Sweden’s right tempers its love for the EU

The Swedish centre-right has traditionally looked positively on the EU as a champion of the free market. But now an increasing volume of regulation from Brussels has led some to take a more critical approach, says Nima Sanandaji of think tank Captus.

Ever since Sweden started debate whether to enter the European Union, the Swedish centre-right has taken a very positive stance towards the EU.

But as an opinion article recently printed in Expressen shows, the younger generation of centre-right thinkers and activists are less ideological and more pragmatic when it comes to scrutinizing EU policies.

The European Union was initially focused on creating free movement of people, goods and services between the member states. The entry of the eastern European member states into the union brought on important and successful free-market reforms.

The notion of EU as a free-market oriented project has coloured the view of earlier generations of centre-right politicians. In fact, one of the main reasons for Swedish centre-right parties’ support for EU membership was the hope that harmonization of policies within the union would nudge Sweden towards the middle grounds of European politics, leading to lower taxes and a reduction in the size of the state.

But EU policies have changed as time has passed. The regulatory burden has increased and created administrative costs for European companies that amount to hundreds of billions of euros annually. The union has increasingly been associated with failing farm subsidies and bureaucracy. At the same time politicians are stressing that the union ought to increase its powers of regulation, implement union-wide social policies and collect taxes.

The changing reality of EU politics has started to make an impression on a new generation of free-market supporters, and as a consequence hard core ideological supporters of the union are no longer as common.

Changing attitudes towards the union among the centre-right have for the past few years been an internal issue, not often expressed in debate. But an article in Expressen on the 14th April changed this, as 50 young politicians and thinkers expressed the view that the centre-right ought to work towards a slimmer union and be able to criticize the less desirable policies of the EU.

A change is occurring in Swedish politics where the EU issue is no longer centred about being positive or negative to membership, but rather about what policies one wants the union to pursue. A new dimension is opening up for political pundits.

Nima Sanandaji is chief executive of think-tank Captus and one of the authors of the article published in Expressen.