Following the Danish rejection of the euro in September 2000 and the Irish rejection of Nice in June 2001, the Swedes have rejected the euro by an overwhelming majority, despite the “yes” side having outspent the opposition by more than five to one.

For the first time in decades (possibly in centuries), the Swedes did not heed the call of their political establishment, which urged them to back the government decision to join the eurozone.  “A violent straight to the face of power” was the headline splashed across the front page of the major Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter on the day after the September 14 referendum.

These were the final figures: 56.1 percent said “no,” and 41.8 percent said “yes,” with 2.1 percent of the ballots left blank.  Over 80 percent of Sweden’s 7.1 million voters turned out.  This victory goes well beyond the mere numerical margin, so much so that the term “crushing” could not have been more appropriate.  Such analysis would generally apply to all countries where there have been E.U.-related referenda, either on the addition of new members (the last of these referenda was held in Latvia on September 20, 2003) or simply on joining the eurozone.  In all these countries, the pro-euro camp enjoyed far greater funding and support.  Sweden was no exception: Business, the political parties, the press, trade unions, and celebrities also urged a “yes” vote.  A common slogan of the “no” side was that “we have the arguments but not the money.”

Why should we endanger our satisfactory economic situation, most Swedes must have wondered, with a leap in the dark likely to undermine our generous welfare system?  Not coincidentally, a stable economy is common to other countries that remain outside the eurozone, such as Denmark, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, and Norway, and warnings of an economic catastrophe in the event of a “no” vote seemed hard to square with reality.

Unlike the Danish “no” to Maastricht in 1992, however, or the Irish “no” to Nice, the effects on the European Union of the Swedish “no” to the euro are virtually nil, further complicating the chances for Britain and Denmark to join at some stage.  The staunchest defenders of the European Union downplayed the outcome.  German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder tried to save face by saying that “the door is still open for Sweden to adopt the euro, probably meaning that another referendum will be held, on the assumption that a euroskeptic vote is never to be taken too seriously and may always be reversed.  European Commission President Romano Prodi was less diplomatic: The Swedish “no” vote was, he said, the result of “a fear of novelty, in particular among simple people.”  Other comments, such as “Sweden will lose influence” and “staying out will cost a political and economic price,” exemplified the scare tactics increasingly resorted to by the “yes” front, once they realized they were losing ground.  “If anything were to happen that would dramatically change the advantages to Sweden of using the euro,” Prime Minister Göran Persson said in a joint statement with rival parties, in a last-minute bid to convince voters, “the government would postpone the entry.”  Ericsson, the telecommunications giant, hinted that a “no” vote might affect its investment decisions, although it was careful not to be specific.  But a rare example of arrogance was shown by Hans-Olov Olsson, president and CEO of Volvo.  “It was a mistake to have a referendum in Sweden, he said.  “Why do we have the expertise of politicians when we throw away one issue to the public which does not have the knowledge?”  A similar statement was made by Danish Europhiles after their defeat in the referendum on the Maastricht Treaty in May 1992, when they blasted their government’s decision to publish and distribute copies of the treaty before the vote.

All this, however, was to no avail, as was the ghastly murder of the Swedish foreign minister Anna Lindh, a party colleague and close collaborator of Persson, who was stabbed to death in Stockholm a few days before the vote.  A fervent Europhile and rumored successor to Persson, she was the most ardent proponent and active propagandist in favor of the euro, and the media had rather cynically spoken of a possible “Lindh effect” benefiting a “yes” vote.

The most interesting implication of the “no” vote was pointed out by Henrik Dahlsson, the Swedish secretary-general of the European Alliance of EU-critical Movements (TEAM) and one of the main coordinators of the “no” campaign in Sweden.  TEAM is an information network linking 47 organizations, including political parties and NGO’s from across the political spectrum in 18 European countries.  In the United Kingdom, it is primarily the conservatives who are against the euro and critical of centralization of power in Brussels.  In Sweden, however, the left and the Greens make up the primary opposition, and those who tipped the balance in favor of the “no” vote were precisely the moderate conservatives who “betrayed” their political leaders.

Many of these center-right voters had voted in favor of E.U. membership in 1994.  According to exit polls, more than 25 percent of the liberal and conservative voters chose the “no” ballot.  “This is an important factor when explaining the result,” said professor Rutger Lindahl, who teaches political science at Gothenburg University.  “The secure Yes-votes from the last referendum said no this time.  The voters have not followed their party’s view on the euro.”  A poll published ten days before the referendum also showed that a quarter of the “yes” voters in the 1994 referendum planned to say “no” to the euro.  “The no-side won the economic case against the euro.  But in the 1994 referendum the voters believed in the yes-side’s economic arguments for joining the EU,” Professor Lindahl continued.  “It has been done with the help of such well-established economists as Nils Lundgren,” a former chief economist of one of Sweden’s largest banks, Nordea.  Lindahl mentions other examples of leading economists on the “no” side, including Lars Wohlin and Bengt Dennis, former heads of the Swedish Central Bank.

The revolt against the euro goes against the historical tradition of the country.  By and large, the Swedes have always been unified behind the state and their leaders.  They embraced Christianity at the turn of the 11th century in the wake of the conversion of their kings and aristocracy, and, in much the same way, they followed their ruling class when it switched to Lutheranism.  While the Swedes were slow to accept the new faith in lieu of their heathen beliefs, they became all the more zealous once they had done so.  Similarly, Sweden became a strong bulwark of Protestantism.  In more recent times, the Swedes transferred their allegiance to secular leaders, embodied in the Social Democratic Party, which has governed for 60 out of the last 70 years.  To the extent that the “no” vote defeated “Anna Lindh’s Europe” (as some commentators put it), it was also a defeat for the Swedish model of the welfare state, which was becoming the model for Europe.  Among the more recent features of this Swedish model is the approval of a bill enabling homosexual couples to adopt foreign children, a proposal that no other parliament in the world has passed.  This model is poles apart from another Swedish model of society, upheld by Saint Bridget of Sweden according to her renowned biographer Johannes Jörgensen: The kingdom of Sweden ought to be like a pure and clear summer sky, a kingdom of peace and justice, where “good champions,” “chivalry,” and “brave heroes” can be found.  It remains to be seen which of the two Swedens should be credited with the landmark victory against the euro.