Sweden

1. Euroscepticism and European Parliament elections

The EU should focus on important issues

One of the key top­ics of the Swedish EU elec­tion dis­cus­sions was sub­sidiar­i­ty. A com­mon phrase, seen in dif­fer­ent short ver­sions on the posters, was that EU should stick to what it is good at, and leave things that could bet­ter be han­dled on low­er lev­el to the mem­ber states. The need for the EU to stop its ambi­tions to deal with all areas came out in dif­fer­ent ways depend­ing on the lev­el of euroscep­ti­cism of the par­ties, but even the Lib­er­als (labelling them­selves as the most EU-friend­ly par­ty) claimed that the EU need­ed a reform lead­ing to clos­er coop­er­a­tion in areas such as democ­ra­cy, human rights, econ­o­my, trade, migra­tion, the fight against crime and sus­tain­able devel­op­ment. The EU should, how­ev­er, not seek to cre­ate a com­mon pol­i­cy on media, tourism and cul­ture. The largest par­ty, the Social Democ­rats, want­ed the EU to focus on jobs, fair terms of employ­ment and the envi­ron­ment. One of the major win­ners of the elec­tions, the Green Par­ty (Miljö­par­ti­et), as expect­ed, want­ed the EU to focus on the envi­ron­ment but also on an open EU with a humane refugee pol­i­cy.

In the dis­cus­sion employ­ment has been one of the key top­ics, focus­ing on the EU’s gen­er­al abil­i­ty to cre­ate new jobs. The Social Democ­rats’ focus on terms of employ­ment stood against the Mod­er­ates’ view on lib­er­al­iza­tion. The two par­ties were, how­ev­er, unit­ed on the need for the EU to work for more free trade and to fight against pro­tec­tion­ism. Cli­mate and the envi­ron­ment were oth­er major issues with­in the debate and the dom­i­nat­ing issue for the Green par­ty, the major win­ner. Anoth­er relat­ed top­ic con­cerned the treat­ment of ani­mals in the EU.

The Fem­i­nist Ini­tia­tive (Fem­i­nis­tiskt ini­tia­tiv), which suc­ceed­ed in tak­ing a seat in the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment, brought up women’s issues in the dis­cus­sion, which led oth­er par­ties to address this issue as well. The Swe­den Democ­rats (Sverigedemokra­ter­na), gen­er­al­ly looked down on by oth­er par­ties, got two seats. Their mot­to was “Brus­sels out of Swe­den!” They also argue for reduced immi­gra­tion, and are against Turk­ish mem­ber­ship of the EU.

A spe­cial fea­ture of the debate was the issue of how to counter the dan­ger in Europe, includ­ing Swe­den, of the grow­ing pop­ulism and extrem­ism. Par­ties unit­ed in urg­ing peo­ple to vote in order to counter this. The EU front-run­ners did not play any role in the elec­tion process. Their names and pro­files were pub­lished but there was no reac­tion.

Scepticism against federalism

In gen­er­al there was much crit­i­cism towards the EU dur­ing the elec­tion cam­paign. The EU was rec­og­nized for its impor­tance in cre­at­ing peace on the con­ti­nent and two par­ties (the Lib­er­als and the Mod­er­ates) pro­filed them­selves on the posters as sup­port­ers of the EU. How­ev­er, in spite of their gen­er­al EU-pos­i­tive atti­tude, they crit­i­cized the EU as med­dling too much into issues that should be dealt with by the mem­ber states.

A mid­dle group of par­ties, while in prin­ci­ple not deeply EU-crit­i­cal, argued that the EU need­ed to be more effi­cient by focus­ing on the impor­tant issues such as the envi­ron­ment, migra­tion, human rights trade, com­pet­i­tive­ness and inter­na­tion­al crime. They direct­ed much crit­i­cism against the EU’s med­dling into areas that indi­vid­ual per­sons and deci­sion-mak­ers on local, region­al and nation­al lev­el are bet­ter fit to decide on. Such areas are tax­es, edu­ca­tion, wel­fare, social secu­ri­ty sys­tems, cul­ture, nat­ur­al resources and poli­cies regard­ing preda­to­ry ani­mals. The Cen­tre Par­ty spoke out against “unmo­ti­vat­ed fed­er­al­ism” and, among oth­er exam­ples, argued that it should be more impor­tant for the EU to go after car­bon diox­ide emis­sions than to give Swe­den detailed instruc­tions on the hunt­ing of wolves.

