“Denmark was the same way as Sweden, and then it just changed overnight, and that will happen in Sweden too,” Jimmie Åkesson said, saying that his party would push for an even harsher regime than that of Sweden’s neighbour, which has drawn criticism from the United Nations, European Union and human rights groups for its decision to rule much of Syria ‘safe’, and then strip Syrians of residency rights.
“We actually in Sweden need a stricter policy than Denmark, because we have much bigger problems. I don’t think it’s possible to just decrease immigration to Danish levels anymore,” Åkesson said. “We need to take it further.”
The members of the Liberal Party voted at the end of March in favour of joining a minority government formed with the support of the Sweden Democrats.
This means that three out of the four centre-right parties that together ruled Sweden up until 2014 have now dropped their opposition to working with the Sweden Democrats, which has long been tainted by the neo-Nazi backgrounds of some early members.
“Our goal is to be a part of the government,” Åkesson said of the negotiations coming after next year’s election. “But we also realise that maybe that’s not possible this time. Maybe we have to show that we are a party that wants to take responsibility for real.”
When the Danish People’s Party twenty years ago gained a similar kingmaker position over the centre-Right Liberal party, it used its leverage to drive through what it boasted was Europe’s strictest immigration policy.
Public opinion in Denmark has since shifted so dramatically that even the left-wing Social Democrat government frequently takes positions on immigration to the right of those taken by right-wing governments in other Western European countries.
It is seeking, for instance, to send Syrian refugees back into the hands of the brutal regime of President Bashar al-Assad, and to house refugees in an African or Middle Eastern country while their cases are processed.
“The Danish example is a very good example because they showed that they could have really great influence, even though they were not in the government,” Åkesson said.
“I’m sure we will go that far. We have had public opinion in our favour, and that’s been the case for decades. The problem has been that the old parties haven’t followed that opinion.”
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This, he said, was what had helped his party to grow so fast, polling higher than any other in the run-up to the 2018 election, when a quarter of voters said they intended to vote for it in one YouGov poll.
But Mr Åkesson said that under its new leader, Ulf Kristersson, Sweden’s Moderate party had shifted away from the pro-immigration position it had taken under former prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, who in 2014 enjoined Swedes to “open your hearts” to refugees coming from Syria.
“I’ve spoken to Ulf Kristersson on this several times, and I’m quite sure that he’s genuine now in his beliefs and in what he says about migration,” Åkesson said.
Last Sunday, the Sweden Democrats tabled a joint migration proposal with the Moderate, Christian Democrat and Liberal parties which would impose tougher language requirements on those seeking permanent residency and strip away a proposed loophole giving residency on “humanitarian grounds”.
As the first common policy proposal of the four parties, Åkesson said it sent “an important signal” on how they would seek to work together after the next election.
He said that he wanted the cooperation to be based on an agreement even more detailed that the January Agreement between the ruling Social Democrat government and the Liberal and Centre Parties, something Liberal leader Nyamko Sabuni has said she opposes.
He said he hoped that his party would win a sufficiently large share of the vote in the coming election for his view to prevail, with the party hoping to poll ahead of the Moderate Party, or even better.
“I think it’s possible to be at least number two,” he said. “Right before the pandemic, we actually were the biggest party in the polls. So maybe when things come back to normal, we’ll see that again. It’s not impossible.
“It will be a big symbolic victory for us if we become the biggest party in that new possible coalition. It’s interesting for us to become bigger than the Moderates, because that will change things when we are negotiating.”
In the interview, Åkesson downplayed the neo-Nazi backgrounds of some his party’s founders.
“It’s true that we had some individuals in the beginning with that kind of background,” he said. “But it’s also true that they are not still with us.
“Internally, today, that’s not something we talk about, because it’s not interesting for us. But of course, our political opponents talk about that a lot because they don’t want to talk about the real issues, and it’s very easy to call us ‘racists’ or ‘neo-Nazis’.”
“The Local also spoke with Åkesson about how the pandemic had affected politics, his feelings about Brexit, and the mental health issues that led him to take six months off. Read the full interview HERE“.