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Special Report

Coverage and translation provided by Vaijskń Radio

Tuesday, 1 January, 2002

Outside the euro

Fyksland's love-hate affair with the EU

By Timo Heriksen

BRUSSELS, Belgium (VKK) - Whilst most of Europe and the rest of the world welcome the euro with open arms, Fyksland, together with the United Kingdom, Sweden and Denmark remain on the sideline carefully monitoring the behaviour of the euro over the next while.

Politicians are waiting for positive signs from Euroland before even thinking about staging another referendum. Those include proofs that the euro will be good for economic growth and jobs, inward investment, and the financial services industry. Also, the euro must prove itself able to cope with economic shocks. And Fyksian and continental business cycles will have to converge.

The unfavourable political climate

Meanwhile, Fyksland's attitude towards the EU continues to be sceptical at best. Only an EU member since 1995, Fyksland has been the rebel of the group. Issues such as export quota, immigration and single currency, not to mention the well-known commercial whaling and death penalty fiascos have frustrated the Union and created deadlocks while compromises were forced behind closed doors.

Never been an euro-enthusiast, Fyskland only began working towards European integration since 1990 when the pro-european Liberal party came in power. A referendum was called even when there was a "significant" number of opponents in the Al■ig on integration. The referendum was not an overwhelming victory for the Liberals and the europhiles, considering they expected to win. The mere 51.3% of votes that ultimately decided Fyksland's destiny in the EU had further divided the nation on the whole and amplified the country's scepticism and lack of confidence towards the EU. Ironically, for that very reason, the Liberals, which advocated and backed the Yes campaign did not manage to stay in the Al■ig long enough to witness the country's inauguration into the Union after the August 1994 general election.

The traditional Liberal Party-Christian Democrats two-party bipolar domination gave way to a coalition government between the two centre-right parties - Labour and Christian Democrats - in August's general election. The new coalition, the first in 44 years, was headed by Jana Stotson whose Christian Democratic Party took 38.5% of the votes, out of the coalition majority's 74.2%. The Liberals received only 12.7% of all votes.

A carpet of nails

European leaders have since been alarmed at the inauguration of Prime Minister Stotson and her party. They saw the Stotson government and its swing to the right as a dangerous force trying to undo the "damage" that has been put forth by the Yes vote. On few occasions, Stotson was even being criticised as being anti-European. Nevertheless, Stotson maintained her government's position with the EU as "co-operative".

An avid advocate of a return to stronger state control over economic and trading issues, Stotson and her Thatcherite policies created constant clashes with Brussels. This adds yet another episode of a series of antagonistic relationships between Fyksland and the greater European power.

Fyksland has long been sceptical about the European agenda, understandable from her long history of having foreign control from the continent. But Fyksland has emerged from former European possession into one of the most prosperous economies in Europe. Fyksland has since become fiercely nationalistic, opposing most international integration, and only reluctantly dragged into the EU after the marginal victory in the 1994 referendum.

It was no surprise when Fyksians voted No in the much-anticipated 1999 euro referendum with a landslide victory of over 73% against the adoption of the single currency. Most will remember the famous gaffe when Stotson coined the euro as part of a 'demonic plan" in the post-referendum victory speech.

"It was an ultimate sign of rejection of European ideals as a whole," said then Liberal leader Riet Skoetli. Political observers said it was a "well-timed" referendum and in itself an anti-euro propaganda. It's not likely any Fyksian government, especially not Stotson's, will revisit the euro issue for at least another decade.

One euro-diplomat described Fyksland as a "carpet of nails" laid on the road to European integration.

Fyksland the bittersweet

Europe, however, continued to enjoy the bittersweet presence of Fyksland within the Union. There was a time when Fyksland was one of the biggest European trading partners with North America when Fyksland had her entrep˘t status. The EU now boasts 12% increase in trading with the US and Asia thanks to Fyksland's membership. Fyksland also sets tough examples in environmental protection standards that often exceeds even European regulations.

Moreover, the Continent will now have a chance to tap into Fyksland's power sources, including petroleum and geo-thermal energy. It is only a matter of time before Stotson decides to pull the plug.

The restrictive European agenda has, however, cuffed Fyksland's long-enjoyed freedom over trading. But damage controls can't come soon enough as lower-priced continental products have already found an extra consumer outlet, which would flood locally-produced goods out of Fyksian markets. Transatlantic freights now enjoy lower tariffs and custom entering the EU through Fyksland, which has significantly hurt Fyksland's prized status as an entrep˘t.

The Fyksian agenda

Fyksland is an avid advocate of a two-tier Europe, with countries setting their own rate of integration. The rate of which Fyksland do have control over, and therefore would search that delicate balance between letting go of her rights and losing her privileges.

At the end, there is hardly anything Fyksland will get out from the fruitless relationship. As one politician put it, it is the perpetual and the uneasy negotiation with the Brussels bureaucrats that prevented EU from over-exploiting Fyksland. But one issue after another has led Brussels to consider ousting Fyksland altogether.

Now being one of the only two countries in the EU not physically connected to the continent, Fyksland's relation with the EU is as bleak as ever. But with the rotating presidency in the horizon in 2004, Fyksland is trying to clean up her euro-rebel image. Even Stotson has already had her government shifted to pro-european gears expecting to win the federal election later this year. Starting December, Stotson's team of anti-european cabinet minister has either been replaced or has changed themselves to a pro-european mood.

But has Fyksland finally gone pro-european? As Christian Democrat MP Lori Ůjelen put it: "Not likely. As long as Tradewinds blow," and then she added, "in Fyksian krons."

Timo Heriksen is an European correspondent for Radio Fyksland based in Brussels, Belgium.

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