Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Sweden’s EU campaign overshadowed by far-right troll farm scandal

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With just over a week before the European elections, public debate in Sweden is dominated by a far-right troll factory scandal while the ruling centre-right coalition is trying to dilute its cooperation with the far-right via a broader collaboration with the Social Democrats in the European Parliament.

Sweden’s election campaign has been disrupted by a scandal involving the far-right Sweden Democrats party (SD, ECR), the country’s second-biggest party.

Earlier this month, Swedish broadcaster TV4 revealed that SD’s communications department had used numerous anonymous accounts to spread social media content favourable to its views, sometimes at the expense of its coalition allies, who condemned SD’s actions and called for transparency and integrity in political campaigns.

SD is not part of the center-right ruling coalition, made of the Moderates, the Christian Democrats, and the Liberals, but supports it for a tougher immigration policy. Without its support, the coalition would collapse.

Therefore, the affair became a nightmare for Prime minister Ulf Kristersson’s leadership. On Wednesday (29 May), the Sweden Democrats had to remove a Russia-born employee, who has for several years spread Kremlin propaganda, further contributing to the ongoing coalition crisis, Expressen newspaper revealed.

“This scandal also suits some parties who, as a result, don’t have to talk too much about European issues that are sometimes perceived as being too complex,” Johan Varland, a candidate in the EU elections for the liberal-conservative party Medborgerlig Samling, told Euractiv.

Still, there are important debates about the EU and its policies in Sweden, especially on migration, climate security and economic policy, Amna Handzic, analyst at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs, told Euractiv.

“Migration and security policy have been prominent in the debate and these issues have made the parties’ differences particularly visible,” she said, adding that developing ambitious EU climate policies also remained a key concern for the Swedes.

Weakened centre

Pro-EU centrist parties are expected to lose the most in the EU elections, to the benefit of the far-right and the left-wing opposition, according to a Europe elects poll for Euractiv.

The Swedish Liberals, formally linked to the Swedish far right by a political agreement at the national level, are set to lose their only MEP, while the Centre Party could lose one or both of its MEPs, according to various polls.

These predictions reflect Sweden’s internal political dynamics but also a lack of strong names in the two centrist parties’ lists: According to a DN/Ipsos survey, more than 60% of Swedish voters do not know who Liberal MEP Karin Karlsbro and Centre Party’s leading MEP Emma Wiesner are.

The ECR Sweden Democrats, with around 20%, are expected to gain one MEP, while Prime Minister Kristersson’s Moderates are expected to keep their four MEPs.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Social Democrats should confirm their status as Sweden’s largest party with 30% and seven MEPs.

Meanwhile, the Left Party is expected to make progress by relying on the familiar face of former party leader Jonas Sjöstedt , while the Greens should lose ground with 10%.

No Swedish cordon sanitaire

Despite ideological differences and scandals at the national level, the Swedish MEPs from ruling parties will likely collaborate with their Sweden Democrats colleagues from the ECR group.

“There is no cordon sanitaire anymore from the side of all three Swedish government parties except for cooperating with far-right parties that are clearly pro-Russian”, Karlstad University Professor Tobias Hübinette told Euractiv.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Kristersson published an op-ed in the leading daily Aftonbladet calling for the creation of “Team Sweden”, a grand coalition including the country’s three largest parties: the Social Democrats (S&D), the Sweden Democrats (ECR) and the Moderates (EPP).

The Sweden Democrats, however, declined the offer as, according to SD leader Jimmie Åkesson, Social Democrat chief Magdalena Andersson does not want to negotiate with the ECR and neither the Moderates nor the Social Democrats would vote against their respective groups in the European Parliament in favour of the ECR.

Instead, SD’s lead candidate, ECR group vice-chair Charlie Weimers, declared that he was in favour of an agreement with the  EPP and Renew Europe similar to the one the Swedish ruling coalition has, extending it to the far-right Identity and Democracy group, from which the German AFD was recently excluded.

Working together with centrist Renew Europe parties might be more difficult than Weimers announced, however: In May, several parties in the European Parliament, including the Swedish Liberals and the Centre Party, signed a declaration promising not to cooperate or form coalitions “with far-right and radical parties at any level”.

While a right-wing majority of the EPP, ECR, and the far-right ID is unlikely, right-wing forces could still work together on particular files in the next legislature, as they have done in the past when they jointly opposed the EU’s nature restoration law.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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