Swedish left ready for Yes on Europe

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SWEDEN'S Social Democratic leader, Ingvar Carlsson, set about forming a government yesterday after an election which could unleash a chain reaction of support for EU membership in the Nordic countries as they vote in referendums on entry this autumn.

The Social Democrats, returned to power in Sunday's general election after three years of conservative rule, are widely believed to be the only party who can persuade the doubting Swedes to vote for EU membership on 13 November. The doubters are particularly numerous among the Social Democrats themselves - by far Sweden's biggest party which polled more than 45 per cent of Sunday's vote - and would have been further alienated by the outgoing government of Carl Bildt asking them to vote Yes to Europe.

The EU debate now begins in earnest. Mr Carlsson yesterday listed as one of his top priorities as prime minister 'to ensure strong support for Swedish membership of the European union'.

The Swedish referendum is one of three, beginning in Finland on 16 October and ending in Norway on 27 November. All three governments have timed the sequence to create a domino effect: Finland had been expected to be the most positive, preferring to be dominated by Brussels than by an expansionist Russia. A Yes-vote there may boost the Swedes, and a Swedish Yes is the last hope in persuading the recalcitrant Norwegians.

But the Social Democratic election victory here may be the first domino falling into place: the Finns are far more influenced by Mother Sweden, a past colonial master, than vice-versa. Rising EU support in Swedish opinion polls could encourage the Finns to vote Yes. A poll here on election night showed an upturn in support to more than 51 per cent against 45 per cent opposing entry. The Finns have in recent weeks retreated from a clear majority in favour to the Yes and No camps running neck and neck.

'The result in the general elections will be far more important to the outcome of the EU vote than will the Finnish referendum,' said Erik Asard, a political scientist at Uppsala University. Mikael Gilljam of Gothenburg University added: 'With a Social Democratic victory we should see a pretty conclusive Yes. The nearer to the referendum, the more people tend to toe the party line.' The outgoing conservatives would quarrel with that analysis. Although there is consensus for entry among the leaders of the major parties, the Conservatives estimate that only 20 per cent of Social Democratic voters are pro-EU. In addition, the small former Communist party, on which Mr Carlsson may have to look for parliamentary support, has a stated anti-EU policy. 'You could equally say there has been a huge shift to the left and therefore an increase in anti-EU sentiment,' said a close aide to Mr Bildt. 'Anyway, I can't imagine a sullen farmer in Lapland voting Yes just because Carlsson tells him to.'

Equally, should Mr Carlsson go into a coalition with the right-of-centre Liberals, he risks alienating the anti-EU left-wing of his own party by 'making entry look like a bourgeois project'.

But some captains of industry - who fear Mr Carlsson will fail to cut spending on the oversized welfare state and raise taxes instead - were yesterday asking him to form just such a coalition. Kjell Nilsson, head of the Trelloborg Conglomerate, said: 'The Liberals should be a guarantor for the Social Democrats to keep slightly to the right so that the worst insanities are averted.'

(Photograph omitted)

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