‘Swexit’: Could a vaping levy make countries leave the EU?

by Jonas Grafström

The following article was originally published at Young Voices Europe.

The proposal for an EU-wide vaping levy, reported this week, has not hit the fan in Sweden (so far) since it was hidden this week behind another tobacco-related news story regarding snus, in which a leaked document suggested the EU wants to force Sweden to hike the tax on snus. 

Snus is a tobacco product placed between the upper lip and gum for extended periods. Although used similarly to American dipping tobacco, snus does not typically result in the need for spitting. The sale of snus is illegal in all the European Union countries except for Sweden.

The news was almost a declaration of war for some who love snus, and ‘Swexit’ was soon trending. The government had to promise that no EU tobacco law should pass. One day all these small cuts around vaping and snus may lead to countries wanting to leave the EU.

An important point of departure is that I like the EU. The EU has been and still is an important body for Sweden, Europe and the world. Membership of the EU has created prosperity and had a positive impact on basic freedoms for us Swedes. That being said, even the most beautiful rose can wither.

The site “Europaportalen” wrote in February 2021 that “Germany’s incoming government wants to open the EU’s treaties, strengthen the EU Parliament and create a federal European federal state”. That the EU could become a federal confederation in the near future is perhaps not likely, but there are undeniably competent forces around Europe working on the issue. A transition to a federal state will not happen with a single earth-shattering decision amid thunderous applause, but this change could become reality little by little. It’s like the Hemingway quote “How did you go bankrupt? Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly”.

Bad proposals can be implemented because we ourselves make mistakes like former Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, who invited EU leaders to a summit in Gothenburg about the social pillar. The pillar might have been added without an invitation, but it now poses significant challenges for the Swedish labour market model. It can be argued that the social pillar is a political document that is not legally binding. That may be the case today, but that does not guarantee anything about tomorrow.

One example is attempts to win the right to tax things at the EU level such as financial transactions or emissions. The trials could be said to be sluggish but suppose these go through and become reality. What comes next? Taxes on wealth, wages, VAT or business? Why should something as important as healthcare be governed at state level instead of by Brussels? Ultimately, everyone has different perspectives on how much policy it is appropriate to cede to other authorities which are not the national government.

The most embarrassing thing that can be said by a Swede with good English at an international conference is “in Sweden we have a system”. The Swedish system is of course excellent, even if everyone at the conference rolls their eyes. We want to pass the system on to others so that they will also be excellently managed. The problem is that other countries like their systems at least as much. The bottom line is that when we open up to influence the lives and livelihoods of other countries, we should not be surprised if we ourselves have to live according to the whims of others.

Brexit showed that it is easy to stoke excessive fear about the bad things the EU is doing, while the good parts – things that simply work well in the background without us knowing about it – are harder to see. Research from 2019 showed that citizens’ support for EU membership is high, but so is distrust of the Union’s future. The survey, conducted by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) and YouGov, had more than 60,000 respondents in 14 EU member states. In all countries except Spain, the majority believe that the EU will collapse within the next 10 to 20 years.

The EU can do much good. Being a nanny is not one of those good things. Leave vaping and snus out of the bureaucrats’ hands and focus on the core competences. It is neither certain nor desirable that we leave the EU, yet it can happen, and we should not be surprised if it happens.

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