Sweden election continues trend of rising/fragmented left, rising far-right

In the last 8 years, Sweden became the economy with the fastest growing income inequality in the industrialized world. Will today’s election reverse that trend?

The ruling center-right coalition pursued not just an austerity agenda, like many of their peers (on both sides of the center) across Europe during the recent crisis, but in Sweden they also pursued an aggressive effort to roll back government services and programs and introduce private sector participation in functions traditionally managed by the state. Although some of the policies were introduced in the 1990s, they were ramped up even more in recent years. In particular, Swedish government attempts to privatize and voucherize public education — along the lines promoted by many right-leaning education “reformers” in the United States — devolved into a mess. One recent poll, by Gothenburg University’s SOM Institute (cited by The Guardian article linked above), found that 70% of the country is opposed to the privatization and corporate subsidy schemes of the current center-right government.

After 8 years in opposition, the Social Democrats are projected to win the most seats in today’s election and take control of parliament via a left-leaning coalition. Their party leader and likely next prime minister is a former welder and union leader who has never even been elected to parliament before. But the irony is that this win (though slightly better than opinion polls had projected) will come with one of the party’s lowest vote shares of any election held after the 1909 reform that granted male workers the right to vote. Why? Despite the broad-based opposition to the current, right-leaning government’s policy agenda, the opposition has been diffuse and did not benefit one party (such as the Social Democrats) alone.

Much of the anger has gone toward the even more leftist parties — such as the Green Party, Left Party, and Feminist Initiative — who will likely join the coalition government with the Social Democrats if they win seats. If any of the outlying left parties don’t meet a minimum 4% vote share threshold — and it appears that Feminist Initiative received less than that — those leftist votes could be tossed out, essentially wasting them, unfortunately. That would be less of a problem if it weren’t for the alarming alternative that might take the seats instead when votes for parties below the threshold are eliminated.

On the other side of the electorate, some of the populist anger in Sweden has further fueled the rise of a far-right, anti-immigrant party, the Swedish Democrats. The racist and inflammatory Swedish Democrats — who have attempted to run ultra-populist ads openly accusing Muslims of stealing resources from the welfare system — had no such trouble hitting their vote threshold to remain in parliament, which they entered for the first time four years ago. Here’s an Al Jazeera report:

With all voting districts tallied by Monday morning, the Social Democrat-led bloc won 43.7 percent of the vote while the ruling centre-right coalition, led by the Moderate Party, gained 39.3 percent.

But the anti-immigration far-right Sweden Democrats were celebrating large gains as the party won 12.9 percent of votes cast – more than doubling the 5.7 percent of votes won in the 2010 election.

“Sweden friends, party friends, now we’re Sweden’s third-largest party,” party leader Jimmie Akesson told cheering supporters late on Sunday.

Neither mainstream party will allow the Swedish Democrats into a coalition government, but with the fragmentation that occurred on the left, and the small size of the non-extreme parties on the right, the Swedish Democrats may hold the balance of power in parliament anyway unless a grand left-right coalition or minority government arrangement is worked out. And that would make no one happy, in light of the rebuke given to the center-right in this election.

As we’ve covered before on this site, European mainstream politics right now are facing a very serious challenge from both a splintering but growing far-left as well as a dangerously solidifying, growing, and extreme far-right.

Although the far-right Swedish Democrats won their first seats in Sweden’s national parliament back in 2010, they also won 2 seats in the EU parliament this year, amid a continent-wide wave of sometimes extreme populism. That EU vote share in Sweden of almost 10% for the Swedish Democrats helped their momentum going into this national election and boosted them to just under 13%. And also like we saw across most of Europe at the EU elections in May 2014, the Swedish centrist parties and center-right parties were decimated in the results tonight, to the benefit of the far-right as well as an umbrella of parties on the left.

I spoke tonight with Etienne Borocco, a national counselor of the Union of Democrats and Independents, a centrist party in France, who previously wrote Arsenal For Democracy’s analysis of the 2014 European Union election results and the rising populist tide (both left and right) in Europe this year. Borocco told me the following about the national election results in Sweden today:

The gains by Swedish Democrats are one more demonstration of European apathy and disaffection. The world is very frightening for Europeans now with the economic/currency crisis and the explosive geopolitical context. Moreover, the welfare state is decreasing because of spending cuts. When you mix high unemployment, downgrading the welfare state, and unresolved asylum issues, you have apathy as the result.

So between apathy with the system / existing parties and enthusiasm among those seeking easy but dangerous answers, we have the left growing but splitting its votes and the extreme right-wing unifying into a dangerous political force. It’s similar to some of what we have seen in recent years in the United States but is perhaps much more visible in a multi-party system with far higher rates of voter participating (in some cases, mandatory). And as he pointed out, the depth and duration of the economic crunch in Europe, crossed with the resulting cutbacks of government spending and jobs, has put a lot of voters in the mood to vote for anybody but the mainstream parties when they head to the polls. That is the space exploited to allow parties like the Swedish Democrats to make big gains.

