Friday

22nd Mar 2019

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.

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  • 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 put 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 Akesson 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 far-right 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 centre-right or centre-left bloc.

Either one would have to make a deal with Sweden Democrats to govern effectively, but that would not give Akesson's party 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.

Swedes warned of EU collapse ahead of vote

The EU would "collapse" if parties like the far-right Sweden Democrats took power across Europe, Sweden's former leader, Carl Bildt, said in a TV duel six days ahead of elections.

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