Swedish `no' hits Blair hopes

SWEDEN has rejected decisively proposals to join the single European currency. EADT Political Editor GRAHAM DINES believes that the chance of a British vote on membership of the euro has evaporated until after the next election.

SWEDEN has rejected decisively proposals to join the single European currency. EADT Political Editor GRAHAM DINES believes that the chance of a British vote on membership of the euro has evaporated until after the next election.

MORE than 56% of the Swedish people have said "no" to the euro. The referendum result is a bitter disappointment not only to the Swedish government but campaigners in the United Kingdom for our early entry into the single currency.

The Swedish rejection comes three years after Denmark also said "no" in a referendum. That leaves the UK the only European Union member state still to decide whether to join or not.

The referendum took place following the murder of Sweden's fervently europhile foreign minister Anna Lindh, but opinion polls appear to have overestimated the impact of any sympathy vote following her death.

Observers in Britain hoped a "yes" vote would add momentum to calls for a referendum in the UK. Now it seems highly unlikely the British people will be given the opportunity to vote on ditching the pound for the euro during the lifetime of the present parliament, which may not be dissolved until the spring of 2006.

Prime Minister Tony Blair, desperate to demonstrate that his government is a major player in European politics, seems unlikely to risk a ballot which opinion polls predict would decisively reject giving up the pound.

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It was John Major's Tory government that promised there would be no British entry into the eurozone without a referendum. The move neatly boxed Mr Blair and the then Labour opposition into a corner, and they were forced to offer the same promise because they knew they could not go into an election on a policy of scrapping the pound.

Once the results of the Swedish vote were announced in Stockholm, the gnashing of teeth of British supporters of the great euro project could be heard all over the continent.

But although Tony Blair is keen to join the euro, his government has failed to make out the case for membership. There has been no attempt to persuade the British people that it is their interests to scrap the pound, leaving the vast majority of the electorate blissfully unaware of the charms and benefits of adopting a single currency.

If Labour wins the next election, and should Tony Blair still be Prime Minister, then there may well be a referendum. But even then, there is no guarantee there'll be a "yes" result.

The single currency is the most significant advance towards closer European co-operation since the Common Market was founded in the 1950s. The euro has been created to be the power that drives Europe's ever-closer political and economic ties.

Yet the Swedish "no" campaigners have successfully argued that it is perfectly possible to be a serious and effective member of the EU club without having to hand over economic control to Brussels.

To the European Commission in Brussels, the Swedish and Danish votes, and Tony Blair's dithering, are nothing short of a disaster. Just look, they point out, at all the economic benefits that have flowed to the countries which have adopted the euro – even though the French seem are flagrantly breaking the rules of the eurozone's Growth and Stability Pact

The Commission and most EU governments see the single currency as the natural evolution of a single European market with benefits for all. And if everyone joined – including the 10 applicant states for EU membership next year – the single currency would deliver economic stability and help make Europe globally competitive.

Pedro Solbes, the EU's Economic Affairs Commissioner, said yesterday: "The Commission expects all members of the EU to become members of the EU zone at some point."

So why did the Swedes say no? Sweden is a socially liberal and prosperous nation, a long way from the heart of European power in Brussels, and it seems the voters could see any no advantage in handing over interest rate setting to the European Central Bank in a one-size-fits-all economic strategy for various EU countries.

Meanwhile, opponents of British entry into the European single currency are in celebratory mood. Shadow foreign secretary Michael Ancram said: "The bulk of the media and political parties in Sweden were arguing for the euro. Despite that, Swedes have chosen not to give up their currency and not to adopt a one-size-fits-all interest rate.

"It is clear that being out of the euro will not leave Britain isolated in Europe. Blair's euro campaign is now severely damaged. No-one can argue any more that the euro is inevitable."

Jeffrey Titford, UK Independence Party Euro MP for the East of England, hailed the rebuff of the "Europeanist establishment." Mr Titford, who won his seat in the European Parliament on a platform of opposition to the EU and the single currency, added: "It was a vote for independence, freedom and self-government and the Swedes are to be congratulated for standing firm and not allowing sentiment over the tragic death of Anna Lindh to sway their views.

"They have firmly told Brussels where to go."

Janet Bush, director of New Europe, said: "It is now highly unlikely that British public opinion will be moved on the euro for many years to come and the Government should concentrate on the issues that people care about."

If the opinion polls are to be believed, it is a sentiment that the majority of the British electorate seems to share.

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