Sweden’s government back from the brink – but now what?

Alex Mitchell
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Once again the Swedish political drama has revealed another twist. Prime Minister Stefan Löfven announced that following talks with the opposition Alliance he would be calling off his snap elections in March.

He told reporters in a press conference, ‘Sweden has a tradition of solving difficult problems.’ Adding, ‘I am happy that … Sweden can be governed.’

The document formulated between the Social Democrat-Greens and the Alliance made up of the Moderates, Centre party, Liberals and the Christian Democrats, will be known as the December agreement and will remain in force until 2022

The agreement commits the opposition to abstaining in votes against the government’s budget proposals starting from April 2015 and also co-ordinates the party’s policies on pensions, defence and energy. Löfven has had to accept the budget proposed by the opposition back in December meaning he will not be able to pass his own budget until 2016 however he will be able to amend some areas of the Alliance budget.

The moderates currently don’t have a party leader after former Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt resigned following his election defeat back in September. The expected leader Anna Kinberg was alongside Löfven at the press conference.

‘The agreement strengthens Sweden and it is something the Alliance welcome and have sought for some time,’ she said. Centre Party leader Annie Lööf added, ‘Since the 1970s we have had minority governments except for eight years. This allows us to show a need to agree on how the country can be governed with stability and efficiency across block borders.’

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Löfven has had to trade an awful lot for this deal as it also guarantees that if neither the Social Democrat-Greens or the Alliance win a majority at the next election in 2018, the Alliance will be allowed to lead the next government even if the Moderates come second to the Social Democrats, who in turn would not be able to vote against the new government’s budgets.

The agreement came about due to the political headache the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats are causing. After the September election the Sweden Democrats took 13% of the vote. Their backing of the Alliance budget lead to the political crisis. Both the Social Democrat-Greens and the Alliance have refused to work with the Sweden Democrats. The Left party, though left out of the Centre Left government, still support Prime Minister Löfven.

Sweden is trying to tackle the rise in popularity of the extreme right. To someone from a nation that is fairly new to coalition governments it is hard for us to apply the scenario to, say, the rise of UKIP for example. Germany however in an attempt to block the extreme right from gaining political influence, would form a ‘grand coalition’, whereby the winner of the election forms a coalition with the leading opposition party. A recent example being the 2005 election. Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and their Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU) formed a governing coalition with the Social Democratic Party (SDP), rather than going to the smaller (and in some cases more extreme) parties and forming a coalition with them.

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Sweden’s neighbours, Denmark and Norway, tend to go for the option of including the extreme parties along party lines in any coalition/legislative deals, however, Sweden feels this gives the extreme parties a platform. Denmark and Norway’s elections next year will give us a better idea of this theory.

The Sweden Democrats are frustrated by the days announcement. They had planned to use the snap election as a referendum on immigration. Recent polls hinted towards little change in the make-up of parliament following a fresh election.

Acting leader Mattias Karlsson (leader Jimmie Åkesson is on sick leave) reacted with furry and threatened to call a vote of no confidence. He argued that ‘they go against the fundamental principles of democracy. What it’s done is introduced a set of rules where a minority can control a majority.’

He added, ‘The Alliance has practically given up its role as the opposition. With that the Sweden Democrats are now leading the opposition.’ Mattias called the Government and the Alliance ‘losers and the Sweden Democrats are the winners’.

He further added, ‘It is clear they are attacking us. Now there are six parties in government and one opposition party.’

It is hard to predict what will happen. Clearly the Social Democrat-Greens are here to stay in government until the next scheduled election at least. Can they and the Alliance starve the extreme right of oxygen so their fire burns out? They have eight years to do it in assuming the Swedish public don’t take the view that the only opposition is now the Sweden Democrats and deprive either the current Government or the Alliance an electoral victory.

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There is also the Feminist Party which fell 0.9% short on votes for entering Parliament and who have been deprived their second chance election. Will they now be acting as an opposition party from outside Parliament?

The December agreement is quite unique in that it allows for the free flow of ideas and ideology but with no real opposition to action on budgetary matters. If Löfven wins a majority with or without the Greens in 2018, then the Alliance have effectively signed their silence for eight years. This could lead to the Sweden Democrats getting louder and louder and causing more of a headache.

What is evident is that European nations are facing the rise of the extreme right/nationalists. What Sweden is trying to do is isolate and remove the balance of power they hold in the Swedish Parliament. Only time will tell if this is a workable solution.

Image by Peter Haas, via Wikimedia Commons. Licence: CC BY-SA 3.0.

About Alex Mitchell

Political observer and current affairs addict. I observe - I analyse - I debate