18 September 2003 Edition
Swedish reject euro amid concerns over EU democracy
BY ROBBIE SMYTH
Could it be that the European Union can't handle democracy? Sinn Féin European Parliament candidate Marylou McDonald has called on the Dublin government and EU power brokers to "listen to the citizens of Europe and not dilute their right to vote in the forthcoming EU constitution treaty referenda".
McDonald is concerned that the No vote in Sweden on participation in the euro has not deterred the bureaucracy and power brokers of the EU from their path towards ever more integration.
In fact, it seems that as the dust settles on the Swedish euro referendum result and the EU Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) in early October looms, it is business as usual for the EU and the Commission in how they deal with the exercising of democracy by EU voters.
McDonald told An Phoblacht: "If the new EU constitution is successfully negotiated over the next year, there is still the difficult issue of actually ratifying, with up to 25 member states having referenda on the new treaty."
The difficulty this puts on the EU can be seen in the fact that only three EU states have had or are planning referenda on euro membership. Of the three, Denmark and Sweden have now rejected the euro. In Britain, the New Labour government has stalled and backtracked on its commitment to hold a referendum on euro membership in the first place. How will EU cohesion be maintained with 25 states holding votes on the new constitution?
But the EU Commission has, it seems, found a way around democracy. Unnamed commission officials told the Financial Times this week that the ratification process might take 12 or 18 months - the reason being that states that register a No vote will be sent back to the polls "twice, even three times".
Then recalcitrant states will face a new referendum asking them "do you want to leave the EU"?
Sinn Féin's Marylou McDonald told An Phoblacht that "the EU proposals are an appalling abuse of the rights and concerns of EU voters.
"The EU needs now more than ever, especially in the aftermath of the Swedish referendum result and the debacle at Cancun, to show it is transparent and accountable."
The importance of democracy was emphasised in Sweden, when Prime Minister and euro supporter Goran Person said that the referendum result highlighted the "deep scepticism to the whole EMU project among the Swedish people".
Ulla Hoffman, leader of the Left Party, which opposed the euro, said the result "shows that democracy is built from below, not from the top. This is the people's way of saying they want democracy".
Many Swedish voters felt that Sweden was doing better outside of EMU, with stronger economic growth, lower unemployment, stable public finances and welfare programmes that could be better protected by an independent monetary policy.
The voters had legitimate concerns that the rules of the Growth and Stability Pact, which underpins the EMU, were being broken by the larger states. However, none of these concerns are, it seems, being taken seriously.
McDonald believes that the real question arising out of the Swedish referendum result is whether the EU can handle democracy. "The EU as an institution has shown itself not just unwilling to be transparent and accountable. It also shown itself unwilling to reform and now it is actively planning to subvert the electoral rights of the citizens of its 25 member states.
"With the IGC and the Irish presidency of the EU just months away, the government has an onerous responsibility to stand up and say no to the EU mandarins. They cannot be allowed to dilute our democratic rights any further".