The European Debate in Sweden
As far as opinion in Europe is concerned, Sweden comes across as an enigma in that her much-admired model of participatory social democracy would seem to be enticing her towards a systematically peripheral position within the European Union. The expectations raised by Sweden's first presidency of the EU must therefore be a very particular mixture of hope - what will Sweden be able to offer us from its model of democracy and social relations? - and of curiosity - how do the Swedes envisage the role they are to play within the Union?
These are the questions Olof Petersson attempts so skilfully to answer within the limitations of the current Swedish debate. He begins by examining the paradoxes at its heart: a campaigning fervour for the single market and its enlargement combined with reluctance to accept a unifying system of regulation, a reluctance which runs entirely counter to the national model; placing the emphasis on democratic transparency while opting for the most opaque method of European governance: preferring intergovernmentalism to the method of community, and with marked doubts about the latter although it is the method better suited to the interests of a "small country"; a tradition of debating democratic issues in-depth...unless those issues are European.These contradictions are, after all, as good as any other and each country in this Europe of ours cherishes contradictions of its own. Olof Petersson tries to locate their roots in the particular way Swedish democracy works with its character of a continuous movement back and forth between the general public and elected politicians. It has, nevertheless, failed to find a way of adapting to the questions posed by the integration of Sweden within the Union, and subsequently by EMU. The price has been traumatic and long-lasting. Without making any claims to summarise this fascinating analysis, there are three reflections I would like to draw forth:
- Swedish scepticism in relation to the consolidation of political union is eminently respectable: the country's concern to preserve her unrivalled history of participatory democracy and social cohesion deserves to be appreciated.
- The debate on membership of the EU, and of EMU, constitutes one of the rare failures of democracy "à la suédoise" in that it has exposed a gulf between the people and the political elites: this provides a subject for reflection on the deficit of affectio societatis currently on display throughout Europe.
- This failure has revealed the existence of a deeper crisis within the Swedish model which, faced with the challenge of globalisation, is seeking to find a renewed form of constitutional government. As is often the case, political Europe appears to be both the agency of revelation and the possible solution to a problem of which it is not the cause. It is up to us to grasp this chance.
What reading this report, which Notre Europe is proud to publish, seems to make clear is that the Swedish presidency of the Union provides an opportunity, both for Europe - which can draw the benefit of a level of satisfying democratic and social requirements unmatched anywhere else - and for Sweden, which may discover in the exercise of this responsibility, the prospect of putting behind it in a positive fashion the questions left dangling by "the permanent referendum".