Parliament House in Sweden. Credit: Holger.Ellgaard via Wikimedia

Parliament House in Sweden. Credit: Holger.Ellgaard via Wikimedia

June 9, 2014 – Arsenal For Democracy 87

Extended Episode. Topics: Right-wing extremism in the US & Europe, FIFA is terrible. People: Bill, Nate, guest expert Etienne Borocco.

Discussion Points:

– Should right-wing violence in America be considered terrorism? Should terrorism be treated differently from other crimes?
– Just how awful is FIFA? Is the World Cup a net harm to host countries and cities?
– How should Europe respond to the rise of neo-Nazi parties such as Golden Dawn?
– Who are the Front National and why are they winning in France?
– Who are the UKIP and why are the winning in Britain?

Part 1 – Nevada Attack:
Part 1 – Nevada Attack – AFD 87
Part 2 – FIFA/World Cup:
Part 2 – FIFA World Cup – AFD 87
Part 3 – Golden Dawn:
Part 3 – Golden Dawn – AFD 87
Part 4 – Etienne Borocco on French and UK Populism:
Part 4 – European Elections – AFD 87

To get one file for the whole episode, we recommend using one of the subscribe links at the bottom of the post.

Related links

– AFD Guest: “EU Elections, the Rising Populists, and Why Europe is Worried” by Etienne Borocco
– AFD: “Cameron making louder “Brexit” noises after UKIP win
– Guardian: “SS songs and antisemitism: the week Golden Dawn turned openly Nazi
– AFD: “Vegas attack was domestic terrorism, tied to Bundy standoff
– AFD: “Alt-history novelists have got nothing on Cliven Bundy
– AFD: “No shock there: Bundy a raging racist
– AFD Radio: “April 21, 2014 – Arsenal For Democracy 81
– Last Week Tonight: John Oliver explains the mess that is FIFA
– AFD: “2022: Slavery World Cup


RSS Feed: Arsenal for Democracy Feedburner
iTunes Store Link: “Arsenal for Democracy by Bill Humphrey”

And don’t forget to check out The Digitized Ramblings of an 8-Bit Animal, the video blog of our announcer, Justin.

EU Elections, the Rising Populists, and Why Europe is Worried

Guest post by Etienne Borocco in France: Europe went to the polls last weekend and elected a lot of fringe politicians to the EU parliament. So what does it all mean?

Traditionally, the turnout is low in the European elections: only about 40%. This year, it was 43%. The functioning of the European Union is quite complex, as depicted in the chart below:

Illustration 1: Flowchart of the European political system (Credit: 111Alleskönner - Wikipedia)

Illustration 1: Flowchart of the European political system (Credit: 111Alleskönner – Wikipedia)

Why the EU elections matter — and why the media and most voters ignore them:

The directly elected European parliament and the unelected Council of the European Union (Council of Ministers) co-decide legislation. The European Commission has the monopoly of initiative, i.e. it is the only one to initiate proposals. The European Parliament can vote on and amend proposals and has the prerogative to vote on budgets. If the Council of European Union say no to a project and the parliament yes, the project is rejected. So the parliament is often described as powerless and its work, which is often about very technical subjects, does not hold the media’s attention very much. Consequently, the European elections to vote for Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have a low turnout – and a lot of electors use it to express concerns about national subjects.

For example in France, 37% of the registered voters answered that they would vote by first considering national issues and 34% also answered that they would vote to sanction the government. The proportional vote system (in contrast with America’s first-past-the-post Congressional elections, for example) gives an additional incentive to vote honestly according to one’s opinion, rather than strategically for a major party (or major blocs of allied parties in the case of the EU parliament).

The May 25th European election was a shock in the European Union, even after the small parties had long been expected to do well. The biggest parliamentary groups in the European parliaments lost seats, while parties that reject or contest the European Union rose dramatically.

In Denmark, in the United Kingdom, and in France, the anti-euro right wing took the first place. It was particularly striking in France because unlike the traditionally euroskeptic UK or Denmark, France was one of the founding countries of European integration and is a key member of the eurozone (while the other two are outside it). The Front National (FN), which has anti-EU and anti-immigration positions, gathered one quarter of the vote in France. Non-mainstream parties captured significant shares in other countries, although they did not finish first.

Populist/Right-wing/Anti-EU party vote share by country in the 2014 EU elections. Data via European Parliament. Map by Arsenal For Democracy.

Populist/Right-wing/Anti-EU party vote share by country in the 2014 EU elections. Data via European Parliament. Map by Arsenal For Democracy.

