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Sun Sep 14 2003 20:04:48 ET

The European Commission tonight regretted Sweden's failure to join the euro - insisting the "No" vote was the nation's loss, rather than Europe's.

A robust statement issued in Brussels said Sweden was missing out on the chance to be a part of the world's "second-most important" currency.

But the result is a blow to hopes in Brussels that a positive Swedish vote would galvanise the UK and Denmark - the only other non-euro EU nations - into signing up too.

The Swedish result means a UK referendum on the single currency in the near future is even less likely than before.

Fears about national sovereignty and economic instability put paid to a Swedish "Yes".

A clear majority of Swedish voters decided not to ditch their national currency largely because of uncertainty about the youthful euro's long-term prospects.

The fact that the French government is currently embroiled in a very public row with Brussels over the economic rules for running the single currency played into the hands of "No" campaigners.

But the commission insisted tonight that the euro was delivering economic stability to those countries using it.

The statement said: "We firmly believe that the euro, our currency, has brought and will continue to bring advantages to the euro area economy.

"The euro has provided much-needed stability in the individual member states' economies and has created an appropriate springboard to make Europe the most competitive and socially-cohesive area in the world.

"It has also contributed to international financial stability.

"The euro is the world's second most important currency but it is still a young currency. Its full impact has still to work its way through to the euro area economy and that is what we are in the process of achieving together.

"Sweden could have influenced this effort by deciding to join the euro. We are confident that the Swedish government will choose the way forward to keep the euro project alive in Sweden."

The leader of the UK's Liberal Democrats in the European Parliament, Graham Watson, also insisted that euro membership was "almost inevitable for Sweden, as well as for the UK and Denmark.

"Sweden has voted no because the Swedish government failed to inspire people about the wider benefits of European unity.

"There is a lesson here for Tony Blair: continued self-exclusion from the euro will bring a crushing loss of investment and political influence and increased vulnerability to money market turmoil.

"Eventual membership is almost inevitable - sadly the Swedish people will discover that the hardest way to cross a ravine is in two leaps".

The German leader of the centre-right European People's Party in the European Parliament, Hans-Gert Poettering, also regretted the Swedish result.

He said it was now up to those countries already in the single currency zone to continue with the policy of maintaining currency stability, confirming the euro as a world currency: "Only in this way will people be convinced of the value of this new currency" he added.

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