Fears are growing that if a country such as Sweden can elect far right MPs to parliament for the first time and turn its back on 50 years of successful centre-left social democracy, then no country in Northern or Western Europe is immune in these difficult economic times from right-wing extremists.
The anti-immigration Sweden Democrats won 20 seats in the 349-seat assembly at the general election last month. The result left the centre-right alliance led by Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt with 172 seats, some way shy of an overall majority. He has been trying to do a deal with the Greens who have been working in opposition with the Social Democrats.
The result in Sweden is just the latest in a series of victories for the extreme right in Europe. In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders, leader of the Freedom Party, could join a coalition government. In Hungary, the Jobbik party won seats in parliament earlier this year. In Austria, Barbara Rosenkranz, who wants the anti-Nazi laws abolished, came second in the presidential election. In Italy, the Northern League used a poster of white sheep kicking out black sheep to underline its anti-immigrant stance. And in France, the National Front’s hard line on immigration has been overshadowed by President Nicolas Sarkozy’s decision to deport the Roma.
Jimmie Akesson, the leader of the Sweden Democrats, said his party would use the opportunity to make itself heard, as it had not been invited to official debates during the campaign. He said: “We have in many ways been treated as anything but a political party in this election. Even so, it was a fantastic result. The situation is a bit uncertain just now, but we have four years ahead of us to speak out on the issues that matter to us and influence Swedish politics.”
The Social Democrats have ruled Sweden for 65 of the past 78 years, and set up the country’s generous welfare state. Party leader Mona Sahlin said they had not been able to win back voters’ confidence. “The alliance is the largest majority. It is now up to Fredrick Reinfeldt how he plans to rule Sweden without letting the Sweden Democrats get political influence.” Denis MacShane, Labour MP for Rotherham and a former Europe minister, said: “Sweden’s election result is a warning shot to enthusiasts who believe that a major shake-up of Britain’s electoral system will usher in a new era of fairer, better and more progressive politics.”