2005-02-14

Referendum or responsibility?

Why doesn’t Sweden hold a referendum on the new European constitution? I keep hearing this question. Why aren’t Swedes allowed to have their say in this matter? Yes, why? I wouldn’t be surprised if such a referendum ultimately takes place but it shouldn’t. Here’s why.

Sweden has adopted the concept of representative democracy. The idea is that, once in a while, we have general elections in order to select 349 trustworthy parliamentarians from various parties to serve in our Riksdag where they are supposed to take care of our nation’s affairs – big and small. They are professional decision-makers and they work full-time so they have the time and the ability to penetrate even complicated issues.

There is also an emergency exit. When the political parties are unable or unwilling to handle an issue, they can duck their responsibility and hand the decision back to their voters in a referendum. The professionals have failed so the rest of us should step in, take care of a real tough issue and let the pros concentrate on the simple stuff. Sounds ludicrous? It is. This kind of failure has occurred twice in the last decade.

The most serious problem with the referendum is that issues are removed from their context and handled separately. Who is ultimately responsible for the big picture?

So is there any point in asking for a referendum? There is. If you’re unhappy with the current majority situation in the Riksdag and if you don’t respect the result of the most recent election you can always hope to use a referendum to achieve whatever is on your mind. It’s perfectly legal but not very democratic. Join the debate and make a difference next time instead.
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