July 1, 2009, is the starting point for the Swedish Presidency of the EU. While facing major challenges such as the financial crisis and global climate change, Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt has the support of a fairly EU-friendly Sweden. We asked some Swedes how they feel about the EU.
Tsegaye Mengistu, 42, highlights the EU's important function as peacekeeper. His sunny view of the EU matches the fine summer weather, which he's enjoying with his wife. Photo: Rikard Lagerberg
The latest Eurobarometer, an EU survey, shows that almost 60 percent of Swedes find the EU membership a “good thing.” As an EU supporter, Tsegaye Mengistu is part of this growing group. He explains why:
“You can work all over Europe, make common decisions concerning the environment and crime prevention,” he says. “The military threat between countries disappears; EU means more and more brotherhood. It opens many doors — politically, economically and socially.”
The survey also shows that only 18 percent of Swedes now say that the EU is a “bad thing." But despite that, only 43.8 percent turned out to vote in the June elections to the European Parliament.
Historically, Swedish opinion regarding the EU has been both divided and changeable. Around 1970, one-third of the population was for and around as many against. As the debate about European cooperation grew livelier in the 1980s, the support for EU membership rose from a mere 20 percent in 1987 to 60 percent in 1990.
Sweden stayed out of the EU for a long time, but the ending of the Cold War and the economic crisis of the early 1990s changed the situation. In 1991 Sweden applied for membership. However, the media scrutiny that followed seemed to have had a negative impact. In 1992 the opponents of the EU outweighed the supporters.
The referendum in 1994 was a cliff-hanger with 52 percent voting for and 47 percent against joining. Ten years later Swedes were still among the most negative of all EU citizens.
Anna Gillinger, 40, feels that Sweden has little say in the EU. Photo: Rikard Lagerberg
So the trend toward greater support is quite recent — but evident. However, many remain unconvinced. Anna Gillinger disapproves of moving democracy further away from the people.
“I voted for an EU-critical party,” she says. “I really can’t identify with the other EU countries or their governments — the Christian right is one of my worst enemies.”
Gillinger also finds Sweden’s impact on EU policies negligible. In that, her view differs from the majority: more than eight out of ten believe that Sweden’s voice counts in the EU.
What do we want to use this voice for then? Swedes list the environment, crime prevention and terrorism as the most important questions to deal with at EU level. As for healthcare, social security and economy, we prefer our own government to be in charge.
Jaqueline Francois thinks the EU should focus on fighting crime, especially trafficking, and on tackling climate change. She’s mildly positive toward the EU, although not an ardent supporter, and does not take a great interest in EU issues.
Jacqueline Franocis, 28, thinks that the EU should focus on fighting crime and climate change. Photo: Rikard Lagerberg
This actually makes Francois quite typical: according to the Eurobarometer, most Swedes harbor tepid feelings for the EU. Many are neutral or “fairly positive,” few are “very positive” or “very negative.” Regarding her own chances to influence decisions made in the EU, Jaqueline is skeptical. “I hope it’s possible to have an impact … but I think they’re managing pretty well on their own,” she says.
Just like Anna Gillinger, Gustav Wessén is set against EU membership. He thinks the EU is ineffective and entails too many layers of government. “We should have direct democracy instead, possibilities to partake in all political decisions,” he says.
Gustav Wessén, 27, says no thank you to the EU, and would prefer direct democracy. Will his son follow in his father's footsteps? Photo: Rikard Lagerberg
As it is, Wessén still hopes that the EU will use its influence to stop global climate change, but he’s not convinced that this will be the case.
Åsa Bonnevier, 43, is more hopeful. She finds the government agenda for the presidency ambitious. “But you have to be realistic too, as we’re in the middle of a financial crisis,” she says. “And we should cut back farm subsidies. That money should be spent elsewhere.”
All in all, Bonnevier is in favor of the EU. “I believe in the idea of a united Europe, where we handle major issues together: environment, job opportunities. I also think we should adopt the euro,” she says.
So will the Swedish trend toward embracing the EU continue? Polling expert Professor Sören Holmberg at the University of Gothenburg has suggested that the EU’s success in handling the financial crisis will decide if the positive opinion keeps growing.
A strong Swedish EU presidency might also push support levels higher — at least that’s what happened after Sweden chaired the EU in 2001. But then again, back then the European agenda didn’t look quite as gloomy as it does now.
If you liked this article, you might also enjoy...
This article is also available in:
Anna Sandelin is a freelance journalist based in Stockholm. She is quite eager to see how the Swedish government handles the EU presidency, but not too jealous of the massive challenge.
The author alone is responsible for the opinions expressed in this article.
Published by the Swedish Institute on www.sweden.se. All content is protected by Swedish copyright law. The text may be reproduced, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast in any media for non-commercial use with reference to www.sweden.se. However, no photographs or illustrations may be used. For more information on general copyright and permission click here. If you have any questions please contact webmaster.