Don’t Mention the Immigrants!

Immigration to Sweden is expected to continue growing as the neoliberal wars being waged across the globe reach crescendo. At his first meeting in the EU Council the new minority Social Democratic Government Statsminister Stefan Lövfen was urged to increase Sweden’s intake of refugees and he duly agreed.

Sweden has a political party, the Sweden Democrats, with an outspokenly critical view of the number of immigrants coming to Sweden. This is not a new issue. Sweden is a big country with a small population, under 10 million, and a density of only 23 people per square kilometre. The wars of recent years have meant that Sweden now has its highest ever intake – 120,000 a year, with the largest proportion from Syria and Somalia. See for more details.

The main problem is not space reckoned in people per kilometre but housing. The Reinfeldt Government in a naive belief that they could leave housing to The Market to meet demand caused a huge backlog of housing demand unmet, especially in the big cities where unemployment was low.

The two main parties the Social Democrats and the Moderates (and their respective allies) had tried to squeeze the Sweden Democrats out of the political discussions by ignoring them, hoping that by doing so the Sweden Democrats would be left out of the debates and so lose support. This was a grave misjudgment (see Ordoliberalism in Sweden update). The Sweden Democrats’ leader, Jimmie Åkesson, was a formidable party leader and never at a loss as to how to respond.

The old Swedish Jantelagen cold-shoulder approach did not succeed in harming the Sweden Democrats – quite the opposite, it gained support especially in the rural areas and in the 2014 General Election became the third largest party, holding the balance of power in the Riksdag. They took votes primarily from the Moderates. But Jimmie Åkesson payed a high personal price for this success and had to take time out after the election, suffering from burnout. He is still not back at time of publication and may not come back at all.

The 2014 Riksdag election results produced the Social Democrats as the largest party with 113 seats. The next largest was the Moderates with 84 seats, third came the Sweden Democrats with 49 seats. The rest clustered around 20+ seats. See the side panel on the Riksdag Wikipedia page for the full results.

So Lövfen was in charge of a minority Government composed of the Social Democrats and the Greens but with only 138 of 349 seats, while the opposition was made up of the Moderates, the Liberals, the Centre Party, and the Christian Democrats, the Sweden Democrats and the Left Party.

Lövfen wanted to persuade the Liberal Party and the Centre Party to form a government with the Social Democrats and the Greens. This happened way back in the 1920s but this proved to be a forlorn hope, as they have consistently stayed loyal to the Moderates, giving the Sweden Democrats a pivotal role. Their shadow budget was voted through by Riksdag.

Lövfen was furious and said it was his intention to declare a general election in March 2015, and meanwhile he would have to work with a Moderate budget. The polls were indicating that the Social Democrat would gain seats while the Moderates would lose.

But then the Social Democrats under Lövfen and the Moderates under their newly elected leader Anna Kinberg Batra met and came to a general agreement over a number of key areas – nuclear power, education and defence, with details to be ironed out later. It is likely that the whole is formulated to allow the opportunity for both parties to keep open the possibility to force an election when it seemed they would win. Löfven duly announced that the March 2015 election would now not be held.

The whole deal smacked of the two biggest parties combining to keep the Sweden Democrats out of all influence – removing the ability of the Sweden Democrats to hold the balance of power. But even Moderate supporters were critical of the agreement, arguing that it was undemocratic. Immigration has to become a politically acceptable issue to discuss, and neither political block wanted to discuss the Sweden Democrats’ one major issue. One party, the Christian Democrats – the position of which is the weakest and which so may fail to received 4 percent of the vote needed to keep it in the Riksdag – has already broken rank on this.

It is most likely that the Moderates will ensure that the agreement to bypass the Sweden Democrats will fall at the negotiations stage.

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