Forget everything you know about nice, liberal Sweden ”” that country no longer exists

The government’s collapse due to far-right extremists is the latest crack to emerge in the country’s Utopian image

(The Independent 4 december 2014)

The Swedish way of politics has often been put forward as a role model for other countries. Almost everyone has heard about the Swedish model of fair wealth redistribution, proper budget policies, a welfare state with good benefits, and a large public sector. They’ve also probably heard of how all of this has been achieved through mature bipartisanship, and a visionary embrace of reform.

But yesterday’s collapse of the newly elected government is just the latest sign that Sweden has started to transform into a less functional, more European-style country. After only three months of his party being in power, the Social Democrat Prime Minister Stefan Löfven has called a snap election to take place in March.

Snap elections aren’t uncommon in Europe, yet last time Sweden had one was in the 1950s. But the biggest surprise here isn’t that Sweden has changed, but that the outside world’s perception of the country has not. The government collapsed after the far-right extremists of the Sweden Democrats party voted against their proposed budget, to make a point about their liberal immigration policies (Sweden has already offered permanent residence to all Syrian refugees, and has one of the highest rates of asylum applications in Europe).

The crisis has revealed the existence of a new political generation in Sweden (three of the nine party leaders were born during 1980s). It is one that is much more prepared for a European-style fight to the death. The idea that Swedes always try to reach a consensus is now long gone.

Löfven, a former union leader, shouldn’t be surprised that Sweden isn’t the same as it was just ten or twenty years ago. He knows the statistics. We have a large youth generation without proper jobs or housing. An infrastructure in dire need of investment. A private sector eager for political innovation and vision. And a system of young outsiders that put them against a generation born in the 1940s and 50s that harvest all the benefits. Because of the previous centre-right government, led by the “Swedish David Cameron” Fredrik Reinfeldt, there is no inheritance, wealth, or property tax, and large decreases in income tax and capital tax. At the same time, inequality and income distribution is increasing at an alarming rate.

We now have a political situation of no real benefit for anyone. Many of the 85 per cent that voted at the polls in September have an awkward feeling that the 13 per cent who voted for the Sweden Democrats have been able to wield a disproportionate amount of power over Swedish politics. As a result, an increasing number of Swedes are starting to worry that the country is losing its identity. With the next election in March, we will have to wait until then to see. Because in the end it’s up to Sweden to decide – does it want to become more European or not?