Monday, May 17, 2010

Stockholm and Brussels revisited.

Awkward. Maybe that's the best way to describe Sweden's relationship to the European Union. Last week the former Finnish prime minister Paavo Lippanen vented his spleen on Sweden, that unlike Finland chose to remain outside the euro zone. That is maybe not really fair of him - the Swedes who voted no to the Euro did it becasue they thought joining the euro zone would harm the Swedish economy. Lippanen probably thought that it would do the Finnish economy good, and not only out of his belief in the European project. Lippanen was especially disappointed with his social democratic counterpart in Sweden, Göran Persson.

Be it fair or not, Dagens Nyheter's liberal chronicle writer Michael Wolodarski agrees with Lippanens criticism of the Swedish social democrats. That probably comes easy to Wolodarski, but the writer is worried about the current liberal right government's luke warm attitude towards the euro. Prime minister Reinfeldt, who used to be a staunch euro supporter, has publicly expressed his doubts about the project, and seems happy to keep Sweden out of the current turmoil.

Picture from the European Parliament

For Wolodarski, who is more of a liberal ideologist than a politician this is incomprehensible. As I wrote in an earlier post, in Sweden a positive view of the EU has been an integrated part of liberal thinking, and EU criticism a left wing speciality. I was then speculating that this is about to change - time will tell, but today we learn that Sweden figured as a major voice against the European parliament's attemt at controlling the hedgefund industry. I write that down in my notebook, and keep speculating.

The Norwegian anti-EU organisation Nei til EU were happy about the rift between Reinfeldt and Wolodarski, but I don't see a new EU-critical consensus emerging between the Swedish left and right. What I do see is that they are changing places. Both the left and the rigth have very good reasons to do so, and if we still have a liberal right government in October, things will move quickly.

The left's anti-EU zeal has understandably weakened after 15 years of membership. I think that the experience of neighbouring to the culturally more European, but veryEU-critical Denmark, the atlantic - and European high culture oriented Norway outside the EU and the EU-loving but arguably less European Finland have left Swedes with one conclusion - in Scandinavia being and EU member or not doesn't change very much, for better or worse.

Margot Wallström's succes as a vice president of the European Commission surely made a lot of Swedish social democrats look on the EU with new eyes. Wallström's succes was not restricted to Sweden, and it is worth noting that the most famous Swede ever in the EU political system is a socialist.

The problem for the Swedish liberals is that they have used the EU as a lever for their own ideas, and they have done it very well. Sweden has come a far way from the social democratic state it was in 1995 when we joined the European union. In many areas we are among the most liberal countries on the continent - an example is that Swedish pension funds are managed in the very hedgefonds that south european parliamentarians are trying to regulate. The Swedish liberals find themselvs far ahead of Europe, and that they might have to protect their gains from the eucrats.

The last rows about how to deal with this - and future crises has seen Europe divided along north-south lines. The new UK conservative governement will make an excellent ally to a liberal Swedish one.

What can the Swedish left do in such a scenario? The traditional answer would be to win the next elections and push through social democratic reforms. But that will be hard. The truly important liberal reforms, like the free school system, are more likely to collapse than to be reformed. Tax-rises are impopular and threaten to eradicate support for a left wing government, which makes the scope of fundamental reforms limited.

It seems much easier to take the way over Brussels. Continental Europe is probably a much to complicated economical and political envionment for sweeping liberal reforms like those possible in Sweden. The European left seems more vivid than the Swedish, and what is more important: the continental European right is far more leftish than the Swedish. If the left parties for example want a 30 or 35 hours working week, as teh left and the green party has pledged to do, it seems more efficient to fight for European legislation than for changes in Sweden.

Isn't it ironic? That's the way the world moves.

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