Sweden weighs the EU aspect of its changed political landscape

#CriticalThinking

Picture of Eva Sjögren
Eva Sjögren

Last October, a matter of weeks before the 20th anniversary of Sweden’s EU membership in January 1995, a new minority government made of the Social Democrats and the Green Party committed to “an engaged and constructive” role in Europe. This pronouncement confirms the country’s gradual shift towards discussing actual policy issues, rather than discussing whether or not Sweden should be at the EU’s “core”.

The new government announced its EU priorities starting with the need for sustainable jobs. Others include digitisation, the green economy and greater investment in research, education and infrastructure and also the need to increase trade and improve the EU’s internal market.

The incoming coalition also underlined the need to ensure “fair conditions on the labour market”, covering EU citizens’ freedom to move and work wherever they wish within the EU, without any regression of working conditions. It believes the EU should take a more ambitious role on the global stage. Turning to foreign and security policy, Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is singled out as the greatest challenge. For one of the priorities – gender equality – the government is explicitly asking the European Commission to take new initiatives.

As to the political landscape in Sweden, although at first glance it may look perfectly normal – minority governments having been the rule rather than the exception in Sweden – the 2014 elections in fact saw Sweden follow the path of other EU countries where far-right parties are on the rise. “Sweden Democrats” won 13% of the votes to become the third largest party in parliament. Their increased support need not be a game changer in itself, but the party’s decision to block any budget that doesn’t take into account their views on immigration implies radical change.

After three months of considerable political turbulence, Prime Minister Stefan Löfven managed to avoid another election by reaching agreement with the Moderate Party, the Green Party, the Centre Party, the Liberal Party and the Christian Democrats. This “December agreement” is valid until 2022 and ensures that a minority government can pass its budget bill.

For the two decades since Sweden joined the EU there have been grand coalition agreements between the Social Democrats and the non-socialist parties on EU issues, irrespective of the government in office. It can be argued that the changing political landscape has already had an impact on the nature of discussions on EU affairs in the Swedish parliament. Due to the “December agreement”, the opposition needs to be more active in other areas. Whether this will have a substantial impact on the actual outcome of Sweden’s EU policies, only time will tell.

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