‘Sweden will get much tougher on immigration’: Sweden Democrat leader on end of pariah status

'Sweden will get much tougher on immigration': Sweden Democrat leader on end of pariah status
Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Åkesson arrives at broadcaster SVT ahead of a party leader debate in May. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT
Sweden is set to follow the course set by its neighbour Denmark and see a marked shift in public rhetoric and ever-stricter policies on migration and refugees, now that the populist Sweden Democrat party has shaken off its pariah status, the party's leader Jimmie Åkesson has told The Local in an interview. 

“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.”

READ ALSO: ‘If you don’t want to be part of Sweden, you cannot live here’: Jimmie Åkesson interview 

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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See also on The Local:

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“.


Member comments

  1. I agree with ‘an academic in Sweden:’ this is disgusting. Åkeson is simply fascist and so are the SD’s. Even if they’ve expunged a couple of individual Nazi’s, that doesn’t mean that their very platform and belief system aren’t grounded in those dangerous, frightening fascist beliefs. To me, the story here isn’t about how the SD’s are supposedly no longer pariahs but about the damage they’re doing to Sweden, Swedes and – actually in Europe. The SD’s are part of a wave of fascism sweeping Europe and North America.
    Please, The Local, don’t describe them in the language they use to describe themselves; tell it like it really is.

    1. Hi MC,

      You seem to like to use the term fascism, and calling people fascists.

      Fascism (/ˈfæʃɪzəm/) is a form of far-right, authoritarian ultranationalism characterized by dictatorial power, forcible suppression of opposition, and strong regimentation of society and of the economy, which came to prominence in early 20th-century Europe.

      How are they fascists? Have they forcibly suppressed their opposition? Are they regimented? Are they dictatorial? Or do you feel they are too nationalistic for your tastes?

      I would love to hear back and to better understand why you believe this party (and therefore a big percentage of the Swedish population) is fascist.

      Thanks.
      Jack

    2. What damage are they doing trying to introduce sane immigration reform? The path Sweden has been on is unsustainable…

      1. Interesting point.
        It seems Sweden accepted a large surge of immigrants following the Syrian crisis, and some now wants to manage numbers and costs. Some, but not all, agree with the new approach towards sustainability or whatever it is now called by some.

        As mentioned in previous posts – those who are rejected by Sweden’s new immigration rules or who have tired of the change and tone can consider other destinations. Canada, as an example, remains open to immigrants. And Canada just re-elected Justin Trudeau, a left-leaning pro-immigration prime minister who has repeatedly boosted immigration numbers while opening new pathways to immigration. I believe Canada is now accepting around 400,000 immigrants per year via it’s traditional system, but there are many pathways into Canada (e.g. get a degree, and then get permanent residence after landing ANY job). Interesting?

  2. “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.”

    It’s good to know. Thanks The Local for this interview.

    1. It seems Åkesson believes the sands are shifting and he will soon have more influence. It would be a tectonic shift to see the Sweden Democrat’s with more influence in parliament. I guess we all need to stand by and see what happens.

      And if the Sweden Dems do gain more influence, which could happen but likely wont, some might consider Canada as an option. It’s an advanced nation with incredible open immigration policies. If anyone is interested to discuss this option, I’m happy to provide more on this.

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