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A national game changer – and a european pregnancy

Eric Sundström
Research Fellow and Communication strategist at LO, the Swedish Trade Union Confederation

One of the two biggest parties comes from the right-of-centre. That has been the rule in every election since democracy was established in Sweden. But the EU-election became a game changer in a ”super year”, as national elections loom on September 14th.

The Social Democrats (SAP) got 24% but the Greens came in second with 15%. And the governing Moderates? A distant third with 13%. A game changer had arrived. Stefan Löfven’s first election as SAP-leader was far from a success. The result was a tiny bit worse than in 2009 – and therefore the worst in history. One mandate was lost by only 453 votes and Löfven was saved from further humiliation by a campaign in which activists spoke to over 600,000 voters. However, the spotlight is now on the Moderates.

Prime Minister Reinfeldt has accused Löfven for not having a clear governing alternative. But the SAP and the Greens became bigger than the four parties of the centre-right government. The racist Sweden Democrats (SD), however, got almost 10% and has started to grow also in northern Sweden. Whether the SAP and the other progressive parties can shore up 50,1% in September, keeping the SD from the balance of power, emerges as a key question as Reinfeldt hit rock bottom.

But there are several reasons for Löfven to worry. The Greens became the biggest party in Stockholm, Göteborg and Uppsala. A new Feminist party (Fi), with a woman of Roma origin as top candidate, was successful in trendy urban areas and won one mandate.

The SAP labels itself ”the party of the future” but seems to have forgotten the old days when new trends were absorbed. It would be risky to end up with the traditional left vote, leaving issues such as climate change, anti-racism and feminism to the Greens, the Left party and Fi. The EU-election also reconfirmed that Europe remains a paradox for the SAP. Their election ad focused on a truck driver who almost falls asleep at the wheel. The ad’s message is a national version of the ambition known as ”Social Europe”: all workers should receive Swedish salaries and conditions when working in Sweden.

But Marita Ulvskog, the SAP’s top candidate, gave an interesting answer in her most important TV-interview of the campaign. Ulvskog would cast a no-vote if Sweden were to have a referendum on EU-membership today, preferring the EEA. How a free-trade agreement without political tools would help the truck driver remains unclear.

Ulvskog also declared that a vote on the SAP should not at all be regarded as a vote on Martin Schulz – disagreeing with what Schulz told the Swedish viewers in the same TV-segment. It was no coincidence that Schulz only election rally in Sweden took place in Umeå, 650 kilometres north of all the major news desks in Stockholm.

The fight between the spitzenkandidaten was a step forward for the EU, but it never became a part of the Swedish EU-election. The SAP married the EU for the money during a national economic crisis in the 1990s – and got pregnant with an ambitious vision of a social, more democratic Europe. In 2014, that marriage and the kid still bewilder the SAP. It’s a shame, not least for the truck driver.

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