The Swedish Elections: The End of the European Role Model?

By Charlotte Culine

Freshly arrived in Uppsala, my mind filled with the idealized Swedish role model, it is with great surprise that I learn that Sweden is now facing the rise of populism and Euroscepticism. Rumours has been the situation in Sweden was slowly decaying but I had not realized the extent this phenomenon had taken in this country often considered as the peace haven of Europe, until I arrived and witnessed the tensions surrounding the legislative elections. After France and the Front National, the UK and UKIP, Austria and the Freedom party of Austria, Italy and the Five Star Movement, it is now Sweden’s turn to deal with Jimmie Åkesson and the Sweden Democrats party. Indeed, the Swedish elections that occurred on the September 9 has for the first time seen the everlasting left-wing Social Democrats party’s monopoly on the government endangered by nationalism and anti-immigration ideologies.
The country has gradually seen the rise of populism ever since the beginning of the 2000’s, following the first arrivals of asylum seekers coming from Iraq. From then, the number of asylum seekers has constantly increased up until 2015 when it reached its peak with 162,877 asylum seekers[i] entering the kingdom, before the government changed the immigration procedure, making it tougher. Sweden, almost unharmed by the 2008 economic crisis, remained prosper and did not seem to be the most fertile environment for such a breakthrough from the nationalist factions.

To have a better understanding of the current political landscape and the point of view of a Swede on this situation, I had an interview with our teacher Lars Löfquist, doctor in Theology, director of studies in Uppsala for the Euroculture programme as well as two other programmes concerning Humanitarian Action. Starting from this, I was able to draw some observations that could explain how Sweden got to this point, what is the current situation and what is to expect in the coming weeks.

Malmö’s case, 2013 & the burning cars

According to Lars Löfquist, the Swedes voted for Sweden Democrats for safety reasons. Sweden is famous for being a safe place, a ‘haven’ as stated above. One of the main arguments of SD is that violence would have supposedly started increasing ever since the number of asylum seekers started growing. The situation was already tensed in 2013 when riots broke out in suburbs of the capital city and were the first indicators of inequalities and lack of integration in Sweden. In between, the migrant crisis of 2015 happened, and criminality has been a major subject in Swedish medias.
The case of Malmö testifies well of the current situation. Called the “capital city of rape” by Nigel Farrage, an English populist politician who led the British vote towards Brexit, it seems though that one of the main reasons why sexual offences have increased in the statistics is a progressively stricter legislation from the Swedish authorities[ii]. The actual number of sexual offences are not increasing that much, but more aggressions are considered and punished as such, which would mathematically higher up the numbers[iii]. More recently, in August 2018, many cars were burnt in some suburbs of Gothenburg as well as close to Stockholm[iv]. No specific demands were made but it automatically echoed to what happened in 2013, and the question of safety was again in everybody’s minds just a month before the elections.
Swedish people are afraid to lose their stability. Whether it is related to safety or welfare, the massive immigration wave has shaken the peaceful life of the Nordic kingdom provoking the rebirth of Sweden Democrats.

Identity & Culture

Some intellectuals and journalists might be tempted to rush these results into the debate of European identity. As believed by Lars Löfquist, Swedish identity is not threatened, and except for some minority groups Swedish people do not feel their identity being threatened. There is, though, a conflict between two cultures. On one hand, the culture of Sweden, and on the other, the culture of most of the immigrants. The Swedish population has been atheist for a while now. People are not believers and you would never see a line up in front a church on a Sunday morning. It is thus very difficult for them to accept the idea of an omnipresent religion, that would require calls for prayers and different ways of dressing. The culture of immigrants, which often includes Islam, becomes then much more visible and noticeable, especially when Sweden is the country that welcomed the biggest number of immigrants per capita[v].
This point is significant because it is one of the main reasons why people voted for Sweden Democrats. “Sweden has done its part” is the sentence, pronounced by Lars Löfquist, that translates best the general despondency felt in the country. With approximately 70,000 residence permits granted in 2016, Sweden has proven itself much more united with the migrant cause than most of the other European countries, especially France and Germany, the so-called ‘power couple’ of the EU. The same way than Italy did in March, Sweden is now calling up on the European community to do their part.

Sweden Elections Results graph
Valmyndigheten (Swedish Election Authority) results graphic.