A more sub­stan­tial scep­ti­cism towards the EU came only from two par­ties which both claimed to be the most crit­i­cal towards the EU. One was the Swe­den Democ­rats, who called the oth­er par­ties “EU-fed­er­al­ists”. They want­ed a rene­go­ti­a­tion of Swedish mem­ber­ship in the EU and argued that Swe­den, like the UK, should have a ref­er­en­dum on this issue. The oth­er was the Left Par­ty. Accord­ing to this par­ty, the EU helps to save banks but impairs the con­di­tions for trade unions as well as for ordi­nary peo­ple, includ­ing women.

Over­all, there was more dis­ap­proval than praise for the EU. A fre­quent tar­get of crit­i­cism and exam­ple of the fol­ly of the EU was the waste of mon­ey con­nect­ed to mov­ing the par­lia­ment between Brus­sels and Stras­bourg. The crit­i­cism was some­times sweep­ing, often not rec­og­niz­ing the dif­fer­ence between “Brus­sels bureau­cra­cy” and the role of mem­ber states. One exam­ple of this was the dis­ap­proval of the EU’s pol­i­cy on migra­tion and asy­lum.

Victory for new and small parties

The out­come of the elec­tion was a vic­to­ry for the new and some of the small par­ties. The Green Par­ty gained 4 per­cent as com­pared to the pre­vi­ous EU elec­tion, the Fem­i­nist Ini­tia­tive 3 per­cent and the Swe­den Democ­rats 6 per­cent. The biggest par­ty, the Social Democ­rats, stayed on the same fig­ure as in 2009, which was a dis­ap­point­ment, since the par­ty has increased its pop­u­lar­i­ty in the opin­ion polls dur­ing the last few years and is expect­ed to assume pow­er in the upcom­ing Sep­tem­ber elec­tions. The major los­er was, how­ev­er, the Mod­er­ates, the present lead­ing par­ty of the gov­ern­ment, which lost 5 per­cent.

The analy­sis cen­tred on the approach­es of the par­ties to the elec­tion: it seemed that polit­i­cal mes­sages that were more based on val­ues and less on eco­nom­ic facts were suc­cess­ful in get­ting atten­tion and attract­ed par­tic­u­lar­ly the younger vot­ers.

The hope was that this time turnout would exceed 50 per­cent, a fig­ure much low­er than a nation­al elec­tion but high­er than the pre­vi­ous EU elec­tion. This also turned out to be the case. Maybe because of the con­stant urg­ing to vote, the per­cent­age of vot­ers increased from 45.53 in 2009 to 51.07 per­cent in 2014.

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2. The EU’s Neighbourhood

Deep pessimism as regards Russia

In view of the Russ­ian aggres­sion against Ukraine the Swedish gov­ern­ment has sus­pend­ed its mil­i­tary coop­er­a­tion with Rus­sia and the Russ­ian behav­iour has been con­demned in strong words. All polit­i­cal par­ties share the views expressed by the gov­ern­ment. This is evi­dent in a report pub­lished in May 2014 by the Par­lia­men­tary Defence Com­mis­sion.
Accord­ing to this report, “[t]he Russ­ian activ­i­ties con­firm the pic­ture of a state lead­er­ship with a grow­ing ambi­tion to re-estab­lish Rus­sia as a super­pow­er, con­trol­ling as large parts of the for­mer Sovi­et Union as pos­si­ble”.

