The Swedish EU election shocked the political elite and media commentators for several reasons.
The main victors were parties who have appeared as the most contradictory and tough opponents of each other. On one side there is the Green party (Miljöpartiet) with 15.5 percent (+4.4)* and a new feminist party with 5.3 percent (+3.1) and on the other side the nationalist extreme right-wing party Sweden Democracts with 9.7 percent (+6.5). The main losers were the right wing Moderates (the major party of the ruling right-wing coalition) which received its lowest score since 1973, 13.6 percent (-5.2), the Liberals with 10.0 (-3.6) and the Pirate party, which missed the barrier and got only 2.2 percent (-4.9) and lost its two seats. But also the Social Democrats must be considered losers because, with its new male party leader, a former trade unionist and a typical “grey” productivist, fan of nuclear power and arms export, it only reached about the same result as in 2009 when the party was headed by a female and more “greenish” president, 24.4 percent (-0.2). Also the Left party has reason to be disappointed, with only 6.3 percent (+0.6), despite having a new leader with ten years’ experience as MEP.
Why did the Greens get such a good result? The setting was somewhat awkward, because for the first time almost all former EU-positive parties (except the openly federalist Liberals) openly campaigned in favour of less power to the EU and gave lots of examples of issues which they thought the EU should not interfere in. At the same time the Greens, which up until only some 6-7 years ago was the leading “out of EU”-party, concentrated on telling voters that the EU ought to be used much more for tough and Green policies on transboundary issues, like climate, chemicals, environment, human rights, migration etc. At the same time voters were told that the Greens still are against the EU becoming a military super-state and that the EU should concentrate on really common and transboundary issues. As the top Green candidate Isabella Lövin put it: “While almost everybody else told voters what the EU should not do, we told them what we think the EU should do more about”. In a general Swedish EU-climate which is still sceptical towards centralist and superpower tendencies in Brussels, but very much in favour of common action for a better environment, this strategy apparently was the right one.
Basically the difference compared to the campaign of 2009 (when the demand for a unilateral Swedish exit from the EU had already been scrapped) was principally that the order of arguments was reversed: instead of starting with the criticism of EU-policies, and then adding some proposals for Green EU action, this time Isabella and other Greens started with the Green demands, and then added some reservations, for instance against militarisation of the EU. The credibility of this strategy was of course enhanced by the fact that Isabella (who was almost unknown in 2009) now has become well-known in the country as a skilled politician who knows well how to use the EU Parliament efficiently and how to have real influence on decisions (mainly about fishery policies).
The Left party, which still has the demand that Sweden should quit the EU in its party program, had problems. Several times it was revealed that its MEPs had voted against proposals in the EP that they officially are in favour of, such as the Tobin tax and certain actions to enhance the rights of hbtq-persons. Of course there is some logic in voting against good proposals, if one believes that such issues should be handled on another decision-making level. But the time and general mood has changed since this was a common strategy by the Swedish Greens in the 1990s. Today it is obviously difficult to explain such “contradictions” to the Swedish voters. At the same time the Left party didn’t push its demand for exit very much, its representatives rarely mentioned it spontaneously. Most often they had to argue about it from a defensive position. By acting like this I believe that the Left Party was no real alternative for the minority of voters (some 25 percent according to the latest polls) who really would like Sweden to get out of the EU. Thus the Sweden Democrats remained the only choice for voters who gave high priority to expressing a totally negative attitude towards the EU.
This could be compared with the period 1995–2004 when the Greens were considered to be the leading EU-critical party of Sweden, with a rather tough “out of EU”-strategy. Then no nationalist and right wing anti-EU party had any support. This does not mean that I think the Greens should have stuck to the exit-policy. To my mind the major enlargement of the EU in 2004 with ten new member states, made unilateral exit into an unrealistic policy. Since then there is “only one show in town” concerning cooperation in Europe (which the Swedish Greens have always been in favour of). The situation has of course also changed in the sense that while criticism of the EU in Sweden and the Nordic countries for several decades was a left wing phenomenon, linked to anti-NATO, anti- colonialism, anti-capitalism, scepticism of negative aspects of free trade, defence of the welfare society etc, since the beginning of this millennium criticism of the EU in Sweden – as earlier in several other European countries – has increasingly been linked to xenophobia, racism and male chauvinism.
I think that the Swedish EU-election is part of a general change of the political landscape, where the old and traditional parties, which are representing different ideas about materialist aspects of human life (growth, property, state intervention in economy, etc) will be replaced by another type of parties, like Greens, Feminists, but unfortunately also Nationalists and Xenophobes, as the major political players. This does not mean that the “old” material issues will disappear, far from it. But they will be looked upon from other perspectives.
Interestingly, this polarised trend was visible in this EU-election not only in Sweden but in several other countries, like Austria and the UK. I think this EU-election proves that one of the main supporters of the newly formed Swedish Greens in the early 1980s, the Nobel Prize winner in Physics, Hannes Alfvén, was right when he stated: “Liberalism was invented in the 18th century and ruled the 19th, Socialism was invented in the 19th century and ruled the 20th. Green thinking was invented in the 20th century and will rule the 21st.”
*All changes are in comparison with the European elections of 2009