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Home Opinion The summer Sweden became obsessed with immigration
State of the Left - Sweden

The summer Sweden became obsessed with immigration

Katrine Marçal - 16 September 2015

Stefan Löfven must exercise leadership on the refugee crisis – it will define not only his legacy, but his chances in the next election

This was the summer when Sweden got obsessed with immigration. Finally, some international observers might say. The Swedish case has long puzzled others Europeans, not to mention Sweden’s neighbours Denmark and Norway. When former prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt in the defining moments of the election campaign of 2014 urged the public to open “their hearts” to more asylum seekers it proved that Sweden was different, or as some might put it ‘weird’. 

Few conservative leaders would have done what Reinfeldt did at the time. There has been a strong consensus in Sweden among the established parties about the benefits of immigration. The kind of anti-immigrant rhetoric that has become norm in many other European countries has not filtered into the mainstream press.

This changed during the summer. The anti-immigration party, the Sweden Democrats, have been gaining votes in every opinion poll during the last year. The Sweden Democrats is a party with roots in the neo-Nazi movement and exhibits a nastier species of far-right populism than many of its European counterparts.

The Sweden Democrats are excluded from influence in parliament through a deal Social Democratic prime minister Stefan Löfven did with the centre right over Christmas. The deal saved his government and has therefore been controversial within the centre right: “Why are we saving a Social Democratic government?” many conservatives have been asking themselves during the last six months. “Is it really that important to keep the Sweden Democrats away from influence?”

Reinfeldt’s successor as leader of the opposition, Anna Kinberg Batra, has however defended the deal very firmly.

The internal conflicts about how to handle the fact that around 18 per cent of the Swedish electorate say they would be voting for the Sweden Democrats are however not limited to the opposition.

Stefan Löfven is governing together with the Greens and the Social Democrats and their junior coalition partner tend to have different views about how to deal with the challenges posed by around 70,000 asylum seekers coming to Sweden every year. The Social Democratic finance ministry has proposed lower benefits for asylum seekers in order to keep costs in check. This was blocked by the Greens. The same thing happened with proposals for things like a ‘safe country of origin’ list, to speed up the denial of applications from people coming from countries not considered dangerous enough. This kind of tension within the government will probably not go away. 

Meanwhile Löfven has been criticised for being invisible. Nobody can tell what his political project is. The question “Who is in charge?” is often asked about the government. And more worryingly: the country.

Löfven was an outsider; a well-liked and respected union man. Unfortunately he still struggles with how to be a politician.

The easiest way to fix his image problem would probably be to simply start governing. After all the strength of Swedish social democracy has always been its ability to take action. Not its ability to talk.

Sweden’s commitment to taking its responsibility for asylum seekers in Europe is important and admirable. It will however also cost money. Most of these costs are today carried by local authorities. Local politicians have demanded help from the central government for years and finally the government has opened negotiations with the opposition on the issue. They have also committed to more state money going to local authorities with a large number of refugees.

Another big problem is that many municipalities in the heavily decentralised Swedish system simply refuse to take any asylum seekers. These tend to be wealthy municipalities run by the centre right. The effect of this is a heavy concentration of refugees in certain areas of Sweden, in many cases with poorer residents and more social problems. Something needs to be done about this.

Sweden is also worse than comparative countries at getting immigrants and refugees into the labour market. This is a huge problem and would require a lot of Social Democratic soul searching in order to fix. It can however be done.

Löfven needs to realise that how he deals with the global refugee crisis will in many ways define his time as prime minister. Not to mention his chances of winning the next election.

Katrine Marçal is a columnist for Aftonbladet

This article is a contribution to State of the Left – Policy Network's regular insight bulletin that reports from across the world of social democratic politics

Tags: Katrine Marçal


30 January 2016 00:50

The author said the Sweden Democrat Party "exhibits a nastier species of far-right populism than many of its European counterparts" I hope for the sake of Sweden, the authors statement is remotely close to true. After decades of being gelded, I mean guided and governed by beta males and alpha dyke females, it's going to take rough men with hard notions to rescue the situation. It's as if Sweden is populated by gullible children or maybe even lambs lead to slaughter by their incompetent, pointless, cloying leadership. Each trying to outdo the other in pursuit of of the perfect politically correct tone. There is a video on Youtube of Swedish police with dogs, confronting a mob of brick and rock throwing migrants. The police dogs are trying to run away. Initially I thought while watching the vid that the dogs are much like the police when it comes to cutting and running. But no, upon closer inspection, the dogs are muzzled. Of course they are trying to get away. They're defenseless not stupid. Meanwhile, the migrants continued to assail police and dogs until the police ran off on the heels of their animals. It's as if Sweden's welfare society has muzzled the minds of the people. Life is a bitch and you have to stay sharp at all times. You can't go through life wearing a muzzle. You have to keep Something about that video is metaphorical about Sweden.

17 September 2015 13:56

SD is the gaining support as ordinary Swedes wake up to the total loss of their country. A few years ago 5%, then last year 13% and now around 27%. As the immigration crisis worsens throughout Europe and more and more countries are seen to be closing their borders and turning them away, many more will head straight for Germany and Sweden. Thus SD will grow much stronger. SD18

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The Policy Network Observatory promotes critical debate and reflection on progressive politics. It is centre-left orientated but determinedly challenges social democracy. It is pro-European but restlessly questions EU institutions and practices.

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