Sweden’s conundrum

Sweden’s general elections over the weekend have sparked much debate in European circles.  Not so much because the country now faces a hung parliament. But due to the emergence of the far-right Swedish Democrats as a kingmaker in determining the final outcome of a coalition government.

Indeed, Prime Minister Stefan Lofven has called on the opposition to do the needful in terms of “cross-bloc cooperation”. In other words, moves are afoot to try and side-line the Swedish Democrats. As far as numbers go, the latter secured just 17.6 percent of ballots and 63 seats in the 349-seat Parliament; putting it in third place overall. Yet this was up from 12. 9 percent and 49 seats back in 2014. In fact, this represents the largest parliamentary gain of any party. The centre-left coalition led by the Social Democrats and the centre-right alliance led by the Moderates won around 40 percent of the vote each; or 144 and 142 seats, respectively.

So, what does this mean for the traditionally liberal country of just 10 million?

A handful of pundits have pooh-poohed the idea that the results reflect a broader pattern of the far-right being on the rise on Europe. Instead, they talk of the decline of traditional major parties giving way to new and increasing smaller political frameworks as well as the fragmentation of the national vote. They also point to the ‘Dutchification’ of European politics. Some 28 parties contested elections in the Netherlands last year.

But this overlooks multiple seismic changes that have occurred on the continent over decades. From notions of a post-colonial Europe to a borderless bloc to a Union supporting NATO missions now beyond its own borders. In short, such developments impact the nature and composition of the electorate. Be that as it may, these elections have been described as a referendum on immigration. For Stockholm, in 2015 alone, took in somewhere between 140,000-160,000 refugees and migrants following western military intervention in the Middle East. And while this may not seem a substantial figure it does, in fact, amount to more per capita than the one million refugees accommodated by Germany.

European populations therefore have a right to ask important questions as to where extra funding to house and feed and school the displaced will come from. But more crucially, governments have a duty, both at the local and EU level, to present budgetary considerations along with cases for war. Or else end up like Britain where the Cameron regime’s austerity policies — reportedly the biggest cuts to public expenditure since the Second World War — were seen by certain quarters as a means of making the citizenry pick up the tab for the state’s chronic war habit.

However, one thing remains clear. The EU of today is not the Union of yesteryear. Whereby the Austrian government faced punitive measures from the then 15-member bloc for allowing the far-right Freedom Party to join its coalition. Sadly.  *

Published in Daily Times, September 12th 2018.