 

The Swedish Exception

Sweden has once again proven itself to be reasonable in troubled waters. As Lars Löfquist puts it, “the left is not dead”. Compared to other European countries where all other parties have fallen in front of populism, like Italy or Austria, or even France, where all the traditional parties have shattered during the last presidential elections, Sweden’s left- and right-wing parties have remained strong and have only conceded the third place to Sweden Democrats. The Centre Party (Centerpartiet) has also reached a historical score, providing them with eight more seats than they had before.
In the end, 82% of the voters have chosen to give their voice to parties that are not for the reinforcement of anti-immigration policies. The results of these elections are not linked to a depoliticization or lack of interest of the population either. With 87.18% of turn out, Sweden does better than most of the European country, and 1.38 point more than for their last parliamentary elections[vi].
Nevertheless, none of the parties managed to secure the majority and they will now have to find a solution altogether to build the new government. Even though all parties have already rejected the idea of working with SD, the Social democrats have already changed their politics on immigration before the elections to face Jimmie Åkesson’s threat of overthrow, reducing the number of refugees that Sweden will take from now on. It seems that even if Sweden Democrats have not reached the expected number of voters (less than 18% against 20 to 25% expected in the polls), they still earned their voice to maintain pressure on the political decisions in the coming era of Swedish policy making.


[i] Sweden and migration, Official website of Sweden, https://sweden.se/migration/#2015
[ii] Reality Check: Is Malmo the ‘rape capital’ of Europe?, BBC news’ website, February 2017, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-39056786
[iii] Crime and statistics report, Brå, https://www.bra.se/bra-in-english/home/crime-and-statistics.html
[iv] Sweden cars: 80 set on fire by gangs in several cities, BBC news’ website, August 2018, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-45181321
[v] Sweden and migration, Official website of Sweden, https://sweden.se/migration/#2015
[vi] Valmyndigheten (Election Authority) https://data.val.se/val/val2018/slutresultat/R/rike/index.html


Featured picture: Stefan Löfven, current Prime Minister of Sweden (Socialdemokraterna, 2015).

Advertisements

All hail President Trump: How Brexit will lead to Trump’s Victory in November

If Brexit taught us anything, it’s to never assume the worst will not happen.

throne
Donal Trump on his second favourite chair

Emily Burt

I believe Donald Trump will be president next year.

A rolling poll from key swing state Ohio has placed him ahead of his democratic rival Hillary Clinton for almost a week now; and broader polls show the candidates are neck and neck with less than 50 days to go until the November presidential election.

Of course polls can be wrong. And it’s easy to see why people assume Trump is too outlandish, too ridiculous, and unreal to be elected. One of his platform policies is to build a wall around America, paid for by the people he wants to shut out. His son recently compared the global refugee crisis with a bowl of skittles. He eats KFC with a knife and fork – surely there’s at least one state where that’s illegal. With every week that passes, he drops another clanging gaffe that reverberates, painfully, across international media: and the world says this could never happen. Continue reading “All hail President Trump: How Brexit will lead to Trump’s Victory in November”

The European Union’s ‘Game of Thrones’: Who Will Be The Next President of The European Parliament?

eup.jpg
EU Parliament in session

Bastian Bayer

Who will be the next president of the United States of America seems to be the big question of 2016, but in the European Parliament another game of thrones has begun.

At the last European Parliament elections in 2014, the conservative EPP and the social democratic S&D made a deal and signed a written agreement that meant that Martin Schulz, the S&D candidate, would become president for the first half of the legislative period and  that the EPP would pick the president for the second half.

Now with the first half coming to an end in January 2017,  the current president Martin Schulz does not seem to be willing to leave office, despite the EPP insisting on the instillation a new president from among their own ranks.

The face of EU policy

schu.jpg
Martin Schulz, President of the EU Parliament

Schulz has been, with interruptions,  president of the EP since 2012 and a Member of the EP (MEP) since 1994. He is often portrayed as a down to earth politician, ingrained and diligent. He is said to have strengthened the position of the European Parliament and even critics say he has made the EP more visible to the European public and the world.

He is considered to be the most influential president in the history of the European Parliament.

However his path to power and appreciation was rocky. The son of a police officer, he wanted to become a football player in his youth but a knee-injury made a professional career impossible. As a result this crushed dream Schulz became an alcoholic in the mid-70s which saw him lose his job and almost get thrown out of his own apartment.

However, despite this inauspicious start, Schulz eventually overcame his addiction with the help of his brother.

