- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 30, 2003

STOCKHOLM — Euro-skeptical Swedes could still cast aside their doubts — and buck trends shown in recent polls — to back the EU common currency in their vote next month, Sweden’s “euro minister” says.

With a scant two weeks to go until the Sept. 14 referendum, voter momentum was swinging in favor of the “yes” camp and would continue to build in the run-up to the polls, Gunnar Lund, the minister for international economic affairs, said.

“I discern a change of mood, and a change of attitude,” he said. “I am confident that we will be able to turn it around and get a ‘yes’ in the referendum.”

Since Prime Minister Goeran Persson called the referendum nine months ago, opinion polls have consistently shown that a majority of Swedes remain opposed to the idea of swapping their krona for the euro.

According to a poll by Danske Bank on Tuesday, 53 percent of voters said they would vote “no” or “maybe no” to the euro, up one point from 52 percent a month earlier.

But Mr. Lund was undaunted. “We definitely feel that the wind is at our back. Earlier the wind was right in our face, but that’s not the case any more,” he said. “I remain, despite everything, reasonably optimistic.”

The minister noted that opinion polls have shown a high number of undecided voters, and predicted that overall opinion wouldn’t stabilize “until the last two weeks.”

In the 1994 referendum on European Union membership, one-third of Swedish voters made up their minds in the final week before the vote, and 20 percent actually switched positions, he said.

The September referendum is not just a vote on a currency, used by 12 of the EU’s 15 member states, Mr. Lund said. It is akin to a second vote on European Union membership.

“It’s a rerun,” he said. “And from that point of view, the stakes are higher than you might think. A ‘no’ would be a terrific setback,” he said.

Sweden voted in favor of EU membership by a slim two-point margin over the absolute majority, revealing a rift in public opinion that Mr. Lund said has only recently begun to heal. Heading the rotating EU presidency last year has helped, he said, because it brought Sweden into the international limelight.

Still, pro-euro Swedes will have a challenge in the race up to the vote, Mr. Lund admitted.

“This referendum comes at a very unfortunate time, because it reawakens this skepticism, and it gives the hard-core anti-EU opinion a terrific opportunity to come back and resuscitate this entire debate.”

Working against the common currency is the common view here that the EU machinery is bureaucratic, corrupt and too centralized, and does not take into account Swedish differences.

“There is an ingrained skepticism and fear that whatever comes from down there, whether it be European Union or monetary union or what have you, somehow constitutes a threat to our way of life, and our traditional Swedish welfare system,” he said.

Another danger is general indifference toward the euro, or what Mr. Lund called the “Danish limbo” — the lukewarm state that has kept Sweden’s neighbor from joining the euro thus far.

But if the “yes” vote carries the day, “our commitment will be all the stronger, and we will, most definitively, put behind us this ‘yes’ and ‘no’ business,” he said.

If Swedes agree that it really is better to be inside the euro bloc, the country will be expected to adopt the currency on Jan. 1, 2006.

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