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Swedes demand EU vote as 120,000 sign petition

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20:31 CET+01:00
Loitering around Stockholm's Central Station on Tuesday morning, representatives from the pro-referendum group folkomröstning.nu were gathering the last crop of signatures.

They later handed over a 120,333 name petition to the Swedish government demanding a referendum on the new EU constitution.

According to Tuesday's Dagens Nyheter, the thick wad of pages was wrapped with blue and yellow binding before being transported to government quarters.

Minister for Democracy Jens Orback received the petition from the arms of its bearers on behalf of the government. Meanwhile the crowd heckled "democracy is a heavy weight".

"It is the government's position that the EU constitution does not include considerable changes to justify holding a referendum and we must respect this," said Orback.

"Neither the government nor a parliamentary majority want to have a referendum. However, the opinion expressed by 120,333 names motivates an open dialogue and continued debate."

The Swedish parliament will vote on the EU constitution in December this year and the result is expected to be resounding yes with the Social Democrats and its four non-socialist comrades - Folkpartiet, the Christian Democrats the Moderates and the Centre Party - all in favour.

Critics include the Green Party, the Left Party and Junilistan who hope the petition will help force through a referendum on the issue.

"It's a fantastic result and one of the biggest petitions ever seen in Sweden," Green Party spokesman Peter Eriksson told Tuesday's Sydsvenskan.

"And the pressure on the government will increase as other countries hold referendums," he added.

Four member states have so far approved, three of which took the decision in their national parliament. A further ten EU countries will hold a referendum on the subject.

According to Sydsvenskan, Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson was greeted with the news of the petition on arrival at a top level meeting in Brussels and said he was "impressed".

"We will listen to them," he said. "But so far we haven't heard anything new which makes us change our standpoint. This is a question which will be decided by the Swedish parliament," he added.

But as Sydsvenskan reported, the reality the Swedish government are facing a fear that the Swedish people would vote no if a referendum was held on this issue.

Speaking to Swedish Radio on Tuesday Jens Orback added, "We regard the petition as an important part of the debate and it comes from people who want us to have a referendum."

"I will happily take up this discussion but I would rather take up a discussion on what the EU constitutional changes actually mean," he said.

A column in Tuesday's Expressen explained to readers, "the new constitution doesn't mean great changes, for example, in the balance of power between the EU and its member states".

"The present constitution, the so-called Nice Treaty, is a badly written, slovenly job which doesn't work well for a union with 25 members."

The new EU constitution must be ratified by all 25 member countries by November 2006.

Sources: Svenska Dagbladet, Expressen, Sydsvenskan, SR

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