What followed is a remarkable career.  After a career  as a bookstore manager Schulz became mayor of his home town, Würselen, following his first engagement in the German Social Democratic Party. In 1994 he was elected member of the European Parliament and became its president in 2012. He reached a high point of his career when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize together with van Rompuy and Barroso on behalf of the European Union.

In 2014 Schulz wanted to become president of the EU Commission, but in the European elections the Conservatives became the largest party and their candidate, Jean-Claude Juncker became president of the Commission, a post he still holds to this day. Nevertheless, this setback did not stop Schulz from being re-elected as President of the EP.

Power play in the middle of the greatest crises in the existence of the EU

three amigos.jpg
Tusk, Schulz and Juncker

Schulz’s future, however, is unclear, as the first half of this legislative term comes to an end. According to the agreement, Schulz will be replaced by EPP member. However, for some, the agreement does not fit the new circumstances Europe finds itself in.

The S&D argues that with Juncker as President of the Commission and Tusk as President of the Council, already two of the key positions are held by EPP members; and to keep the balance between the largest EU parties, the presidency of the EP should stay with the S&D.

Even a prominent EPP politician and former competitor supports the idea of Schulz retaining the presidency after January 2017, with the simple reason:

“We need stability.”

Just recently Juncker spoke about the many challenges the EU faces in his ‘State of the Union’ address. Brexit, the refugee challenge, economic stagnation and youth-unemployment among many other things.

“Our European Union is, at least in part, in an existential crisis.” said Juncker.

To keep stability in these difficult times, Juncker would like to keep the leadership of the institutions as they are, namely, Schulz as president. It is no secret that Martin and Jean-Claude work closely together, Der Spiegel has even accused them of mutually securing each other’s posts.  Juncker said:”The relationship between the Commission and the Parliament has probably never been as good as it is now”, so “Why change a reliable team?”

However the EPP has made it crystal clear that they will not have Schulz for the next half of the legislative period. Schulz has been heavily criticised for not sticking to the agreement and the same critics have claimed that he has made the representation of the European people a one-man-. These critics claim that “if Schulz gave the parliament a face, it is primarily his face”.

On the other hand, if Schulz id removed; whom is the EPP going to nominate? For an internal primary on 12 December candidates need to be found. However, they lack strong candidates:

Members_of_the_Presidency_(9290654981).jpg
Antonio Tajani

So far the Italian Antonio Tajani, the French Alain Lamassoure and the Irish Mairead McGuinness have been mentioned as possible successors to Schulz. However Tajani is weakened by being close to former Italian PM Berlusconi, who has been disgraced by many scandals.  Also as former commissioner for industry and entrepreneurship, he supposedly involved in the emission scandal and has already been summoned before the investigation committee. All of this means that he is seen as unenforceable in the parliament.

220px-alain_lamassoure_-_sarkozys_meeting_in_toulouse_for_the_2007_french_presidential_election_0040_2007-04-12
Alain Lamassoure

The other candidates have similar shortcomings. Lamassoure has the reputation of being uncontrollable and prideful, some say thinking of himself as the French president. McGuinness, as a woman, current EP vice-president and a representative of a small EU Member State, seems to have the best chances of getting  a majority in the parliament. Nevertheless she is perceived as a rather plain Jane candidate and has not excited much attention.

mairead-mcguinness-768x1024
Mairead McGuinness

Currently, Schulz is fighting to forge a coalition with Liberals, Greens and EPP renegades. Yet it seems to be unlikely that he will cobble together enough votes without the backing of the EPP.

So what is next for him? Luckily another throne, perhaps a greater one, is up for grabs. In Berlin, some people would like to see Schulz as chancellor- the candidate for the SPD in place of the unpopular Sigmar Gabriel, to challenge Angela Merkel in the elections for the German parliament 2017 Regardless, it looks like Schulz has only begun to play.

For more by Bastian, click here.

The Euroculturer Recommends:

“All hail President Trump: How Brexit will lead to Trump’s Victory in November” Emily Burt shows us how the Brexit referendum has Trumped Clinton’s bid for the Presidency.

“Who Polices the Internet? Content Removal v. Freedom of Speech” Julia Mason guides us through the trenches of the internet’s most contested battleground and asks is ‘Hate speech’ the same as ‘Freedom of Speech’.

“Immigrants, Visas and Silver Bullets: How will UK migration work post-Brexit” Eoghan Hughes examines the promises, pledges and pitfalls surrounding the UK’s immigration policy in a post-Brexit reality.