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European election ANALYSIS: Six key takeaways from Sweden's vote

Richard Orange
Richard Orange - [email protected]
European election ANALYSIS: Six key takeaways from Sweden's vote
Former culture minister Alice Bah Kuhnke from the Green Party celebrated after the result on Sunday. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

From the headlines, you'd think the Social Democrats and Greens witnessed catastrophe and the populists surged. In fact, Sunday's vote brought no major party triumph or disaster. Here are six takeaways from the European elections in Sweden.


It was the highest turnout ever for a Swedish European election
More than half the voting population turned out to vote in a European election for the first time since Sweden joined in 1995. With only a small number of votes still to be counted, voter turnout was 53.3 percent, up 4.4 percentage points on 2014. This followed a marked uptick in media interest,  with most newspapers and broadcasters giving the campaign broad coverage.
"There have been some shaking events which have been dramatic for voters since the last EU election," Ewa Stenberg, political commentator for the Dagens Nyheter newspaper, told The Local. 
"The first is the migration crisis in 2015 and the other is the climate crisis, where voters have been thinking about the EU as a way to cope with global heating. The third factor is Brexit, which has made views towards the European union much more positive." 
A similar surge in voter turnout was seen throughout the continent, with the European Parliament reporting preliminary turnout at 51 percent. Jaume Duch Guillot, a spokesman for the European Parliament, said turnout was the highest in at least 20 years, which he said was a "very significant increase in turnout for the very first time since the first European elections took place in 1979".
A voter hands in his ballot in Malmö. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT
The big parties held their ground
The big centrist parties lost heavily across Europe, with the centre-left Social Democrat grouping and the centre-right European People's Party group on Monday projected to lose about 42 seats each. But Sweden was an exception. The Social Democrat party lost just 0.8 percent of its vote, and held on to all five MEPs. The centre-right Moderate Party, meanwhile, increased its share of the vote by 3.2 percentage points and gained one MEP. 
"The fact that real defeat was avoided must come as some satisfaction for the Social Democrats," said Nicholas Aylott, associate professor of political science at Södertörn University. "It's the worst performance the party has ever had in a European election, but not by much. And after being in charge of a very weak government for over five years, you might have expect them to have performed considerably worse." 
He said the result would also come as a "psychological boost" to the Moderate Party, which kept its position as the second biggest party. He pointed out, however, that their gain came in comparison to a particularly weak 2014 election, which they had fought as a tired governing party at the end of eight years in power.  
Helene Fritzon, the Social Democrats' lead candidate in the European election celebrates alongside Prime Minister Stefan Löfven. Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT
If there was a winner, it was the conservative right 
If you take Moderate Party, the Christian Democrats and the Sweden Democrats together, they were the clear winners in the election, taking a combined 40 percent of the vote, up from just over 29 percent in 2014. 
"I think you can see a 'right wave' in Sweden compared to the previous election," said Dagens Nyheter's Stenberg. "They are much stronger than in the last election, when there was a green and left wave. So this was a counter wave."
This three-party conservative grouping is the long-term strategic goal of the Sweden Democrat's leader Jimmie Åkesson, but is still anathema to many Moderates on the party's socially liberal wing.
Stenberg commented that the Moderate Party had mounted a solid campaign, and had benefitted from questions over the Christian Democrat party's stance on abortion. 
The Christian Democrats aped US President Donald Trump with a call to make the EU 'lagom', Swedish for 'just enough but not too much'. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT
The 'Greta Thunberg effect' didn't rescue the Swedish Greens 
This election has seen green parties nearly double their vote across Europe. Over the last six months, climate change has leapt in prominence as an issue on the back of the school strikes launched by the Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, last year's record warm summer, and worrying headlines. The Greens are now projected to become the fourth biggest grouping in the European parliament with 71 MEPS, up from 52 previously. 
But the Swedish Green Party is an exception. It stands to lose two of its four MEPs after its share of the vote dropped from 15.2 percent in 2014 to just 11.4 percent. 
According to Aylott, however, this might even come as a relief to some in the party. "It's hard to dress it up as good news, unless you take consideration that this party has just completed an extremely trying debut in national government, during which it was compelled to violate a manifesto pledge more clearly and spectacularly than I can ever remember a party having to do."  
Alice Bah Kuhnke, the Green Party's lead candidate celebrates at the party's election party. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT
While the Sweden Democrat party made the biggest gains, it was no triumph
Given the wave of populism supposedly sweeping across Europe, the 5.7 point gain achieved by the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats almost came as a disappointment. The party's 15.4 percent share of the vote was less than the 16.9 percent predicted by a DN/Ipsos poll three days before the election, meaning it will only gain one additional MEP rather than the two it had hoped for.  
"I was slightly surprised on the radio in the morning to see the SD described as the winners of the election," Aylott said. 
"But on the other hand the party has never done particularly well in European elections previously. As the leader Jimmie Åkesson said, his party's chief opponent wasn't the EU federalists, but the sofa." 
The Sweden Democrats' lead candidate Peter Lundgren at the party's election event at the Elite Hotel Marina Tower in southern Stockholm. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT
The survival of Sweden's pioneering feminist party is now in doubt
The Feminist Initiative won just 0.8 percent of the vote, losing it its sole MEP and putting its future in doubt.
The 2014 European election marked a breakthrough for Feminist Initiative, the pioneering party launched by the charismatic former Left Party leader Gudrun Schyman. It won 5.3 percent of the vote, bringing it its first elected representative, the MEP Soraya Post. But it failed to get past the four percent threshold in Sweden's national election later that year, winning 3.1 percent of the vote. The party won just 0.45 percent of the vote in Sweden's 2018 general election, after which Schyman handed over the leadership at the end of last year to the joint leaders Gita Nabavi and Farida al-Abani. 
The Feminist Initiative's joint leaders Farida al-Abani (right) and Gita Navabi (left) flank party founder Gudrun Schyman at the party's election event. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT 


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