Last Sunday, six million Swedes turned out to vote in the general elections. The Scandinavians have been good for surprises in the past years: after the elections of 2010 that saw the centre-right returned to power – for the first consecutive time in a century and unheard of in this bastion of social welfare traditionally run by the left.
So while the Swedes’ so-called ‘flirtation’ with free market politics may be over, it’s certainly not business as usual. Although centre-left parties won the most votes, the Social Democrats together with the Greens may or may not form a coalition with the Left party. Should they choose to leave the Left party out of the equation, this would mark a significant departure in Swedish centre-left coalition-building. The biggest bombshell however was delivered by the Swedish Democrats (SD), a far-right outfit which ran on a platform focused solely on curbing immigration, and is now the third-strongest party in the Riksdag, the Swedish parliament.
The Moderate party suffered a devastating defeat, losing 23 seats in the 349-seat Riksdag, triggering Frederik Reinfeldt’s resignation as PM.
Although all parties have vowed not to cooperate with SD, only time will tell whether they will be able to maintain this commitment, given the general trend of a rise in populism and significant minority support for hard-right parties across Scandinavia. In Denmark, the Danish People’s Party has emerged as the strongest party in the last two elections, while in Finland the anti-EU Finns Party (formerly the True Finns) are the third largest in parliament and the biggest opposition party.
Both Swedish and Danish populists appear to be primarily focused on national politics and are not yet turning their thoughts to their countries’ future in the European Union; the unwillingness of Sweden to join the Euro is hardly an idiosyncrasy of SD. Somewhat tellingly, the routed Moderates were the only party to openly campaign around European topics, strongly recommitting to the EU and its values.
In one of his last acts as Prime Minister, Reinfeldt initiated a Host Nation Agreement with NATO, signed at the NATO summit in Wales on 4 September. The agreement had broad support across the Swedish political spectrum, as does increasing defence spending, especially given the country’s geographical proximity to Russia and Vladimir Putin’s brinkmanship. Broad support, that is, except from the Greens and the Left, the leader of the latter stating that “the government was sneaking Sweden into NATO against the will of the people”. Could the first fight between possible coalition partners already be in the offing?
Will this be a question of a third rejoicing when two quarrel? The Swedish Democrats will likely further consolidate their support base by proposing political platitudes that ignore the complexity of domestic and foreign policy. The stakes couldn’t be higher: if the populists were to emerge even stronger, Sweden (and Europe) would have a lot to lose: a well-functioning welfare state, an open society, and a safe haven for asylum seekers.