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Politics in Sweden: Sweden's government has its 'here's Jimmie!' moment

Richard Orange
Richard Orange - [email protected]
Politics in Sweden: Sweden's government has its 'here's Jimmie!' moment
Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Åkesson before an interview on April 29th with the TT newswire. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

The leader of the Sweden Democrats bounced back into the political fray this week, reawakening Swexit, and pushing Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson to embrace the 'Denmark' model of tougher immigration. Here's the latest Politics in Sweden column.


The moment Jimmie Åkesson achieved the real political power he'd been pushing for since taking control of the far-right Sweden Democrats back in 2005, he vanished.

It's been the new generation of more technocratic Sweden Democrats that has been caretaking the implementation of the Tidö Agreement, notably Gustav Gellerbrant, the former Moderate who wrote the first drafts of the deal, and Henrik Vinge, the party's group leader in the parliament. 

Åkesson himself has spent the last four months mainly resting at his home in Sölvesborg, leaving the bureaucratic heavy lifting to others. 

Last week, though, he was back in what you might describe as a "Here's Jimmie!" moment.


For the Moderates, Christian Democrats and Liberals, his return has been something of a rude awakening. 

First he went out on Facebook and backed a threat from his longtime right-hand man, Mattias Karlsson, to topple the government if it lets the EU's migration pact become law. Then he reawakened the spectre of Swexit, writing in a debate article in Aftonbladet that it was time to reevaluate Sweden's membership of the European Union, which he wrote was increasingly becoming like "a straitjacket". 

Åkesson's media schedule has been relentless. 

On April 27th, he told the rightwing Kvartal magazine that he wanted asylum seekers to Sweden to be held in centres in countries outside the EU, such as Rwanda. On April 28th, he appeared on SVT's flagship 30 minuter interview program, dissing the Liberal Party by stressing that it is Sweden's business minister, Christian Democrat leader Ebba Busch, and not the environment minister, Liberal MP Romina Pourmokhtari, who gets the last word on the controversial biofuels obligation. 

On April 30th, he told SR's flagship Saturday interview programme that he believed politicians had a right to influence cultural events paid for by the taxpayer, speaking disparagingly of "drag artists and their various needs to have contact with children in different ways and with different sexual monikers". 

For the Moderates, Christian Democrats and Liberals, what Åkesson's return has made clear is that the concessions the parties made to the Sweden Democrats in the Tidö Agreement are not the end of the story. The far-right party is going to keep using its position as the biggest party backing the government to push the other three into ever more uncomfortable territory. 

The Moderates have this week been downplaying the real risk of a government crisis, arguing, plausibly, that now the Sweden Democrats have a government in place that is enacting their own hardline migration policies, they have little interest in seeing it fall, or any alternative if it does. 


But the party has so far seemed unwilling to put this theory to the test. 

Both Immigration Minister Maria Malmer Stenergard and Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson failed last week to defend the migration pact passed by the EU parliament and largely drafted by their own party colleague, Tomas Tobé.

Instead, the two went to Denmark where they visited the Danish Return Agency, the agency set up to deport refugees no longer deemed as needing protection, sending a clear signal that the two were committed to bringing Sweden as restrictive an immigration policy as Denmark. 

“What we are doing now is what Denmark began doing 10-15 years ago. It’s necessary, it’s possible, but it will take time,” Kristersson said. 

In an interview with Denmark's Politiken newspaper, Kristersson even expressed support for the idea of asylum transit and processing centres outside the EU, going well beyond the Tidö Agreement. Will Sweden really follow in the footsteps of Denmark and the UK and consider sending refugees to Rwanda? 

There are lots of reasons for Åkesson's policy lurches. For one, elections for the European Parliament will be held next year and the Sweden Democrats are gearing up to poach votes from the Moderates. 

But Åkesson is obviously also keen to avoid the fate of the far-right Danish People's Party. In 2015, it became the second biggest party in the Danish parliament supporting a much smaller right-wing government, a very similar position to that of the Sweden Democrats right now.

The Danish People's Party has since then been decimated, its share of the vote falling to 2.63 percent of vote in 2022 from 21.08 seven years previously. By keeping the party in the spotlight with policy stunts and provocative statements from MPs, the Sweden Democrats may hope to avoid this fate. 

Whatever the underlying reason, Åkesson's return looks likely to presage a rockier relationship between the government and its support party. 

Social Democrat leader Magdalena Andersson makes her May 1st speech in Jönköping on Sunday. Photo: Adam Ihse/TT


May Day blues

Social Democrat leader Magdalena Andersson held her May Day speech in Jönköping on Monday, while Nooshi Dadgostar, the leader of the Left Party, held hers in Malmö. 

Outside of an election year, and with the left out of power, the speeches on May 1st, International Workers' Day, don't have quite the same clout as they have done since 2014. 

Andersson doubled down on the Social Democrats' attack on the government for breaking election promises and renewed pressure on them to take more action to combat the cost of living crisis and help regional and municipal governments avoid cutbacks. 

"Breaking Swedish records is often something wonderful, but to do so in the number of election promises broken is nothing but shameful," she said. 

The party also called for the government to provide summer activities with free lunches across Sweden to prevent young, disadvantaged people being drawn into crime. 

Dadgostar's speech called for people to be once again paid sick leave on the first day they are sick, as happened during the pandemic, when Sweden temporarily scrapped the 'karensdag' – the first unpaid day of your sick leave, and also attacked the government for rolling back measures to combat climate change and promote green industry. 



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