The report fur­ther­more states that “[t]he Nordic and Baltic Sea Region is char­ac­ter­ized over­all by sta­bil­i­ty, dia­logue and coop­er­a­tion. The poli­cies pur­sued by Rus­sia, on the oth­er hand, are unpre­dictable and desta­bi­liz­ing. It is incon­ceiv­able that a mil­i­tary con­flict in our region would only affect one coun­try. A sep­a­rate mil­i­tary attack direct­ly tar­get­ing Swe­den remains unlike­ly. How­ev­er, crises and inci­dents – includ­ing those involv­ing mil­i­tary force – may also occur and in the longer term the threat of mil­i­tary attack can nev­er be ruled out. Russia’s aggres­sion against Ukraine demon­strates that the risk of this has increased also in our region”. (Försvaret av Sverige, p. 21)

The Russ­ian behav­iour towards Swe­den is also part of the pic­ture. Rus­sia has on two occa­sions prac­ticed attacks against tar­gets in Swe­den (Stock­holm and the south­ern part of the coun­try). Russ­ian ships and air­craft, equipped to gath­er sig­nal intel­li­gence, have patrolled clos­er to Swedish shores than pre­vi­ous­ly, dur­ing the post-Cold War peri­od. Fur­ther­more, Rus­sia has inten­si­fied its attempts to recruit agents in Swe­den and gath­ered a large num­ber of maps of sen­si­tive areas in Swe­den.

The response of the Swedish gov­ern­ment has been to decide on increased air­craft patrolling and strength­en­ing of the Swedish defence forces. The main oppo­si­tion par­ty, the Social Democ­rats, has agreed but argues that con­sid­er­ably larg­er amounts should go to defence than those sug­gest­ed by the gov­ern­ment. The strong con­dem­na­tion of Russ­ian aggres­sion is shared by the news­pa­pers as well the gen­er­al pub­lic. Mil­i­tary experts and researchers share the views of the polit­i­cal par­ties as regards the Russ­ian activ­i­ties and inten­tions in Ukraine.

A spe­cial con­cern for Swe­den is the island of Got­land, which is of strate­gic impor­tance in the Baltic Sea and whose defence is now being strength­ened. For the inhab­i­tants of Got­land the close­ness to the Nord Stream pipeline gives cause for wor­ry, not least the ser­vice sta­tion, which gives Rus­sia a legit­i­mate rea­son to be close to the island.

Links:

Eastern Partnership Must Continue

The East­ern Part­ner­ship coun­tries are now con­sid­ered to be even more cru­cial than before. The view of Carl Bildt is that the EU can­not be blamed in any way for the vio­lence in Kyiv in Feb­ru­ary this year. It was caused entire­ly by Pres­i­dent Yanukovich and his rela­tions to Moscow.

The Swedish government’s view, as expressed by Bildt in a speech in Kyiv, is that the work of the EU with­in the East­ern Part­ner­ship must con­tin­ue. The EU is under pres­sure since Rus­sia seems intent on using all instru­ments at its dis­pos­al to per­suade its part­ners to aban­don their Euro­pean path. Bildt referred to Arme­nia revers­ing course when, after hav­ing suc­cess­ful­ly nego­ti­at­ed an Asso­ci­a­tion Agree­ment and a Deep and Com­pre­hen­sive Free Trade Area with the EU for three years, the Armen­ian Pres­i­dent was sud­den­ly sum­moned to Moscow and forced to join the Cus­toms Union of Rus­sia, Belarus and Kaza­khstan. He also point­ed to the threats direct­ed against Moldo­va and the poli­cies towards Ukraine — first to make the pre­vi­ous admin­is­tra­tion in Kiev drop the EU agree­ment and there­after to wreck the effort by the new gov­ern­ment to move Ukraine in the direc­tion it had demo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly decid­ed to take. Allow­ing coun­tries to con­duct a pol­i­cy of smash and grab would, accord­ing to Bildt, final­ly lead to a world of chaos. What is now at stake are fur­ther­more the fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ples of the EU and there­fore the EU will stand firm.

