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Thursday, 14 June, 2001, 16:17 GMT 17:17 UK
Swedes still sceptical about EU
Posters reading 'No to EU' in Swedish
Polls show a majority would vote against joining the EU
By BBC News Online's Lars Bevanger in Gothenburg

As the top leaders of the European Union meet here in Gothenburg, the Swedish public is greeting them with mixed feelings.

The latest opinion polls still show a majority would vote against Swedish EU membership now, were they given the chance.

The Swedes have for a long time had an ambivalent attitude to the EU. In a closely fought referendum in 1994 only 52.3% of the population voted for joining the union.

Since then hardly any poll has shown a majority in favour EU membership.

Deep divides

The debate was fierce ahead of Sweden's referendum in 1994. The turnout for the referendum was considerable, more than 83% of voters.

But by the time the Swedes went to the polls again for the 1995 European parliamentarian election, it seemed the interest in Europe had died down.

A mere 41% cast their vote.

Still, talking to people today enjoying a day out at Gothenburg's Liseberg amusement park, questions about Sweden in Europe reveals the old divides and heartfelt emotions remain.

Ulla-May Asterberg and her husband Gunnar were split in their opinion in 1994, and still are.

Gothenburger showing little interest in the EU summit
Many Swedes don't care much for the EU

"I voted no, and would definitely do it again," Ulla-May says.

"There is no way I would vote otherwise today. Norway is doing very well outside the EU, why can't we?"

Gunnar voted yes because he feels Sweden has more to gain and can be stronger as a member of the EU.

"We need the openness toward the other countries, and it is also important for peace."

Common safety

Because of the conflicts dividing Europe during the Cold War, membership before the fall of the Berlin Wall in late 1989 was not seen as reconcilable with Sweden's neutrality policy.

Now one of the main arguments put forward by the yes-side of Swedish EU politics is increased inter-European safety.

Lena Hammersberg, an engineer from Gothenburg, voted Sweden into the EU for the same reason. She doesn't want to see Europe divided again.

"Sure there are historical reasons why I voted yes. I think being a member helps keep the peace."

The euro looms

But Lena and many with her aren't so sure about Sweden joining the single European currency.

Sweden, along with Denmark and Britain, has so far opted out of adopting the euro as its national currency.

Opinion polls have long suggested a referendum on this issue would deliver a resounding no, and the Swedish Prime Minister, Goran Persson, has so far avoided a decision on whether to hold such a vote.

The latest poll on the euro published this week shows four out of ten Swedes would reject Sweden's entry into the monetary union.

Social democracy

But there are other reasons why many Swedes remain sceptical about the EU.

The Swedish social democracy has deep roots, and the Social Democratic party has dominated politics for much of the 20th century.

Many on the no-side of the Swedish EU debate now argue Sweden is moving too fast towards an American-style market-led economy, threatening the country's well-developed social services system.

Sweden might well receive the thumbs up from the rest of the EU at the end of its six month presidency.

But today the majority of the Swedish people still remains to be convinced of the benefits of their country's membership.

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08 Dec 00 | Europe
Bigger EU - smaller voice?
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