Minority candidates could diversify Swedish delegation to EU

Minority candidates could diversify Swedish delegation to EU
Alice Bah Kuhnke (left), if elected, would become the first black Swedish MEP. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT
A record number of minority candidates will be on the ballot this Sunday in Sweden, as the European Union (EU) elections get underway.

Swedes will vote on a new constituency to send to the EU, a 28-strong confederation of states bound together by political and economic goals. 

32 of the 331 candidates from Sweden this year are people of colour, making it the most diverse ballot in Europe. However, only four are expected to win, according to polls.

Among them is Mursal Isa and Alice Bah Kuhnke, both of the Green Party. Isa is of Somali descent and is Kuhnke is the former Minister of Culture and Democracy. If elected, they would be the first black Swedish Members of the European Parliament (MEP).

Kuhnke has made acceptance of migrants and Swedes of different races one of her priorities. She explained in a speech that listening to and gathering input from minorities is imperative.

“The element of recognition and participation is important in this process,” Kuhnke said in a speech. “I had several dialogue meetings with representatives of groups that are victims of different sorts of racism.”

The EU elections take place every five years with the last vote happening in 2014. As with the general election for Sweden’s parliament, voters can choose either a candidate or a party to support on the ballot.

This means that in the EU Parliament, the lines are not drawn by country, but instead by party affiliation. There are eight major parties within the Parliament and members sit and organize political blocs along these lines.

The EU has outposts in every member state but is headquartered in Brussels. Photo: Virginia Mayo/TT

In addition to the polarization of politics in the EU Parliament, there is not even representation of all demographics. Just 17 out of the 785 or two percent of the MEPs belong to a minority group.

This has led to calls for that number to increase in the 2019 election and to properly reflect the EU’s motto “United in Diversity.”

The appeal for more diversity in Brussels, the headquarters for the EU, is partly in reaction to the rise of far-right movements across Europe.

Leaders like Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini have embodied the trend towards nationalism and anti-immigration. Their belief is that immigrants are a threat to Europe, and the only way to stop that threat is by creating a majority of MEPs in the EU who share their mindset.

“We don’t want to win an election, we want to win our futures,” Orbán said in a speech last year. “The countries that don’t stop immigration will be lost.”

Immigration is proving to be one of the top issues citizens will have to consider when voting for their candidates, and that means it is also becoming divisive. Sweden, which accepted more asylum seekers per capita than any other country in Europe, is facing internal pressure to end this trend. The Sweden Democrats (SD), who support anti-immigrant policies, gained 18 percent of the vote in 2018 which is a substantial increase from the 12.9 percent they received in 2014.

This shifted some of the power away from the more moderate Social Democrats and has both enabled them to push the conversation further right and fixate Swedish politics on immigration.

Sweden has a long history with migrants, but in the past it has usually meant accepting other Europeans within their borders. However, in recent years newcomers from the Middle East and Africa have started to seek refuge.

In response, Sweden has developed a practice of being “colourblind” to incomers. In 2014, the Swedish government went so far as to eliminate the word “race” from all Swedish legislation.

This solution has not had the intended effect as the majority of concerns coming from minorities have been issues related to ethnicity and colour of their skin.

And, without proper representation in both Swedish Parliament and in the delegation to the EU Parliament, it is difficult for Swedish people of colour to have their concerns heard.

The groundbreaking numbers of minority candidates that are running for a seat at the table are hoping to change that.

The elections will take place at polling stations across Sweden this Sunday, May 26th, from 8am to 8pm, and you do not have to be a Swedish citizen to vote. If you are an EU citizen and have already registered as a resident in Sweden, you can head to the polls too.