Saturday

23rd Mar 2019

Feature

'Swexit' off menu at election for first time in 24 years

  • The far-right Sweden Democrats have joined the far-left Swedish Left Party in dropping their call to leave the EU (Photo: Wikimedia)

For the first time since joining the European Union in 1995, all Swedish political parties have now declared being in favour of staying in the EU.

At a recent party meeting in Norrkoping, ahead of the May European Parliament elections, the Swedish Left Party decided, by 41 to 30, to officially put its campaign for Sweden to exit the EU on hold.

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Speaking to the EUobserver, Aron Etzler the Left Party secretary, clarified what this decision means.

"The Left Party still believe that there are fundamental problems with the EU, but has decided that now is not the right time to be campaigning for leaving the EU and we will not push the demand for an exit over the coming five years."

The decision is based on the more pressing issue of climate change.

"The next ten years are crucial to save the climate and improving the climate is, therefore, the most important issue for the Left Part in the coming election", said Etzler.

In its official party program, however, the party still commits to campaigning for an exit from the EU.

The Sweden Democrats, a nationalist party, has also declared that they will not be campaigning for 'Swexit' at this election.

In a written comment to the EUobserver, Deniz Norgren, a spokesman for the Sweden Democrats, said that "the EU we see today is not the European Union we once voted in a referendum to join, we want to see a Union with less federalisation and where more power is transferred back to the Swedish people.

"Today, we see a political landscape in the EU which creates a real possibility for us to lead the EU together with like-minded parties in a direction which would achieve the change we seek."

According to Norgren, the Sweden Democrats see a potential possibility to achieve a treaty change.

However, he added that "if our attempts to reform the EU would fail for different reasons, we are still open to holding a referendum on leaving the EU in the future".

Hence, for the Sweden Democrats, the decisions by Italy's League leader and deputy prime minister, Matteo Salvini, and France's far-right leader Marine Le Pen to stop their demand for leaving the EU, on the basis of rising support for the EU, is important.

The Sweden Democrats want to be part of the 'populist alliance' which Salvini and Le Pen are trying to build. This would give them new opportunities to impact upon European politics.

There are some further reasons why these parties have changed their key EU policy before the upcoming May poll.

One important explanation is the rising support among Swedes for EU membership.

According to an opinion poll made by Sifo, a Swedish opinion institute, on behalf of the European Parliament, more than three-quarters of Swedish voters are today positive to the EU membership.

Some 77 percent of respondents said that they think being a member of the EU is a good thing.

Last year, 68 percent were in favour of the Swedish EU-membership, which shows rising support for the EU. And the share of voters against Sweden's membership is at a record low.

Only seven percent of Swedes believe that it is a bad thing to be a member of the EU.

The uncertainty, and negative effects, shown by the UK's Brexit are also making member states revaluate their EU membership.

One of the Sweden Democrat's MEPs, Peter Lundgren, even went as far as to say, in a debate on the Swedish news program Agenda in early February, that the "Brexit chaos" is the British political establishment's fault, and wants to wait and see the consequences of Brexit.

Thus, there is now no major Swedish political party pushing for a referendum on leaving the European Union.

Following the decisions made by the Left Party and the Sweden Democrats, the coming election will be the first in Sweden in a generation without a 'yes-or-no' debate on the EU.

Instead of discussing whether Sweden will remain a member, the debate will become more like the arguments in other parts of the EU; between re-nationalising the power over decision-making to the member states - as proposed by Salvini, Le Pen, Hungary's Viktor Orban and Poland's Jaroslaw Kaczynski - against Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel's proposals for more EU integration.

This debate is likely to determine whether the decisions made by the Left Party and the Sweden Democrats to put 'Swexit' on hold will stand the test of time.

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