Social Democrats in Iberia and Scandinavia Try Opposite Strategies

Prime Minister António Costa of Portugal greets his Spanish counterpart, Pedro Sánchez, in Lisbon, July 2
Prime Minister António Costa of Portugal greets his Spanish counterpart, Pedro Sánchez, in Lisbon, July 2 (Governo da República Portuguesa/Clara Azevedo)

What is the future of European social democracy? Your answer to that question may depend on where you live.

If you’re in the Mediterranean, it’s cooperation with the far left. Social democrats in Portugal and Spain have come to power under deals with far-left parties. In both cases, unwieldy coalitions were greeted with skepticism, but now Prime Ministers António Costa and Pedro Sánchez are riding high in the polls.

In Greece, Alexis Tsipras’ Syriza party has even supplanted the center-left altogether.

In Scandinavia, by contrast, social democrats are trying to win back working-class voters by taking a harder line on borders, crime and defense.

Both strategies appear to be working. Read more

Sweden’s Social Democrats Take Risk with Hardline Policies

French president François Hollande and Swedish prime minister Stefan Löfven attend a meeting with other European socialist leaders in Brussels, June 28, 2016
French president François Hollande and Swedish prime minister Stefan Löfven attend a meeting with other European socialist leaders in Brussels, June 28, 2016 (PES)

Sweden’s Stefan Löfven is taking the fight to the far right. Politico reports that the prime minister and Social Democratic Party leader is implementing a hard line on border control, crime and defense.

With his tough stance, Löfven hopes to avoid the fate of sister parties elsewhere in Europe who have failed to convince voters that they are still relevant now that the welfare states they helped build are well-established.

Polls show the Swedish left down a few points. The nationalist Sweden Democrats have moved up.

Löfven’s party would still get nearly 30 percent support on its own and 40 percent in combination with its left-wing allies; a far cry from the dismal performance of center-left parties in France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

But like social democrats elsewhere, Sweden’s are losing their traditional, working-class supporters to the far right. Read more

The Case for Permanent Coalitions on the Left

Swedish Social Democratic Party leader Stefan Löfven makes a speech in Stockholm, August 10, 2014
Swedish Social Democratic Party leader Stefan Löfven makes a speech in Stockholm, August 10, 2014 (Socialdemokraterna/Anders Löwdin)

Social democratic parties in Europe should make permanent alliances with smaller parties to their left and right in order to keep their constituency united, argues a Dutch political scientist.

Joop van den Berg, formerly of Leiden University, writes that the traditional social democratic alliance, between workers and the intellectual middle class, is breaking down. The former are defecting to either populists on the far left (Die Linke in Germany, Podemos in Spain) or nationalists on the right (the Danish People’s Party, the Dutch Freedom Party). The latter are switching to Greens or centrist liberals in the middle.

One way to stem this, Van den Berg proposes, would be for social democrats to ally permanently with the other parties of the left. Then they would no longer need to fight on two fronts at once. Read more

Löfven Despairs at Swedes’ Gloom

Swedish prime minister Stefan Löfven gives a speech in Stockholm, December 19, 2015
Swedish prime minister Stefan Löfven gives a speech in Stockholm, December 19, 2015 (Socialdemokraterna/Victor Svedberg)

Their economy is growing 4.5 percent this year and unemployment has fallen to its lowest level since the financial crisis yet Swedes are acting “as if everything is going in the wrong direction,” complains their prime minister, Stefan Löfven.

In an interview with the Financial Times, the Social Democrat insists that “all the numbers are going in the right direction, but the picture the public have is that the country is now going in the wrong direction.”

Recent surveys put his party and its left-wing allies almost 5 percentage points behind the right-wing opposition. Read more

Germany, Sweden Urge Measures to Slow Immigration

German lawmaker Ole Schröder, Swedish and Danish migration ministers Morgan Johansson and Inger Støjberg and European Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos answer questions from reporters in Brussels, January 6
German lawmaker Ole Schröder, Swedish and Danish migration ministers Morgan Johansson and Inger Støjberg and European Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos answer questions from reporters in Brussels, January 6 (European Commission)

Germany and Sweden called for measures to reduce immigration from the Middle East and North Africa into Europe on Wednesday days after the two reimposed border controls.

