Internationale Politik
Too much influence for the extreme right

Leader of the Sweden Democrats Party Jimmie Akesson, leader of the Moderate Party Ulf Kristersson, leader of the Christian Democrats Ebba Busch, and leader of the Liberal Party Johan Pehrson
© picture alliance / EPA | JONAS EKSTROEMER

Sweden Democrats prevailed on content

The coalition is the first of a kind for Sweden. It is the first time that three parties losing in the elections get to form a government and the first time since 1979 that the Moderate party is not the biggest, but the second biggest party on the right. It is also the first time that far-right influence has reached the heart of government.

 The right-wing bloc of Moderates, Christian Democrats and the liberal party Liberalerna, led by the Moderates leader Ulf Kristersson, had already broken a taboo before the election when it, for the first time, entered into an election alliance with the radical right-wing Sweden Democrats. The right-wing bloc won a narrow majority of 176 seats compared to the 173 seats of the centre-left parties. However, although leading the bloc, the Moderates did not become the largest party on the right as the Sweden Democrats won more votes. With 20 % of the vote, the far-right nationalists were only surpassed by the traditionally dominant Social Democrats (33 %).

After a month of negotiations, the leaders of the right-wing block on Friday announced the Tidö Agreement on a new government. Named after venue of the final negotiations at Tidö Castle in Västmanland, the deal includes seven cooperation projects in crime, migration, integration, economy, school, health care and energy and climate.

The new stamp in migration and crime policy

Despite not getting any ministerial posts, the Sweden Democrats have made substantial political gains. The party is getting its way with large parts of its migration and criminal policy. Refugee numbers will be reduced to the bare minimum under EU rules, the permanent residence permit system is to be abolished and conditions for family reunification and Swedish citizenship will be stricter. The government is also planning an inquiry into the possibility to expel non-citizens for shortcomings in their “moral character”. As a result, the influence of the Sweden Democrats on migration policy has reached a level where even Prime Minister Kristersson had to admit that the government’s policies would be “SD’s migration policy”.

Most concerning, however, is that the Sweden Democrats will get a coordination office with political officials in the Prime Minister’s office. They will be involved in all the work at the government level, including appointments and the budget. This means that the Sweden Democrats will have a significant influence over government decisions unlike any other opposition party. With a narrow majority in parliament, the coalition parties cannot afford to lose their support.

The extreme right-wing roots of the Sweden Party

The Sweden Democrats party is not your ordinary populist party. Founded by neo-Nazis and other far-right activists in 1988, the party has its roots in the extreme-right wing and white supremacist movement. Over the past decades, it has successfully tried to move towards mainstream politics under the leadership of current party leader Jimmie Åkesson. By pushing back against outright racism and ejecting openly extremist members, the party managed to widen its appeal and win the support of a fifth of the Swedish voters.

Nevertheless, the far-right sentiments have never been far away. A report from June this year indicated that 214 Sweden Democrat candidates who stood in the latest elections have a background in, or can be linked to, far-right extremism. This was testified by the latest scandal earlier this week, in which party official and political candidate Rebecka Fallenkvist was suspended after calling Anne Frank "immoral" in an Instagram story. Fallenkvist was previously also criticised for saying “Helg Seger”, which sounds like the Swedish version of the Nazi salute, at the election party. In the meantime, she has been reassigned to a job at the party's finance department.

liberal soul searching

Liberalerna has been on an altogether different trajectory. With polling numbers frequently falling below the 4% parliamentary threshold, they have spent much of the past three years in internal discussion about the direction of the party. The unpopular decision to join the right-wing block has split the party and this discussion is unlikely to end now that they are part of this government.

Upon the announcement of the Tidö Agreement, the youth wing of the Liberalerna, LUF, immediate called on the party to reject the agreement. In an op-ed in the Expressen newspaper, LUF’s board mentioned that several of the party’s red lines were crossed and demanded, to no avail, that the party would vote against the Kristersson government.

Unsurprisingly, the other liberal party in Sweden, the Centre Party, has been quick to denounce the new government as well. Party leader Annie Lööf called the influence of the Sweden Democrats a “paradigm shift” that had “given the keys to the government offices to a xenophobic, nationalist party”. As part of the centre-left bloc, the Centre Party has consistently ruled out any cooperation with the Sweden Democrats.

International responses

The new coalition has received mixed responses abroad. Whereas Sweden’s paradigm shift has been welcomed in AfD circles, liberal forces around Europe are less supportive. In the European Parliament, the leader of the liberal Renew Europe group, Stéphane Séjourné, announced on Tuesday a discussion about the new Swedish government coalition. After long and intense discussions at last Wednesday’s group meeting, Liberal MEP Karin Karlsbro announced that her party will remain a member of the group. But, she also flagged that the last word has not been said.

Uncertain future

Liberalerna also failed to give the coalition agreement a more liberal touch. As the only party that could potentially have switched to the centre-left bloc, they could have demanded important concessions from the other coalition partners in order to steer the government programme in a liberal direction. However, the only clearly liberal elements in the coalition agreement are those on education policy. Otherwise, conservative and nationalist policies predominate.

It remains to be seen to what extent Liberalerna will be able to influence the government's course with two education ministers, the labour market minister, the minister for gender equality and the minister for climate and the environment, who is the youngest minister in Sweden's history. Experiences of other liberal parties working together with far-right actors have in any case shown that such government experiments are short-lived and in the worst case lead to inner-party or social instability, as a study by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation shows.

What is already clear, however, is that the Sweden Democrats are in a comfortable position in the current situation. They can push through their policies without taking political responsibility for the consequences. A win-win situation for the Sweden Democrats and lose-lose for Liberalerna.