Unless you’ve been living under a meatball shaped rock, you’ve noticed that Britain held an In-Out EU referendum merely a few weeks ago. The results are in, and 51.8% of the U.K. population voted to leave the union which links the European nations together. While Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty has yet to be initiated by the new prime minister, Theresa May, it is quite clear that sooner or later Sweden will lose its most trusted member in the European Union. With that in mind, a quite interesting question arises: should Sweden have an In-Out referendum on their own in order to leave the EU?
Politically, Britain and Sweden have striking similarities. United Kingdom Independence Party’s (UKIP) equivalent in Sweden is the Sweden Democrats (SD); although SD identifies with a social conservative ideology, rather than the libertarian ideology of UKIP, they share two things which heavily influences the chance of an EU exit in their respective country: they want to leave EU, and they are draining voters from the other right-wing parties.
In Britain, the conservative party promised to hold and In-Out EU referendum if they won. This was with the hopes that they could win over voters from UKIP which had steadily been gaining momentum. Lo and behold, the conservative party won and as they had promised, they scheduled an In-Out EU referendum for the U.K. The conservative party largely remained neutral on the issue however, and mayhap even hoped that the remain campaign would win, as having a Brexit would hurt businesses and financial institutions — the backbone of the conservative ideology.
With more and more nations entertaining the thought about an exit from the EU, having the major Swedish right-wing party, The Moderates, pulling a similar move to the U.K. conservative party may, in fact, be very likely. After the large influx of immigrants in Sweden, SD has been gaining enormous momentum as their platform is heavily based around limiting immigration. While SD started out as a small nationalist party that have historically been plagued by xenophobia, they have become a large movement and is currently the third largest party in Sweden after the moderate party.
Of course, this is all speculation; I am not a member of the moderate party, nor do I have any inside information to confirm this belief. Nevertheless, the Swedish people may sooner or later come to demand an In-Out referendum; in a recent SIFO poll, 36% of the participants said that in the event of a British exit, Sweden should leave too, while only 32% wanted to remain and another 32% being neutral or uncertain. It’s important to keep in mind that there’s a high margin of error because of the relatively small sample size of 1,100 people — a margin of error which could swing either side.
The Economics of Swexit
“We send the EU £350 million a week, let’s fund our NHS instead.” These were the words written on the oh so iconic red bus that Boris Johnson was driven around in before the vote in Britain. Once accounting for rebates, that number is closer to £190 million, but that’s besides the point — a lot of money is being sent EU’s way. This is one of the main arguments posed by the pro-swexiteers; accounting for rebates, Sweden sends the EU approximately SEK 365 million (£32 million) weekly which, albeit not £190 million, could fund a lot of other institutions.
This is, however, a very twisted and unrepresentative way to look at how much Sweden sends to the EU. In 2010, Sweden exported goods worth SEK 78.4 billion and imports totaled SEK 70.9 billion with the vast majority of the trade being within the European Economic Area (EEA). Losing access to that market would prove devastating to the overall Swedish economy, making the weekly payment of SEK 365 million look like chump change. Of course, after leaving the EU, Sweden could become members of the EEA like her sister Norway, who isn’t part of the EU either.
That would, however, not solve the fundamental issues that pro-swexiteers have with the EU. Sweden would still have to pay EU membership fees, they would still have to accept immigration within the EU borders, and would still have the same binding EU laws. However, Sweden would lose what small representation they currently have in making those EU laws. Being an EU outsider does have a few inherent benefits however. Norway has been able to negotiate opt-outs from the bloc’s common policies which pertain to fishing and agriculture — the cornerstones of the Norwegian market. Mayhap Sweden will be able to do the same to its export of Abba, Zlatan, and mustard herring.
The Sweden-EU Horizon
Well then, should Sweden leave the EU? In short: No.
The concerns posed by the pro-swexiteers in regards to the EU would not change if Sweden is to become EEA members, which is the only sustainable alternative to being EU members. Mayhap Sweden could sustain a “Full Swexit,” an exit from both the EU and the EEA, in the future after decades of negotiating trade deals and other agreements. But even then, a Swexit is highly probable to come at an immense cost and would require a complete overhaul of the Swedish economic system.
In the current state, shifting the debate in Sweden to being about whether to become EEA members versus being EU members would be healthier for both the nation and its people; as we’ve seen in the U.K., the leave campaign was running on faulty claims, false premises, and promises which they knew themselves they could not keep. It divided the nations, it misled voters, and it allowed U.K. citizen’s true color to shine — all because the debate was misconducted.
Having the EEA versus EU debate may in fact be healthy, as I strongly believe in challenging the status quo. It’s not an explosive debate, it will not gain world-wide recognition, nor will it do much to change the political or economic structure of the nation. It is my personal belief that it would be wise to remain in the EU from an economic, political, and diplomatic standpoint. Nevertheless, I may be wrong; so let’s have the debate, but let’s debate the right thing.