation in the referendum and stated that the next step would be to find out which arguments had been most decisive in the campaign. Göran Tunhammar, the managing director of the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise, representing private sector employers, said that even if his members would have preferred euro entry, it was now time to take joint measures for increased growth and to create a better climate for enterprise. He also said that he was happy that the campaign had showed that many actors outside the business world on the 'yes' side had the same view on the need to work for more growth in Sweden. Göran Jonsson, the chair of the Swedish Metalworkers' Union (Svenska Metallarbetareförbundet), also in favour of the euro, agreed that the most important issue now is to create a better climate for industry. Sture Nordh, the chair of TCO, stated that the most important issue is to achieve better control of wage formation and the public finances.

Commentary

The social partners' initial conclusions in response to the large 'no' vote to the euro in the September referendum were to call for examination of the arguments that led the Swedish people to oppose the euro in such numbers, and for cooperation for improved economic growth.

In the exit poll cited above, members of LO-affiliated trade unions - two-thirds of whom voted against - gave the following main arguments for opposing euro entry: maintaining Swedish democracy (as opposed to European democracy); national independence (freedom from alliances); retaining the possibility of controlling the National Bank interest rate and hence the economy; and keeping the current social welfare system. One reason why so many women voted 'no' may be that many work in the public sector and were afraid of losing their jobs in the future - an experience many have already had. A reason why young people proved more likely to vote 'no' than older people may be that the latter believe that they have some kind of knowledge and control over what is happening in the EU, whereas young people, in insecure economic times, are more mistrustful.

It is not yet possible to give a full assessment of the 14 September 2003 referendum and its after-effects. The result came as a surprise to the government and parliament (Riksdag), some 80% of whose members are convinced supporters of euro entry. They now have to lead a country that do not wish to switch to the euro, at least for now. The situation may result in political complications in the future. For example, it has been asked if the current Minister of Industry, Employment and Communications, Leif Pagrotsky, a convinced 'no' supporter, can remain in his position. (Annika Berg, Arbetslivsinstitutet)

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