While EU member states are gearing up for elections to the European Parliament in May, Sweden also has another election to prepare. In September, Swedes will again head to the voting booths, this time to decide the country’s political direction for the coming four years. As such, 2014 has become known as a “super election year”, a concept of almost mythical proportions. Sweden joined the EU alongside Austria and Finland in 1995, but not all Swedes rejoiced. The referendum preceding accession had given a slim majority – 52.3 per cent – in favour of membership, with a full 46.8 per cent of voters against. EU processes have become an integral part of Swedish politics, but Sweden in many aspects still remains a reluctant partner after almost twenty years of cooperation. Swedish ambivalence towards the EU has been particularly visible since the economic and financial crisis. Swedish top politicians have at once wished to move positions forward in the areas of economy and finance, by virtue of Sweden’s relatively strong performance during the crisis, and to keep actual commitment to EU economic policy at arm’s length. Swedish public opinion is amongst the most sceptical regarding the euro of all member states. As such, the government coalition, in principle in favour of the euro, has had to keep its common-currency dreams at bay. As in many other member states, the nature of Swedish ambiguity towards the EU is somewhat of a chicken-or-egg scenario: have governments sparked these doubts by playing off EU policy against domestic policy, or have they just been sensitive towards the wants and needs of the public? Interestingly, the Swedish political weathervane has seen different effects of the economic crisis in terms of EU policy.
The 2010 general elections led to an increase in the number of parties represented in the Riksdag, the Swedish Parliament, from seven to eight. The Sweden Democrats, a xenophobic right-wing party with roots in the neo-Nazi movement, scored twenty out of the 349 seats, and they are set to increase this number in September. The Sweden Democrats are not in favour of the EU. The party leadership, however, overruled the assembly at the party congress in November to adopt a more subtle approach to Euroscepticism. The party, drawing inspiration from the UK, no longer formally calls on Sweden to leave the EU immediately, but on the government to renegotiate membership, followed by a referendum. Revealing the nominations for the EP, party leader Jimmie Åkesson referred to his party as being “the most negative towards the EU of all political parties in Sweden”. Nonetheless, the Sweden Democrats have toned down their anti-EU rhetoric in an attempt to improve the dismal 3.5 per cent gained in the 2009 EP elections.
The other Eurosceptic party in the Riksdag resides on the opposite side of the political spectrum: the Left Party opposed EU membership already in 1994, a fact that party leader Jonas Sjöstedt is particularly proud of. Sjöstedt has himself served as an MEP, and may therefore be seen as a more credible Eurosceptic due to his hands-on EU experience. The Left Party is heading towards the Swedish election with a platform focused on the single issue of preventing the privatisation of welfare services, a mission that may prove successful on the domestic level but is perhaps less relevant at the European level.
Full Article: Sweden’s super election year | openDemocracy.