The Swedish general election has left the two main political blocs almost tied, with the anti-immigration party making gains on its previous results.
But there is no doubt that in Sweden’s system of compromise and coalition, the far-right Sweden Democrats (SD) have been the big winners.
While SD did not do as well as some had predicted, winning 17.6 per cent of the votes as opposed to the one in four that supporters had hoped for, the result represents a staggering gain from 12.9 per cent four years ago.
The governing Social Democrats, meanwhile, fell to their lowest support levels in a century, and the centre-right Moderates also lost votes. While the Prime Minister has vowed to piece together a fragile coalition, SD’s newfound influence on parliament is undeniable.
Sweden, which took in more migrants per capita than any other EU nation, is evidently struggling with the same forces of populism as elsewhere on the continent. SD’s message – that it’s a question of more immigration versus protecting Sweden’s generous welfare state – was compelling.
But the results throw the EU into yet another existential crisis. The EU has been fighting hard against the forces against them; from Viktor Orban, to the Italian Five-Star Movement, to the Brexit negotiations, the EU has been trying to prove that it is a stable political entity.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
It is impossible not to draw comparisons between other elections in the past year, namely Germany’s, which saw Angela Merkel cling to power while the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany became the official opposition, and Italy, where the far-right Northern League and anti-establishment Five Star Movement shunned the mainstream parties to form a governing coalition.
Meanwhile, Hungary is leading an eastern bloc against further integration, particularly with regards to immigration, and French President Emmanuel Macron, once considered the shining star of centrist europhilic politics, has seen his approval ratings fall dramatically.
The reality is that political sentiment across Europe is changing. West, south, east, and now with Sweden in the north, voters are turning on established parties, political movements are fragmenting, and frustration with consensus politics is on the rise.
Whilst heavyweights like Guy Verhofstadt and Michel Barnier sit behind desks and lecture Britain on the sanctity of the European project and the stringency of the bloc’s red lines, people within Europe do not believe in what they are saying. The EU is now facing its biggest existential crisis and it is trying to hold on for dear life.
Jean-Claude Juncker is set to make his State of the Union address this week and he will reportedly focus on the theme of a Europe that Protects. The fact that concerns about security and cohesion have led opposition to its core aims to bleed into the traditionally stable and socially progressive Scandinavian realms would imply that he may be attempting to close a stable door after the horses have bolted.
Especially now that one of its most powerful economies and certainly its most power military power is leaving its protectionist realm next year, it’s time the EU faced up to the realities ahead of them.