The For­eign Min­is­ter also empha­sized that the EU rela­tion­ship with the East­ern Part­ner­ship coun­tries should not be to the detri­ment of the part­ners’ rela­tions with Rus­sia. On the con­trary: the EU encour­ages them to have good rela­tions also with Moscow, and the Free Trade Agree­ments that the EU has nego­ti­at­ed are ful­ly com­pat­i­ble with the Free Trade Agree­ments that the part­ner coun­tries already have with Rus­sia through the Com­mon­wealth of Inde­pen­dent States.

The Swedish EaP ambas­sador in an inter­view in April expressed a pos­i­tive view on the future of the East­ern Part­ner­ship, which is also com­ple­ment­ed by a Swedish aid strat­e­gy for the EAP coun­tries for the com­ing sev­en years. (Source:

The poli­cies of the gov­ern­ment have the sup­port of the oth­er polit­i­cal par­ties and there are no oppos­ing views in the gen­er­al debate or the news­pa­pers.

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Turkey still a candidate

The Swedish view, expressed at a vis­it by Mr Erdo­gan in Novem­ber 2013, is that Turkey should be giv­en full EU mem­ber­ship when the nego­ti­a­tions are con­clud­ed. Swe­den deplored the fact that some coun­tries may open up for ref­er­en­da.

In Feb­ru­ary 2014 the Swedish annu­al state­ment on for­eign pol­i­cy includ­ed a pas­sage on Turkey, men­tion­ing a first step towards lib­er­al­i­sa­tion in the visa area. How­ev­er, fur­ther change and reform were need­ed in order to strength­en human rights and the inde­pen­dence of the judi­cia­ry, includ­ing a new con­sti­tu­tion and progress in the Kur­dish peace process.

The threats to close down Twit­ter were met with con­sid­er­able crit­i­cism in Swe­den. Carl Bildt wrote on Twit­ter that Mr Erdo­gan was not only hurt­ing him­self but a whole nation with his threats.

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3. Power relations in the EU

Germany, the leading country within the EU

Ger­many is seen as the lead­ing coun­try of the EU and Ger­man pol­i­cy is there­fore giv­en much atten­tion. For Swe­den, Ger­man pol­i­cy towards Rus­sia is par­tic­u­lar­ly impor­tant, since Swe­den itself has strong views on the Russ­ian behav­iour in Ukraine. A pri­ma­ry issue con­cerns the per­ceived dif­fi­cul­ty for Ger­many as a leader to form an over­all Euro­pean per­spec­tive on the Russ­ian activ­i­ties, con­sid­er­ing the Ger­man vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties depend­ing on the fact that Ger­many is high­ly depen­dent on Russ­ian ener­gy, which makes the coun­try vul­ner­a­ble to Russ­ian coun­ter­ac­tions, and its exports to Rus­sia are sub­stan­tial, which makes eco­nom­ic sanc­tions cost­ly. So far the gen­er­al view in Swe­den is that Chan­cel­lor Merkel has suc­ceed­ed well in doing this. This bal­anc­ing act may, how­ev­er, become more dif­fi­cult as the cri­sis con­tin­ues, not least when fac­ing inter­nal and exter­nal pres­sure.

Anoth­er impor­tant area, in terms of Ger­man lead­er­ship, is the eco­nom­ic one. Since Swe­den remains out­side of the Euro­zone, it is less affect­ed by Ger­man eco­nom­ic lead­er­ship than many oth­er coun­tries. The Swedish econ­o­my has done well also in times of finan­cial cri­sis, which is part­ly attrib­uted to being out­side the Euro­zone, and the sup­port in favour of join­ing the euro is now very low. Still there is infor­mal coop­er­a­tion, such as the meet­ing between Ger­many, Swe­den, the UK and the Nether­lands (the most com­pet­i­tive coun­tries of the EU, accord­ing to an OECD report). The meet­ing, post­poned by the Ukraine cri­sis and resched­uled for 9 – 10 June, will now most prob­a­bly be dom­i­nat­ed by the issue of the new Com­mis­sion leader rather than by eco­nom­ic and employ­ment issues, as planned. With­in this group only Ger­many is com­mit­ted to Jean-Claude Junck­er and, due to Germany’s posi­tion, Chan­cel­lor Merkel will most prob­a­bly assume the lead­ing role in the dis­cus­sions.

