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EUROPEAN UNION

Swexit? Support for EU plummets in Sweden

There's been a big drop in the number of Swedes who say they back their home country being in the EU, according to a survey for pollsters TNS Sifo commissioned by Swedish public broadcaster SVT.

Swexit? Support for EU plummets in Sweden
The Swedish and EU flags. Photo: Lars Pehrson/SvD/TT

Only 39 percent of Swedes think it's a 'good idea' that Sweden is in the European Union, pollsters found, compared to 59 percent in autumn 2015.

Meanwhile 21 percent said they thought EU membership was a 'bad idea', while the remainder suggested they were unsure.

The huge fall in support for the European project is most likely due to the ongoing refugee crisis, experts told SVT as the findings were released on Monday.

“People are listening to public officials and in Sweden there has been criticism from politicians on what the EU does and does not do when it comes to the refugee crisis,” Göran von Sydow, a political scientist and researcher at the Swedish Institute for European Policy Studies, said.

Sweden's Social Democrat Prime Minister Stefan Löfven last year repeatedly asked other EU nations to grant more people asylum as his own country took in record numbers of people fleeing war and conflict.

When they didn't act voluntarily, he wrote a letter to the European Commission, asking for some of the refugees arriving in the Nordic nation to be distributed to other countries in the 28-member bloc. 

However this idea was thrown out as part of the settlement agreed in March which focused on sending back refugees arriving in Greece from Turkey.

In the meantime, Sweden reinstated border checks and introduced tighter residency rules after local municipalities said they could no longer guarantee accommodation to all new arrivals.

Refugee numbers have dropped dramatically since the shift, with around 500 to 600 people making the journey to Sweden each week, compared to 10,000 last autumn, according to official figures from the country's migration agency, Migrationsverket.

TNS Sifo's poll in Sweden asked 1142 people aged between 18 and 79: “What do you think in general about Sweden being a member of the EU?”

The results emerge as similar surveys in the UK indicate that the upcoming referendum on EU membership will be a close race. A YouGov poll released last week suggested that 40 percent of Brits will vote to remain in the EU, while 39 percent support the country leaving and the rest are undecided or do not plan to vote.

ENERGY

How European countries are spending billions on easing energy crisis

European governments are announcing emergency measures on a near-weekly basis to protect households and businesses from the energy crisis stemming from Russia's war in Ukraine.

How European countries are spending billions on easing energy crisis

Hundreds of billions of euros and counting have been shelled out since Russia invaded its pro-EU neighbour in late February.

Governments have gone all out: from capping gas and electricity prices to rescuing struggling energy companies and providing direct aid to households to fill up their cars.

The public spending has continued, even though European Union countries had accumulated mountains of new debt to save their economies during the Covid pandemic in 2020.

But some leaders have taken pride at their use of the public purse to battle this new crisis, which has sent inflation soaring, raised the cost of living and sparked fears of recession.

After announcing €14billion in new measures last week, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi boasted the latest spending put Italy, “among the countries that have spent the most in Europe”.

The Bruegel institute, a Brussels-based think tank that is tracking energy crisis spending by EU governments, ranks Italy as the second-biggest spender in Europe, after Germany.

READ ALSO How EU countries aim to cut energy bills and avoid blackouts this winter

Rome has allocated €59.2billion since September 2021 to shield households and businesses from the rising energy prices, accounting for 3.3 percent of its gross domestic product.

Germany tops the list with €100.2billion, or 2.8 percent of its GDP, as the country was hit hard by its reliance on Russian gas supplies, which have dwindled in suspected retaliation over Western sanctions against Moscow for the war.

On Wednesday, Germany announced the nationalisation of troubled gas giant Uniper.

France, which shielded consumers from gas and electricity price rises early, ranks third with €53.6billion euros allocated so far, representing 2.2 percent of its GDP.

Spending to continue rising
EU countries have now put up €314billion so far since September 2021, according to Bruegel.

“This number is set to increase as energy prices remain elevated,” Simone Tagliapietra, a senior fellow at Bruegel, told AFP.

The energy bills of a typical European family could reach €500 per month early next year, compared to €160 in 2021, according to US investment bank Goldman Sachs.

The measures to help consumers have ranged from a special tax on excess profits in Italy, to the energy price freeze in France, and subsidies public transport in Germany.

But the spending follows a pandemic response that increased public debt, which in the first quarter accounted for 189 percent of Greece’s GDP, 153 percent in Italy, 127 percent in Portugal, 118 percent in Spain and 114 percent in France.

“Initially designed as a temporary response to what was supposed to be a temporary problem, these measures have ballooned and become structural,” Tagliapietra said.

“This is clearly not sustainable from a public finance perspective. It is important that governments make an effort to focus this action on the most vulnerable households and businesses as much as possible.”

Budget reform
The higher spending comes as borrowing costs are rising. The European Central Bank hiked its rate for the first time in more than a decade in July to combat runaway inflation, which has been fuelled by soaring energy prices.

The yield on 10-year French sovereign bonds reached an eight-year high of 2.5 percent on Tuesday, while Germany now pays 1.8 percent interest after boasting a negative rate at the start of the year.

The rate charged to Italy has quadrupled from one percent earlier this year to four percent now, reviving the spectre of the debt crisis that threatened the eurozone a decade ago.

“It is critical to avoid debt crises that could have large destabilising effects and put the EU itself at risk,” the International Monetary Fund warned in a recent blog calling for reforms to budget rules.

The EU has suspended until 2023 rules that limit the public deficit of countries to three percent of GDP and debt to 60 percent.

The European Commission plans to present next month proposals to reform the 27-nation bloc’s budget rules, which have been shattered by the crises.

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