The new seat allocations:

Let’s look at the gains and losses. With the exception of the socialist bloc, the traditional parties lost seats — particularly in the mainstream conservative EPP and centrist ALDE blocs, which virtually collapsed. The May 25 European parliamentary elections also marked the notable appearance of new populist right-wing parties in Eastern Europe, among the newer member states. For example, two conservative libertarian parties (movements that are a bit like a European version of Ron Paul) won seats – the KNP in Poland and Svobodní in Czech Republic. Moreover, the national government ruling parties were hugely rejected in most countries, whether by populist fringe parties dominating (as in France, the UK and Denmark) or by the main national opposition parties beating the ruling parties.


Among the non-aligned (NA) members elected, if we exclude the six centrists MEPs of the Spanish UPyD (Union, Progress and Democracy), the 35 MEPs remaining are from far-right parties.

Among the 60 “Others” MEPs, there are 3 MEPs of Golden Dawn in Greece and 1 MEP of the NPD in Germany, both of which are neo-Nazi parties. The NPD was able to win a seat this year because Germany abolished the 3% threshold. With 96 seats for Germany, only 1.04% of the vote is enough to get a seat. The Swedish Democrats (far right) got 2 seats. In total, 38 MEPs represent far-right parties, out of a total of 751 MEPs.

So why do observers talk about an explosion of far right?

Beyond those scattered extremists, the vote for the more organized euroskeptic, hardcore conservative, and far right parties all increased sharply. The UKIP in UK (26.77%, +10), the National Front (FN) in France (24.95%, +18), the Danish People’s Party (DPP) (26.6%,+10) and the FPÖ in Austria (19.7%,+7) rocketed from the fringe to center stage. The UKIP, the FN, and the DPP all arrived first in their countries’ respective nationwide elections, which is new.

Other parties elsewhere did not come in first but performed unexpectedly (or alarmingly, depending on the party) well this year. For example, although the Golden Dawn only won three seats from Greece, they did so by winning 9.4% of the country’s vote, even as an openly neo-Nazi party. The Swedish Democrats (9.7%, +6.43) and the Alternative For Germany (7%, new) also made a noteworthy entry in the parliament.

Their shared characteristic of all these parties, regardless of platform and country of origin, is that they are populist in some way.

True, under the word “populism,” a lot of different parties are gathered and their ideologies may vary. While most of these parties claim to be very different, we can, nonetheless, put everyone in the same basket for the purposes of this analysis, to understand why the results were so shocking. Their core point in common is that they all claim represent the people against “the elite” and “Brussels” which embodies both “evils”: the EU and the euro.

We could use the following system to classify like-minded populist parties:
Read more

Cameron making louder “Brexit” noises after UKIP win

Will the Conservatives let Britain exit the EU in response to the rise of the UKIP — and make Jean-Claude Juncker the scapegoat?

Our full-scale guest analysis of the European-wide impact of last weekend’s EU populist-dominated elections will be coming tomorrow (update: read it here), but in the meantime, I wanted to highlight one of the probably very related fallouts of the ruling Conservatives finishing third nationwide in the United Kingdom behind the anti-EU “UK Independence Party” (the first non-major party to a nationwide election in more than a century) and the opposition Labour.

There are rumors — already denied, of course — that UK Prime Minister David Cameron is threatening to escalate Britain’s halfhearted attempts to exit the European Union (a move nicknamed the “Brexit”) if the new center-right coalition in the EU parliament goes ahead with plans to make former Luxembourgish Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker President of the powerful European Commission, which has the sole power to propose new European laws and regulations across the Union:

German magazine Der Spiegel says British PM David Cameron warned that the UK could leave the EU if Luxembourg ex-PM Jean-Claude Juncker became president of the European Commission.

It reported Mr Cameron as saying that the appointment could destabilise his government, which may bring forward referendum plans on EU membership.
The magazine quotes Mr Cameron as telling the German chancellor that “a face from the 1980s cannot solve the problems of the next five years”. A senior government source told the BBC it did not recognise the language about destabilisation and that it is not something the prime minister would have said.


Ok, here’s my immediate takeaway: If he actually said that, even if it’s obnoxious and probably a desperate reaction to the UKIP win that threatens to break apart his party base, it might be the first semi-reasonable point he’s ever made on EU criticisms. The president of the European Commission will be responsible over the next five years for driving further internal lawmaking and regulatory integration within the European Union.

jean-claude-junckerThat seems like something that would call for fresh leadership with a new vision, rather than a career European leader. In fact, Jean-Claude Juncker (pictured), who took office in January 1995, was one of the longest-serving democratically elected leaders in history when he stepped down as Prime Minister of Luxembourg in December 2013. He has been around the block and then some. Isn’t it perhaps time to let somebody else try?

On the other hand, his lengthy and popular service within both Luxembourg and the European Union system mean he’s a proven, effective, experienced leader everyone knows. And maybe that wouldn’t be terrible, in terms of producing results. Of course, if your goal isn’t to produce results because you oppose the EU — which is the position of the UKIP and many Conservative Party voters — then someone flashy who doesn’t do much is ideal. Whereas when one is trying to placate euroskeptics, elevating a man who embodies the European Union at its most European Union-y is not the smart play.