Theodoros Benakis

Why Sweden’s election is crucial for EU

Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0/ Author: Frankie Fouganthin
Sweden Democrats supporters in Stockholm during the 2014 European elections.

Sweden’s upcoming elections on September 9 could have serious repercussions not only for Swedish politics but also for the European Union.

Sweden will face one of the most important moments of its recent history. For the first time in the country famous for its generous welfare system, a far-right party may become the second biggest party in the parliament.

If this is the case, far-right parties in Europe and anti-integration forces will be symbolically reinforced in their anti-EU campaigns.

Sweden has a growing economy and one of the highest living standards in the world. For instance, the Socialdemocrats are the leading political force in the country for the last 100 years securing welfare and strong democratic structures.

Who are the Sweden Democrats?

For more than 20 years, Sweden Democrats have been trying to revise their image, hide their real political identity and present themselves as a party aimed to protect Swedish values and national interests.

But its history is not helping them with their political facelift. The party emerged in 1988 from the dark world of white supremacists and neo-Nazi groups. Although they distance themselves from such movements, the reality is different. In 1988, at least two founding members were directly related with neo-Nazism. The first auditor of the party was a Waffen-SS veteran and a former member of the national-socialist party and the first chairman was a member of the Nordic Reich Party. Sweden Democrats encourage their members to have contacts with the neo-Nazi party in Germany and the American white supremacists. Members wearing Nazi uniforms during party meetings was not a rare occurrence.

However, in 1995, a significant change occurred. The alleged anti-establishment party attracted the interest of politicians of the establishment. In fact, the new president Mikael Jansson, a former member of the centre-right Centre Party, pushed Sweden Democrats to the ‘moderate’ far-right headed at the time by the French National Front. In the 1990s, the French proposal of a ‘moderate’ far-right became a fashionable trend and enjoyed some electoral success.

Over the next couple of years, the party worked more on lifting its image by abandoning the European far-right family and expelling radical members. Their new leader, the 39-year-old Jimmy Åkesson, the party leader since 2005, tried hard to convince public opinion of that. In 2006, the neo-Fascist torch symbol was replaced by a ‘happy’ design of an Anemone hepatica flower.

In 2010, the marginalised party succeeded to enter Riksdag, the parliament, with 5.7% and 20 seats. Two years later in new elections they won 12.9% of the vote and secured 49 seats.

But have the Sweden Democrats really changed?

Under the new leader Sweden Democrats directed their action against minority groups of the Swedish society as Sami people and Jews. Recently, a leading lawmaker Mattias Karlsson said that Jews and Sami people are not Swedes. The party wants, among other things, measures against the indigenous people to abolish the Sami parliament.

By using ‘fake news’, they criminalised Muslims and migrants. They created the myth of the ‘outlaw’ Rosengård, a suburb of Malmö, despite police declarations that the suburb is not less quiet that others. And this is because 80% of its population is of immigrant origin. They repeat again and again that Sweden was safer before the 2015 refugee wave and that crime grew after the 165,000 refugees the country received. Once more police data contradict them.

What is more, since 2010 a large number of their elected municipal representatives resigned due to racist comments and actions.

Their policy aims to topple the entire ‘Swedish model’. They want a strong limitation for abortions, they oppose adoption rights for single people or same-sex couples, they say are targets of a “Homosex Lobby”. Sweden Democrats are in favour of nuclear power plants as an energy source and they want to increase defence spending.

Sweden Democrats do not hide their aversion of the EU, and they reject both its values and structures. For them, Sweden should renegotiate its participation opting for the free movement for capitals and goods but limiting the movement of people.

Avoiding stigmatisation, searching for a safe harbour

During the European Parliament elections in 2014, the Sweden Democrats elected two MEPs. Although they waged their ballot battle with ideological arsenal and political views, Sweden Democrats didn’t risk to be more stigmatised with entering their natural political family the Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF). Marine Le Pen, Matteo Salvini or Heinz-Christian Strache seemed too toxic for the image Sweden Democrats try to build since 2010.

Initially, they preferred to hide in the nebulous Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD) whose leaders Nigel Farage and Beppe Grillo did not care about political details of their associates. The anti-EU views of the SD were more than enough for them.

But things changed dramatically for EFDD which was affected by an endless haemorrhage. Sweden Democrats change political refuge, and, on July 3, they moved to European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR).

ECR, whose future as a parliamentary Group is uncertain, hosts a variety of far-right parties whose are known for their anti-immigration, anti-EU and racist remarks, as the Danish People’s Party (DF), the Bulgarian IMRO-BNM and the Finns party (Perus S).

Now the big question is what Sweden Democrats will do after the 2019 elections. As the leader of the Finns Jussi Halla-aho said in an interview, the parties of this kind feel less fear of stigmatisation and he did not exclude a possible realignment of nationalist and anti-immigration forces in the next European Parliament.

Nevertheless, Le Pen is no longer attractive among far-right parties. The new Star is Salvini, whose portfolio of interior minister of one of the biggest EU member states gives him a lot of prestige.

What the growth of Sweden Democrats means for Sweden

Today, Sweden has a coalition government constituted by the Social democrats and the Greens.

According to the latest polls, Sweden Democrats come second after the Social democrats, leaving in third place the conservative Moderate party (affiliated with EPP).

Until now, a cordon sanitaire formed by the other parties exists against Sweden Democrats. There is also a ban by some media to Sweden Democrat advertising.

Although the far-right party declares it will support any coalition government without participation in it, the rest of political parties reject any contact and any collaboration.

A possible success of the Sweden Democrats in the September 9 elections – the second position – will not bring catastrophe. As it is expected, a new collation government will be formed sooner or later in Sweden keeping for the moment the far-right out of power. But it should concern Swedish political parties for the future.

2019 EU elections

A possible Sweden Democrats electoral success will have more impact in the EU than in Sweden. Already, far-right parties participate in EU governments in Italy, Austria, Slovakia, Bulgaria while some other governments are marked by far-right politics. It is expected that anti-immigration and nationalist parties will increase their influence in the next European Parliament.

One thing is for certain, we are at the beginning of a long pre-electoral campaign that will last until May 2019. Elections in Sweden is the first ‘crash test’ and the results will influence the political environment in EU countries. All kinds of ‘fake news’, sponsored by Russia or Steve Bannon, will surely enjoy moments of glory.

If Sweden Democrats secure second place, this victory will be used to reinforce the political campaigns of far-right parties across Europe.

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