Open Europe Blog

Jimmie Åkesson is off sick but his party could cause trouble 

UPDATE (16:30): Anti-immigration Sweden Democrats have just announced that they will vote against the government’s draft budget for 2015 and support the opposition’s budget instead.

As things stand (see our original blog post below), this means the Swedish government would fail to have its budget approved by parliament – and would therefore have to resign.

However, it is still possible for Swedish Prime Minister Löfven to buy himself some time and send the draft budget back to the Swedish parliament’s Finance Committee – so they can work on a compromise proposal that can draw support from at least part of the opposition.

We will keep updating this blog post as news from Sweden comes in.
   
ORIGINAL BLOG POST (13:10):

As we’ve noted repeatedly, one of the main themes in European politics these days is vulnerable governments trying to fend off insurgents coming from either side of the political spectrum. Spain, Greece, France, Denmark, Italy, the UK and the Netherlands all suffer from it, albeit at different levels of intensity.

The latest victim: Sweden. The country’s anti-immigration party, the Sweden Democrats (Sverigedemokraterna, SD) has gone from 2.8% in the general election eight years ago to 12.9% in this year’s vote. It now holds the third most seats in the country’s Parliament, the Riksdag. As things stand, the centre-left coalition government – the Social Democrats and the Greens – holds 138 of 349 seats. They can draw support from another 21 Left MPs in parliamentary votes – which gives a total of 159 seats. The centre-right opposition (consisting of four parties) has 141 seats. This means that, even with the help of the Left party, the government can’t muster a majority. This leaves the SD – and its 49 MPs – as the undisputed kingmaker in Swedish politics.

This dynamic now risks bringing down the Swedish government in a rather spectacular fashion. Tomorrow, the Riksdag is due to vote on the new government’s proposed budget for 2015. As is the practice in Swedish politics, the opposition has tabled a counter-proposal (a ‘shadow budget’, if you like) which, were things to follow the tradition, it will vote for. Therefore, none of the blocks has an automatic majority – meaning that all eyes are on the SD.

The budget vote is a de facto vote of confidence. Prime Minister Stefan Löfven has made it clear that he will resign if he fails to get the government’s budget through. The SD are currently weighing up their options. If they decide to back the opposition’s budget, they will effectively be forcing the government out.

So what will happen? It’s hard to tell at the moment, but here are a few possible outcomes:

  • The SD decide to abstain, meaning that the government’s budget will pass with a relative majority. 
  • The SD announce their intention to vote for the opposition’s budget. The government postpones the vote and sends the draft budget back to the Swedish parliament’s Finance Committee in a bid to come up with a new proposal that can draw support from the centre-right opposition.
  • The SD decide to vote for the opposition’s budget but, in an unprecedented move, the opposition votes with the government and the government’s budget goes through.  
  • The SD decide to vote for the opposition’s budget and the opposition’s budget goes through – leading to Prime Minister Löfven resigning after only two months in office and, potentially, to snap elections.

In other words, an almighty mess. Swedish politics have simultaneously become Italian (turbulence) and Dutch (fragmentation of the centre). Such dynamic was unthinkable only a few years ago.

Löfven’s greatest hope is that the SD blink. Bringing down a government and triggering a snap election is far from a risk-free strategy. In 2012, Geert Wilders and his Freedom Party withdrew support from the minority centre-right Dutch government in a budget vote. In the subsequent snap elections, Wilders got absolutely hammered and his party’s share of the vote was halved. He had over-reached and Dutch voters disapproved of what they saw as reckless behaviour.

Also, do the SD have the energy and financial power to fight another election? Quite literally: the party’s leader, the scarily able Jimmie Åkesson (in the picture), has taken indefinite sick leave due to exhaustion. The SD would potentially have to fight a new election without its greatest asset.

As our Director Mats Persson argued in the Telegraph last week, it’s interesting to note the diametrically opposite approaches in the UK and Sweden in response to insurgent parties. In the former, it’s been a case of out-Ukipping UKIP – at least up until Cameron’s immigration speech last week, in which he drew a clear line in the sand. In the latter, it’s been a case of ignoring and seeking to humiliate SD – fuelled by a media seeing itself as the guardian of Swedish tolerance. Neither approach has worked.

This is part of a very complex discussion of course. But ahead of tomorrow’s vote, Swedish politicians and commentators would do well in thinking about how they reached a point where an anti-immigration party with neo-fascist roots became so powerful that it can take governments down?

At least Swedish politics is no longer un-exciting.

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