31st Mar 2023

Swedes warned of EU collapse ahead of vote

  • "If we don't do it together, then we don't do it at all," said Bildt (Photo: Council of European Union)

The EU would "collapse" if parties like the far-right Sweden Democrats took power across Europe, Sweden's former conservative prime minister, Carl Bildt, said in a TV duel on Sunday (2 September).

Bildt's warning came in the first big debate to tackle EU affairs ahead of Swedish elections next weekend, where the Sweden Democrats, which has called for an in/out EU referendum, is polling to win one in five votes.

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  • Akesson: "Is the EU ... a left-liberal project?" (Photo: News Oresund)

"To leave the EU is by far the most dangerous proposal discussed in this election because it would weaken Sweden and create greater uncertainty," Bildt said.

Most TV debates had so far focused on migration and social issues, but Sunday's duel, on the SVT channel, saw Bildt, a federalist, slug it out with Sweden Democrats leader Jimmy Akesson on his EU policy.

Sweden Democrats wanted "co-operation in Europe on trade", while rejecting the EU of today, in which "other member states' politicians and bureaucrats decide the lawmaking [in Sweden]," Akesson said.

If democracy put Sweden Democrats and others like them in control, that would mean the EU had lost legitimacy for all but Europe's elites, he added.

"Let's imagine my party takes power in Sweden, Le Pen takes power in France, in the Netherlands a similar party, in Italy, and then we take Hungary and so forth, are you still going to say that the EU is a good thing? Or is the EU for you first of all a left-liberal project?" Akesson asked Bildt, referring to French far-right leader Marie Le Pen.

That would spell the end of the European Union, Bildt replied.

"Should what you have outlined here happen, European cooperation is going to collapse and Europe would become a pawn in a game of the superpowers," Bildt said, alluding to China, Russia, and the US.

EU collapse would lead to "economic storms", an even worse "refugee crisis", and a rise in criminality, he added.

"Friends" of Sweden Democrats, such as nationalist parties in Hungary and Poland, had already made the refugee crisis worse by blocking EU efforts to share the burden more fairly, Bildt noted.

"We need more police co-operation, much more common foreign policy to prevent crises, such as the one in Syria, but all this is being prevented by forces in Europe .... similar to the Sweden Democrats," Bildt said.

But that type of thinking showed disrespect to voters, Akesson replied.

"So you say the EU can only cooperate properly as long as it is controlled by the 'correct' type of politicians, but when the 'wrong' politicians take over, then the EU doesn't function anymore?," he said.

Brexit clash

The two men also disagreed on Brexit.

"The EU elite is making an example [of the UK] and punishing the only country that has ever dared to exit," Akesson said.

Bildt said Britain was punishing itself by choosing to leave and by having no idea how to do it.

"They [the UK] are realising only now how important the EU is for their economy, for food, medicines, aviation, and other areas that were agreed at the European level," Bildt said.

He admitted the EU had a popularity crisis, but he said that a stronger Europe, with a joint military and with strong border controls, which was capable of standing up to people like Russian leader Vladimir Putin or Syria's Bashar al-Assad, was the best way to regain people's trust.

"Europe strengthens the nation state's ability to act in the world", Bildt said, naming climate change, refugees, and Putin as its main challenges.

"If we don't do it together, then we don't do it at all", he said.

"I want a different kind of cooperation in Europe - which does not threaten the nation state the way it does today", Akesson replied.

EU-wide conflict

The Bildt-Akesson debate came shortly after Hungary's populist leader, Viktor Orban, met Italy's far-right interior minister, Matteo Salvini, in Milan.

Both events invoked the idea of a pan-EU conflict between two axes - pro-European liberals vs. eurosceptic nationalists - to be played out in the European Parliament elections next year.

"There are two sides at the moment in Europe. One is led by Macron, who supports migration. The other one is supported by countries who want to protect their borders," Orban said, referring to French president Emmanuel Macron.

Orban declared that he would form a league with Salvini and other like-minded politicians in the EU vote next May.

"It's clear that today a strong opposition is building up between nationalists and progressives," Macron said afterward.

"If they wanted to see me as their main opponent, they were right to do so," he said.

"I have one thing to say to them: bring it on," Swedish centre-left politician Margot Wallstroem also said at the time.

Leading from behind

With six days to go before Sweden votes on Sunday (9 September), the centre-left Social Democrats party of prime minister Stefan Loefven is poised to come top with 24 percent.

But Akesson's Sweden Democrats are tipped to come second, with 20 percent, beating Bildt's party, the centre-right Moderaterne (17%) into third place.

Everybody has rejected the idea of forming a coalition with Akesson for the sake of political hygiene.

One possible outcome is that a centre-left bloc, led by the Social Democrats and containing the Left party and the Green Party, would form a government instead.

Another outcome is that a centre-right bloc, containing four parties, would put Moderaterne's leader, Ulf Kristersson, in power.

Both models would create minority governments that would leave Akesson in a powerful position, however.

The centre-left bloc would have 41 percent of votes, while the centre right one would have 36 percent, according to a Scop poll published on 31 August.

A similar situation in neighbouring Denmark has given the Danish People's Party huge influence on domestic politics for the past decade.

The party - an official "friend" of the Sweden Democrats - has stayed outside government, but Denmark's centre-right rulers have governed at its mercy all the same.


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