Monday

30th Jan 2023

Opinion

Swedish EU presidency makes their far-right a pan-European threat

  • A street protest by hard-right Sweden Democrat supporters - while the party are not officially in government, they now yield considerable influence over policies (Photo: Wikimedia)
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New year, new Swedish leadership in the European Council. And in 2023 political pariahs, once associated with violent racists and swastika-wearing Nazi sympathisers, are dangerously close to the helm.

Like many, I assumed that the Swedish Presidency would be an opportunity to make progress on some of the EU's most pressing challenges; climate, refugee policy, gender equality, rule of law and democracy. But my hopes were dashed when it became clear that Sweden would have a rightwing conservative government propped up by the far-right Sweden Democrats.

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  • MEP Malin Björk: 'With no mention of LGBTI+ rights or feminism in the programme and with far-right climate deniers whispering in their ears, many progressives are already writing Sweden's rotating EU presidency off' (Photo: GUE/NGL)

Mainstream conservatives, who once positioned themselves as the bulwark against right-wing extremism, have instead joined forces in a desperate attempt to gain power. While the Sweden Democrats are not officially in government, they now yield considerable influence over policies that affect us all.

This influence has already been made clear.

At a press conference in December, the migration minister Maria Malmer Stenergard announced plans to make it easier to revoke residence permits; at her side stood Henrik Vinge the deputy leader of the Sweden Democrats.

"We are now seeing a paradigm shift in Swedish refugee policy", the Sweden Democrats have proudly proclaimed.

The Swedish government also recently announced that it will cut the climate and environmental budget by 58 percent over three years and has dismantled the ministry for the environment, policies clearly inspired by the climate-denying Sweden Democrats

Back in the real world, some worrying statistics show how far Sweden has drifted from being a country once famed for its tolerance.

One-in-four children from a migrant background is racially abused or attacked because of the colour of their skin, where their parents are from, or for their religion. Afrophobia is now the most common motive among reported hate crimes. Hardly surprising when top Sweden Democrat politicians are exposed for sending racist images and texts in private messages about people of colour, Somalis, Muslims and the Holocaust.

Racism has been allowed to flourish both inside and outside the Riksdag.

On Tuesday (17January), in the European Parliament, the Swedish prime minister will outline his vision for the EU over the next six months.

My experience in politics has taught me to listen out for what is not being said, rather than to what is being said. With no mention of LGBTI+ rights or feminism in their programme and with far-right climate deniers whispering in their ears, many progressives are writing this council off and holding out for the Spanish presidency in the second half of the year.

In Sweden, Italy, Poland, Hungary and France we are seeing a sweeping normalisation of the far-right. While the 'cordon sanitaire' used to prevent cooperation with the far-right, enablers from centre-right and liberal parties in EU member states have lowered, stepped over or torn apart the cordon entirely.

And from Fidesz in Hungary to PiS in Poland, once in power, these parties seek to dismantle democracy and the rule of law. Sweden Democrats, vocal admirers of Hungary's Viktor Orbán, are no exception and have already made remarkable statements against Swedish public service media and court rulings.

But racist bluster and migrant scapegoating will only go so far.

Many of the very real challenges faced by Europeans stem from decades of failed neoliberal policies. Fighting climate change and providing decent housing, living standards and public services are the core demands of voters across the EU.

The Left is ready. We are used to standing up to conservative, racist, misogynistic and anti-LGBTQI forces. And we do it in solidarity with those outside parliaments, far beyond the negotiating rooms, together with all those with visions, dreams — and concrete alternatives — for another Sweden and a better Europe.

Author bio

Malin Björk is a Swedish MEP for The Left in the European Parliament.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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