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Parties hold firm on euro despite Greek crisis

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Parties hold firm on euro despite Greek crisis
16:29 CEST+02:00
The Local's Peter Vinthagen Simpson and Vivian Tse review party policy as Sweden's backing of a €750 million ($1 trillion) eurozone bailout brings the issue of Sweden's membership back into focus.

Sweden's backing of the bailout of the eurozone economies has been defended by finance minister Anders Borg as underlining Sweden's interdependence with its EU partners.

All the larger political parties came out in favour of Sweden's membership of the euro in a 2003 referendum and a telephone survey by The Local indicates that political support remains strong for Sweden to eventually join the eurozone, although few are willing to commit to a concrete timeframe.

The Liberal Party (Folkpartiet) is the party which has perhaps gone furthest to establishing its credentials as a staunch advocate of Sweden joining the euro, and the ongoing eurozone debt crisis has done little to dent their resolve.

”We want to join the euro and we want to have a referendum in the coming years, within the next mandate period,” said Mathias Sundin, parliamentary candidate for the Liberal Party in Östergötland, to The Local.

Sundin emphasised that the party's line has not been affected by the Greece crisis.

”The crisis in Greece is not because of the euro, it's because of the way Greek politicians have ruined the Greek economy with short-sighted policies. Greece's membership of the euro forces it to fix the economy, if they had their own currency they wouldn't have to,” he said.

Despite the Greek problems, Sundin argued that the Liberal Party is in favour of supporting the bailout plan as ”the other option of a bankruptcy would be worse for Sweden, the EU, and the world”.

The Social Democrats were in government when the 2003 referendum was held and led the chorus of parties and Swedish business leaders in favour of adopting the euro. While support in the party remains strong for Sweden to, a new referendum is not an immediate priority.

“We haven't changed our minds because of Greece, but the situation reinforces the need to wait longer. It is too soon to have a referendum in the next four years. It is important to review the situation and look for a referendum in 2014,” said Sven-Erik Österberg, Social Democrat Party member of the parliamentary advisory council on foreign affairs, to The Local on Tuesday.

Österberg underlined the party's position that it is important for Sweden to join EU partners to pull together to help out.

"If it's necessary, we should, because it's important for the whole situation in the EU to stabilize Greece. Otherwise it can spread to Ireland, Estonia, Spain, Portugal, and the UK, especially after the election, as we don't know what the new government will do yet."

Österberg argued that while there is unity in the centre-left coalition on their position with regards to the euro and a new referendum, the centre-right government is more split.

Left Party spokesperson Britta Kellgren, however indicated to the Local on Tuesday that the centre-left coalition may not be as unified as the Social Democrats claim.

”We are against the euro and Sweden taking part in the euro. We believe the independence of the country and the economy would be destroyed; it is very risky and the developments of the last few weeks demonstrate that,” Kellgren told The Local.

Kellgren also rejected the idea of a new referendum on euro membership.

”There is no need for a referendum, we don't want another referendum. We had a referendum in 2003 and the Left Party was against it then,” she said.

The Green Party removed the requirement to leave the EU from its party programme in the autumn of 2008 but remains opposed to Swedish membership of the euro and a second referendum.

”Sweden should keep out of the euro and not have a referendum. We are all too different and we should not have the same interest rates across the countries,” said Ulf Holm, the Green Party member parliamentary committee on European affairs, to The Local on Tuesday.

While Holm argued that it is too early to judge the fall out of the Greek debt crisis, he advised that the Green Party has become more sceptical towards the euro than before.

”I think it is necessary to help Greece out because the crisis can affect other countries outside of Europe and it's necessary to stop that from happening,” he said.

On the issue of a second referendum, Holm stated that the centre-left coalition had agreed not to hold a referendum before the next election (in 2014).

The Moderate Party is the largest of the centre-right coalition and while they are principally in favour of joining the single currency, during campaigning for the 2009 EU election party leader Fredrik Reinfeldt appeared keen to deflect calls from coalition colleagues for a new referendum in the near future.

”We are in favour of Sweden adopting the euro, however we have also said that we should respect the outcome of the referendum in the meantime. But we want Sweden to adopt the euro eventually,” said Gustav Blix, Moderate Party deputy member of the parliamentary committee on European affairs, to The Local on Tuesday.

”We should have another referendum, adopting the euro would be a good thing for Sweden in the long run, but we need a well functioning monetary policy in Europe and a stable eurozone,” Blix said, adding that Sweden should be prepared to ”take our share of the responsibility” to help troubled EU economies, but should insist on ”high requirements” for reform.

The Christian Democrats amended their position during campaigning for the EU elections and in May 2009 joined their Liberal Party colleagues in calling for a new referendum sooner rather than later, in what many commentators dismissed as an attempt to attract the pro-EU vote.

"We would love to see Sweden in the euro. You can't change your position because of a one-off crisis," said Emma Henriksson, Christian Democrat member of parliament, to The Local on Tuesday, indicating that the party's 2009 shift was a longer term move.

Henriksson also argued that the crisis is not the direct fault of the euro and "would have been worse in many EU countries" without it, while underlining that the Greek bailout was mainly a question for Greece and the euro countries.

"But if we are asked to support Greece, we should consider it, regardless of whether we are in the euro. We are dependent on one another, so you need to be prepared to join in," she said.

The Centre Party aligned itself with the no camp in the 2003 election and despite several leading party members in October 2008 voicing a call for the adoption of the euro after a new referendum, the party's position remains the same.

"No. Sweden is doing just fine with the krona. It is our position that we should stand outside the euro but we are prepared to support a further analysis of the situation," said Staffan Danielsson, Centre Party member of the parliamentary committee on EU affairs, to The Local on Wednesday.

Danielsson also stated that the main responsibility for helping troubled eurozone countries should lie with the euro countries themselves but emphasised that Sweden benefits from a stable situation in the EU.

"Euro countries should take responsibility for their own predicament. If the situation would deteriorate then of course Sweden could be harmed but we are satisfied that the current measures will be sufficient to avert further problems."

The Centre Party sees no immediate need for a new referendum but is supportive of the government's policy that an evaluation of Sweden's position regarding euro membership could be conducted within the next mandate period.

"It is always positive with a new analysis. We will have to see how the euro develops and the results of any evaluation before considering whether we need a new referendum," Danielsson said.

Sweden, like the UK and unlike Denmark, holds no formal opt-out from joining the euro and must join the single currency when a series of macroeconomic criteria are met - including national debt, interest rates and exchange rate stability. In practice Sweden holds the right to decide when, and if, to join the euro by simply avoiding to meet all the criteria.

Peter Vinthagen Simpson & Vivian Tse

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