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ELECTION

ANALYSIS: Why Sweden’s Greens are happy despite losing big in EU vote

If all you had to go on were pictures from the Green Party's Sunday night event in Stockholm, you'd think they were the victors of the European election rather than one of the parties that lost the most votes.

ANALYSIS: Why Sweden's Greens are happy despite losing big in EU vote
Green party spokesman Per Bolund, top EU candidate Alice Bah Kuhnke, spokeswoman Isabella Lövin and Pär Holmgren, second EU candidate celebrate on Sunday. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT
While its sister parties in Germany, France, Ireland, Denmark, Finland, Austria, and the UK made historic gains, the Swedish Green Party lost half of its four MEPs after its share of the vote plummeted from 15.2 percent to 11.4 percent.
 
Although it wasn't alone – Sweden's Liberals and Feminist Initiative both lost more votes than the Greens did, and it did remain the country's fourth biggest party in Europe – the “Greta effect” achieved in many other countries could not be as clearly seen in the home of the Swedish teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg.
 
But on Sunday night, the party's charismatic lead candidate Alice Bah Kuhnke was grinning from ear to ear, and the party posted a message on Twitter thanking supporters and boasting of the 11.4 percent. 
Top EU candidate Alice Bah Kuhnke celebrates her election as an MEP. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT
 
What's going on? 
 
Arguably, it's because the Sweden's Greens are actually a step ahead of their sister parties. The party had its own green wave in the 2014 European elections, when it soared by 4.1 points. 
 
European Election ANALYSIS: Six key takeaways from Sweden's vote
 
Months later it entered national government for the first time as the junior partner in coalition with the Social Democrats and the painful concessions it was forced to make over the next four years left it with only 4.41 percent in September's election, just a whisker over the four percent threshold to enter parliament. 
 
“It's obvious that they are very happy,” Roger Hildingsson, a Lund University researcher specializing in green politics, told The Local. “The rule of thumb is that the Green Party doubles its result in the national elections in the European elections, so this is a lot better than that. They were afraid of a much lower result.” 
 
The party achieved a lot in power, doubling Sweden's environmental spending, driving through a flight tax, subsidies for electric bikes and low-emission cars, a new climate law, and a proposal that tripled the cost of European emissions allowances.
 
But it also made painful concessions, breaking a key promise to close down Vattenfall's coal mines in Germany and backing a tightening of Swedish refugee and immigration policy that lost it half of its members. 
 
READ ALSO: 
Former Green Party spokesperson Åsa Romson nears tears as she announced a tightening of refugee policy. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT
 
The party has also faced other parties competing for the same space, with the Centre Party and Liberal Parties positioning themselves as economically liberal greens, and the Left Party competing on the more radical green turf.  
 
There was also the breakaway Vändpunkt (Turning Point) party formed by longtime Green Party figure Carl Schlyter after he left the party in protest at the January Agreement struck with the Centre and Liberal parties. 
 
“As far as I understand from the Green Party they have been nervous as to what extent they will be challenged by Vändpunkt,” Hildingsson said.
 
In the end Vändpunkt pulled in only a fraction of a percentage, ending up humiliatingly lumped together in the 0.7 percent of “other parties”. 
 
“I think this will give the party some kind of self-confidence that they are back on track and attractive to voters concerned by climate change. That they might have come out of their crisis.” 
 
Carl Schlyter at the February press conference announcing the launch of his new party. Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT
 
Hildingsson said that the result could also strengthen the party in negotiations, both within Sweden's ruling coalition and in Europe, where its two mandates are now part of a block with a potential kingmaker role. 
 
“When the agreement was made in January, the Green Party was definitely the weakest partner, with this result they can maybe argue with more confidence,” he said of Sweden's coalition.  
 
The European situation very much depended, he said, on negotiations with the Social Democrats or centre-right European People's Party in the European parliament. 
 
“It could be sufficient for them [the centre parties] to strike an agreement with Alde [the Liberal group], so in that sense they could jump the Greens,” he warned. “But on the other hand I think they are concerned that there is some popular concern about climate change.”
 
 
The question, he said, was to how radical a programme of action on climate change the mainstream parties of the centre-left or centre-right might be willing to agree. 
 
“If this green wave is a result of stark concerns that we need to act now, rapidly, transforming our societies, that speaks in favour of a more radical position,” he said. “On the other hand, the room for pushing very radical positions might be limited, because the green group aren't alone in the middle.”  