Links:

  • Sven­s­ka Dag­bladet, Junck­er blir het­ast på agen­dan [Junck­er will be the hottest item on the agen­da], 9 June 2014.

Austerity Moving Towards Growth

Being out­side the Euro­zone and at the same time not much affect­ed by the finan­cial cri­sis, Swe­den is not in a posi­tion either to be impos­ing a pol­i­cy on oth­ers or hav­ing such a pol­i­cy imposed upon it. Gen­er­al­ly, how­ev­er, dur­ing the cri­sis, the government’s state­ments in this regard have leaned towards the aus­ter­i­ty approach, empha­siz­ing the neces­si­ty in some of the affect­ed coun­tries to estab­lish prop­er sys­tems of admin­is­tra­tion, such as col­lect­ing tax­es. Some Swedish econ­o­mists have on the oth­er hand voiced their con­cerns as regards the EU’s poli­cies, argu­ing that the aus­ter­i­ty approach gives the coun­tries con­cerned lit­tle pos­si­bil­i­ty to get out of the cri­sis, since it pre­vents them from gen­er­at­ing growth.

The Swedish gov­ern­ment has stat­ed its view that at this time when some sta­bil­i­ty can be dis­cerned in the Euro area, it is impor­tant to strike a bal­ance between, on the one hand, the need for con­sol­i­dat­ing pub­lic finances and, on the oth­er, struc­tural­ly cor­rect mea­sures to sup­port short-term and long-term growth. The gov­ern­ment fur­ther­more sees it as impor­tant that a strength­en­ing of the Euro­pean Mon­e­tary Union does not risk elim­i­nat­ing mar­ket sig­nals for mem­ber states that need to imple­ment struc­tur­al reforms or con­sol­i­date their pub­lic finances.

Sweden’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in the Bank­ing Union can, accord­ing to the gov­ern­ment, only be con­sid­ered when all the rules for this union have been clar­i­fied and under the con­di­tion that some require­ments set by Swe­den have been met.

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“An island adrift in the Atlantic”

British exit from the EU is con­sid­ered as a pos­si­ble sce­nario and, in an inter­view with the Finan­cial Times, For­eign Min­is­ter Carl Bildt warned the British of its con­se­quences. For the EU the effect would be that it would lose a sig­nif­i­cant ele­ment of glob­al clout but it would be an even big­ger dis­as­ter for the UK, which would be seen as “an island adrift in the Atlantic”.

Fur­ther­more, accord­ing to Bildt, there is a real risk of “Balka­niza­tion” of the British Isles if Scot­land becomes inde­pen­dent, which would in turn lead to fur­ther sep­a­ratism with­in the EU. Gen­er­al­ly, news­pa­pers have a neg­a­tive view on the UK leav­ing the EU. It is seen as a very valu­able coun­try with­in the Union and it is fur­ther­more believed to harm itself by leav­ing. One jour­nal­ist wrote about the UK “des­per­ate­ly try­ing to roll back time 60 years to the 50s”.

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This sur­vey was con­duct­ed on the basis of a ques­tion­naire that has been elab­o­rat­ed in March 2014. Most of the reports were deliv­ered in June 2014. This issue and all pre­vi­ous issues are avail­able on the EU-28 Watch web­site: www.eu-28watch.org.

The EU-28 Watch No. 10 receives sig­nif­i­cant fund­ing from the Otto Wolff-Foun­da­tion, Cologne, in the frame­work of the ‘Dia­log Europa der Otto Wolff-Stiftung’, and finan­cial sup­port from the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion. The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion is not respon­si­ble for any use that may be made of the infor­ma­tion con­tained there­in.