Sunday

22nd Jul 2018

Analysis

Swedish party puts EU referendums back in fashion

  • Has Akesson misjudged the Swedish mood? (Photo: News Oresund)

Swedish nationalists have gambled on an in/out EU referendum to win favour in Europe's next big election.

The vote on leaving the EU should take place in the next four years, the Sweden Democrats party said this week.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... our join as a group

  • Sweden imposed ID checks on Danish bridge after spike in migration (Photo: News Oresund)

"We pay a lot of money [to the EU] and get overwhelmingly little back, but the main reason [for leaving] is ideological: We won't be part of a supranational union … We see no point in joining a political union, as the EU has become," the party's leader, Jimmie Akesson, told Dagens Industri, a Swedish newspaper.

He showed a brass neck worthy of US leader Donald Trump in defending far-right values.

The party, which has neo-Nazi roots, was proud to be called "nationalist", Akesson said.

"Nationalism has been a fundamental part of Swedish society … but somewhere, a few decades ago, it was abandoned. Welfare policy focused only on the social part, but lost the whole link to the nation and national identity," he said.

Sweden Democrats are polling in third place ahead of the election in September.

Its referendum gambit comes after nationalist victories in Austria, Hungary, Italy, and Slovenia in what looks like a far-right resurgence in Europe.

The first wave of calls for in/out referendums came in France, Germany, and the Netherlands in the wake of Brexit.

Dutch, French, and German far-right parties then lost elections and the movement appeared to have lost traction.

But the return of the migration crisis to headline politics has made the AfD party a force to be reckoned with in Germany.

The recent entry into government of the Freedom Party in Austria and the 5 Star Movement and League parties in Italy has also created new momentum, even if they have put their prior talk of EU and euro referendums on hold.

The Danish People's Party, which once called for a Brexit-type vote, is the second biggest party in Sweden's neighbour, creating a Nordic axis.

Akesson's call also comes amid the throes of Britain's EU exit, with UK tabloids and Russian media getting behind his project, and amid Trump's ultra-populist antics on the global stage.

Swedish mood

It remains to be seen whether Sweden will inspire the cause to new heights of boldness, or whether he misjudged the public mood, however.

Some 53 percent of Swedish people were in favour of EU membership in a survey by Gothenburg University in April, while just 17 percent wanted to leave.

Populists have linked gang violence in some Swedish cities to asylum seekers, almost 350,000 of whom came to Sweden in the past three years.

But Swedish people also voiced confidence in the police and in the economy in the April survey, suggesting a level of comfort that would make them less likely to espouse radical ideas.

The referendum is unlikely to go forward if the elections go as polls predict.

The next Swedish government is set to be formed by a minority centre-right or centre-left bloc.

Either one would have to make a deal with Sweden Democrats to govern, but that would not give Akesson enough leverage to get his project through.

Weather vane

It would still mean that his agenda, formerly described as "Nazi … racist … [and] neo-fascist" by Swedish prime minister Stefan Loefven, would be legitimised, however.

A strong performance by the Sweden Democrats despite their radicalism might also send ripples of encouragement to populists further afield.

The Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orban, was the last to use a referendum to defy the EU in 2016, when 98 percent of those who turned out rejected migrant quotas.

The Swedish election will be a weather vane for far-right forces in wider Europe, amid expectations of higher asylum seeker arrivals in the summer.

Meanwhile, referendums are also becoming fashionable in Poland, where the president wants to hold one in November on whether Poland's EU membership should be "guaranteed" by its constitution.

It will be a flop if the ruling Law and Justice party do not get behind it, but it could also turn into the next vote of confidence in the EU after Swedes have had their say.

Interview

'Hungary is test case for state capture'

Friends of prime minister Viktor Orban have "grasped power and occupied all state institutions," says the country's first EU commissioner - but he hopes new 'conditionality' clauses in the next EU budget could help reduce misuse of public money.

Feature

Babis - 'pro-EU' leader of sceptic Czech Republic

For Andrej Babis, a businessman turned politician, EU membership is a matter of conviction as much as of economic opportunities, in a country still looking for a purpose.

News in Brief

  1. Libyan PM rejects EU migrant camps idea
  2. Italy's Salvini to sue critical anti-mafia writer
  3. EU countries send aircraft to Sweden to help with wildfires
  4. British ex-commissioner's jobs called into question
  5. May to tell EU to drop Irish border 'backstop' idea
  6. Trump threatens EU over Google fine
  7. Spain withdraws arrest warrant for Catalan separatists
  8. EU readies counter-measures on possible US car tariffs

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  2. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  4. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  6. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  8. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  9. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  11. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  12. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  2. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  4. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank
  5. FIFARecycling at the FIFA World Cup in Russia
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  7. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and Reconciliation Is a Process That Takes Decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  8. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up
  9. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  10. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersIncome Inequality Increasing in Nordic Countries
  12. European Jewish CongressEU Leaders to Cease Contact with Mahmoud Abbas Until He Apologizes for Antisemitic Comments

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us