quinta-feira, 4 de dezembro de 2014

Sweden’s political instability is a warning to the rest of Europe

Sweden has long been an exemplar for other European countries on policy matters, whether its famed social model or how to deal with a financial crisis.

But this week’s political turmoil in Stockholm risks turning Sweden into a harbinger of the instability populist parties are able to wreak in Europe.

The anti-immigration Sweden Democrats have succeeded in toppling the centre-left government after just two months in power, meaning Sweden will have its first mid-term elections in more than half a century on March 22.

In other European countries where anti-establishment parties — the UK Independence party, National Front in France, Podemos in Spain and True Finns in Finland — are shooting up in the polls, mainstream parties are likely to be looking at Sweden on how to avoid a similar fate.

They are likely to find some general lessons and also some specificities in the Swedish case. A broad trend across Europe is the deafness of the establishment both to the appeal and the influence of these parties.

In Sweden, almost all political experts and rival politicians thought the Sweden Democrats would not dare break with tradition and vote down the government’s budget. In fact, they were only too willing to do so, and they are perhaps the only winners of the affair, with their share of the vote likely to increase from the 13 per cent they won in September.

They now say they will turn March’s new vote into a referendum on immigration in a country that takes more immigrants per capita than any other European nation.

That is where Sweden can start to be distinguished from other countries. Unlike the UK where the established parties are falling over themselves to follow Ukip’s lead on immigration, in Sweden there has so far been overwhelming consensus among the other seven political groups.

Even though 95,000 immigrants are expected next year in the country – up from 18,000 a decade ago and 54,000 last year – the Sweden Democrats are alone in talking of imposing limits.

But public opinion is more negative, with 38 per cent of Swedes disapproving of the government’s handling of immigration and 65 per cent thinking immigrants were integrating poorly, according to a survey for the German Marshall Fund.

Sweden’s political system — each political bloc presents its own budget proposal — has made life for minority governments easier in the past, but now it threatens deadlock. Sweden Democrats, in their kingmaker role, have threatened to vote down any budget proposing an increase in immigration.

There are two possible solutions being eyed in Stockholm, both with relevance for Europe. One is a so-called grand coalition, or combination of left- and right-wing parties as currently on show in Germany and neighbouring Finland.

Stefan Löfven, Sweden’s hapless new prime minister, has talked of co-operating “over the blocs”. It is a prospect that should be easier in Sweden where political differences between the parties are fairly small, except Mr Löfven has recently shifted to the left.

But the next election may be less about policy and more about the capability of the left or right to form a viable coalition as populists disrupt the traditional electoral arithmetic.

That raises the other possible solution where the centre-right, which has hitherto shunned the Sweden Democrats, could move closer to them. Inspiration could come from Norway or Denmark where populist, anti-immigration parties have helped the right to power and have been welcomed into the political mainstream.

It is unlikely that any of the four centre-right parties will agree to the Sweden Democrats’ proposals to slash immigration by 90 per cent. But several newspaper editorialists have urged them to consider some limits.

The Nordics have long been seen as an oasis of stability amid the political convulsions in much of the rest of Europe. This week’s events show how even with a relatively strong economy and public finances a populist party can upset that and replace it with political uncertainty.

Richard Milne

Fonte: FT