Morgan Johansson, the Swedish migration minister, urged other European Union countries to help “slow the highway that has now been introduced right through Europe via Greece, the Balkans, Austria, Germany and then up to the northern countries.”

Johansson said some 115,000 people have applied for asylum in his country in the last four months alone.

Last year, Sweden registered 160,000 asylum seekers, the highest per-capita ratio in the EU.

Speaking alongside Johansson in Brussels, Ole Schröder, a lawmaker for Germany’s ruling conservative party, said, “Our problem at the moment in Europe is that we do not have the functional border control system, especially at the Greek-Turkey border.”

Germany has seen the second-highest immigration rate in Europe relative to its population with up to a million people seeking asylum there last year. Read more

Swedish Right Pulls Out of Budget Deal with Löfven

Swedish prime minister Stefan Löfven gives a speech in Stockholm, September 6
Swedish prime minister Stefan Löfven gives a speech in Stockholm, September 6 (Socialdemokraterna)

Sweden’s right-wing parties pulled out of a budget deal with the ruling Social Democrats on Friday, depriving Prime Minister Stefan Löfven of a majority and raising the specter of early elections.

Christian Democrat members, whose party is the smallest in the opposition Alliance, voted at a conference on Friday to abandon the pact with Löfven. The other conservative parties that most recently ruled Sweden from 2006 to 2014 followed suit this weekend.

They had propped up Löfven’s minority government since late last year when it failed to enact a budget of its own. Read more

Nordics Back Britain’s European Reform Efforts

Finnish prime minister Juha Sipilä and finance minister Alexander Stubb answer questions from reporters in Helsinki, August 20
Finnish prime minister Juha Sipilä and finance minister Alexander Stubb answer questions from reporters in Helsinki, August 20 (Finnish Government/Sakari Piippo)

Britain won support from Finland and Sweden on Monday for its efforts to reform its relationship with the European Union. But there is also misgiving in the region that the United Kingdom’s push for a looser affiliation with the continent could lead to a two-speed Europe that sees non-euro countries relegated to second-class status.

Alexander Stubb, Finland’s finance minister, said Britain was justified in demanding further liberalization, especially in services, as well as restrictions on welfare benefits for migrant workers.

“Our take is very simple: without the United Kingdom there is no European Union,” he said after consulting with his British counterpart, George Osborne, in Helsinki.

He later told the Financial Times that Osborne’s was a “very constructive approach, results-orientated, problem-solving. It’s a path that will ensure British membership for the foreseeable future,” he said.

The British chancellor, who is seen as a potential successor to David Cameron, has been deputized by the prime minister to lead his country’s negotiations for changes in its European Union membership. Cameron has promised to call a referendum on membership by 2017.

Polls suggest that a majority would vote to stay in the bloc but most Britons also support the ruling Conservative Party’s desire for a less intrusive European Union, one that focuses more on trade and can be checked by national parliaments.

The finance minister of Sweden, which — like Britain — is not in the eurozone, stressed the importance of making sure countries outside the currency union are not neglected.

“For us it is important to have Britain within the European Union and we will of course engage constructively in those discussions that will be coming in that period,” Magdalena Andersson said.

She earlier warned that deeper economic and political integration between countries that use the euro could see the influence of other member states, like Sweden, diminish.

Britain’s reform efforts exacerbate that risk. As the Atlantic Sentinel reported in May, Germany has proposed to link its own push for a more integrated eurozone with the United Kingdom’s desire for a less closer union. This could see Europe end up with an integrated core of euro states surrounded by some loosely affiliated countries like Denmark, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

Britain’s foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, confirmed that such a two-speed Europe was one of his objectives. “We seek reforms that will allow those countries that want to integrate further to do so while respecting the interests of those that do not,” he said in June.

Denmark — the only other member state with a formal opt-out from the euro — earlier said it supported Britain’s proposals. Lars Løkke Rasmussen, the liberal party leader and prime minister, said it would be a “disaster” for Europe if David Cameron was unable to keep Britain in the union.

“Some of the points the British are prioritizing match my own thinking,” Rasmussen said in June, “namely that we need to strike a new balance between the free movement of labor and what welfare services those rights entitle a person to.”