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Euro rejection jars Europe's push for unity

In wake of Swedish vote, union looking like 3 castes

STOCKHOLM, Sweden — One day after Swedish voters ruled out for years to come the likelihood of adopting the euro single currency, Europe's great project to bond its disparate players into a single force to rival the United States seemed doubtful.

The Swedish referendum rejecting euro membership by a staggering 14 percentage points not only bolstered euroskeptics in the other holdout states — Britain and Denmark — but also reinforced the possibility that, far from being one, Europe could soon be perceived as falling into three castes.

The first, led by France and Germany — architects of the single currency, which is intended to shield against the wars that stud the Continent's history — would embrace primarily the 12 nations using the single currency. This faction is distinguished as much by its inability to inspire economic growth as by its refusal to support the United States in Iraq.

The second, in terms of economic and political power, would be a loose alliance of eurozone hold-outs, while the third would be drawn from the 10 countries, largely from the former Soviet empire, expected to gain their long-coveted European Union membership next year. Those nations are committed to joining the euro but must first make wrenching economic adjustments.

Within the 15-nation body, national agendas are nothing new. Britain, for example, seeks prominence in efforts to build European military cooperation, but remains aloof from both the euro and agreements that have opened borders across much of Continental Europe.

But the Swedish vote, some analysts suggested, may have taken that process a step further by enshrining the idea that individual exceptions outweigh commitments to the pan-European ideal.

"If Great Britain wants to be Atlantic, and Poland prefers Washington to Brussels and if Spain believes just as strongly in hispanidad as it does Europa," Sergio Romano wrote in his column in Milan's Corriere della Sera, "it is difficult to imagine that a market and a coin are enough to create a European patriotism."

Some say the Swedish vote reflected the emotions of a country whose people feel remote from ruling elites and who sense that the European project negates their democratic aspirations.

"This was an anti-establishment cry," said Goran Rosenberg, a leading Swedish columnist. "This was a sign or a warning, and not just for Sweden."