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BUSINESS

Explained: Why is Sweden so worried about the EU’s minimum wage plan?

EU labour ministers meet in Brussels on Monday to discuss the European Commission's planned minimum wage directive. Why is the proposal causing such unease in Sweden?

Explained: Why is Sweden so worried about the EU's minimum wage plan?
Customers visit a branch of McDonalds in Stockholm. Photo: Stina Stjernkvist/TT

What’s happening on Monday? 

EU ministers responsible for employment and social affairs, including Sweden’s Eva Nordmark, will meet in Brussels for a two day meeting at which they hope to adopt a European Council position on a directive imposing “adequate minimum wages” on all EU countries. Once the Council, which represents member states, has agreed a common position, it will begin negotiations with the European Parliament and the European Commission. 

What’s Sweden’s position on the minimum wage directive? 

Sweden has been, along with Denmark, one of the most vocal opponents of the directive, arguing that it threatens the country’s collective bargaining model, in which unions and employers set wages without government interference. 

But on Friday, the government dropped its opposition, together with country’s umbrella union, the Swedish Trade Union Confederation, arguing that a compromise proposal put forward by the European Commission would protect Sweden’s wage autonomy. 

A majority of the members of the Swedish parliament’s employment committee are backing the government’s new stance, but three opposition parties, the Moderates, the Christian Democrats, and the Sweden Democrats, are opposed to the change in position. 

“I am extremely happy that there is broad support and majority backing for us to continue with the negotiations, to stand up for what we have come to so far, and do everything we can to protect the Swedish wage-setting model,” Sweden’s employment minister Eva Nordmark (S) said after a meeting with the employment committee on Friday. 

READ ALSO: Why Sweden doesn’t have a minimum wage and how to ensure you’re fairly paid

Why did Sweden make its dramatic last-minute u-turn? 

Sweden’s government judges that, after the compromise, the directive will no longer mean that Sweden is forced to bring in a statutory minimum wage. 

“I consider, together with experts in the civil service and experts in the unions and employer organisations, that there is no requirement for Sweden to bring in a statutory minimum wage,” Nordmark told TT. 

She added that agreeing to sign up to the directive would give Sweden the ability to take a deeper part in the negotiations giving it the power to make sure that important exceptions are made for Sweden. 

Denmark, however, is still resolved to say ‘no’ to the directive. 

Surely a minimum wage is a good thing? Isn’t Sweden supposed to be a high-wage economy? 

Sweden is certainly a high-wage economy, but that is largely thanks to its model of collective bargaining, under which wages are generally set by negotiations between employees and employers for each sector. 

If the directive sets a precedent allowing governments, either at a national or EU level, to interfere in this process, or for those who disagree with the result of the collective bargaining agreement to appeal to government entities, it could undermine the Swedish system. 

Who is still worried? 

More or less everyone. While the Swedish Trade Union Confederation is supporting the government’s decision, its vice chair Therese Guovelin, described the European Commission’s compromise proposal as simply “the least bad compromise proposal” the union had seen.

She has previously described the European Parliament’s position that the directive should apply to the entire European Union as “a catastrophe”.

“That would mean that a disgruntled employee who is not part of the union, could take their case to court, and would then end up at the EU Court, and it would then be them who would decide on what should be a reasonable salary,” she explained. “In Sweden, it’s the parties [unions and employers’ organisations] that decide on that.”

Tobias Billström, group leader for the Moderate Party, said he was concerned at the role of the European Court in the directive. 

“There are big risks with this,” he told TT. “The EU court might decide to interpret this directive as applying across the board, and then we might end up with what we wanted to avoid. The Moderates have as a result been against this development, and it’s important that Sweden gets to decide itself on the Swedish labour market.”

What might happen now? 

The European Parliament might try to remove the wording and the exemptions which Sweden hopes will allow its employers and unions to retain control of wage-setting. 

Mattias Dahl, chief executive of the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise, which represents employers’ groups, said that the government needed to stand its ground in the upcoming negotiations, reiterating that he would have preferred that the European Commission had not sought to give itself such a role in the Labour Market.  

Nordmark said that Sweden did not intend to back down to the parliament. 

“These are important red lines for us. If there are demands from the European Parliament that push in a different direction, we can lean on the Swedish opinion and what we stand for,” she said. 

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