Sweden has entered a campaign period with the center-right opposition taking a bold initiative.
As the country heads to the polls in September 2018, the center-right opposition flexing its muscles against the center-left minority government and is taking a bold initiative. On Thursday, it became clear that the center-right would move to embrace the far-right, supposedly as a “means to an end.”
The question is whether this is a tactical or strategic choice.
Strategic or tactical cooperation?
The Moderate Party is threatening to topple the current Social Democratic minority government, focusing primarily on tax policy. The leader of the opposition, Anna Kinberg Batra, leads a conservative Alliance made of her own Moderate Party, the Centre Party, the Liberals, and Christian Democrats.
That opposition ruled Sweden for eight years, before the coming to office of the current Social Democratic Stefan Löfven administration in 2014.
Kinsberg is now suggesting using the votes of the far-right to push through center-right policies, beginning with the 2017 budget. The far-right Sweden Democrats have said they would be willing to support an alternative budget. That could be seen as the beginning of a bigger bargain.
Kinberg offers a tactical explanation for her willingness to cooperate with the far-right. She claims that a proposed tax levy on the banking system is threatening growth and employment. Whether that fear is justified appears questionable. Under the current administration, growth is surging, the deficit has shrunk, and Sweden is moving towards full employment.
Ultimately, it is hard not to point out that this seemingly tactical move takes place months before the Swedes go to the polls.
Taking policy initiative
Kinberg is set on taking the policy initiative rather than go to the polls with the Social Democrats setting the agenda. For the moment, she is not proposing a government with the far-right, but merely tactical cooperation to topple the government. To make her proposal appealing to the far-right, Kinsberg is also offering a tougher approach to integration policies for migrants and bolstering the security agenda.
To make her proposal appealing, Kinsberg is offering a tougher approach to social integration policies for migrants and bolstering the security agenda. The question is how far it will take the center-right.
The far-right is benefiting from a wave of European skepticism on immigration. Opinion polls suggest the far-right Sweden Democrats are becoming the biggest political force of the right. If polls translate into votes, Kinberg may need their support to form a government.
The liberal right has for several years relied on the votes of the far-right in neibouring Denmark for decades. The Sweden Democrats leader, Jimmie Åkesson, has said he will conditionally support such an initiative. That conditionality is effective in Denmark, which allows the far-right to affect the agenda without the burden of government that is usually bruising to protest movements.
Will the center-right Alliance hold?
The Christian Democrats and the Liberals are backing the project of consolidating the right to topple the left wing government. However, the Center Party is ruling out any cooperation with the far-right, tactical or strategic.
The math favours the move, but could seriously harm the prospects of the Alliance of moderate right parties if the liberal right does not hold together.
For his part, Prime Minister Löfven says that the Moderates’ leader, Kinberg, has “lost her political compass.” He will be making his pitch to the center, as the Swedish Social Democrats have not followed the example of their Danish counterparts to adopt an anti-immigration agenda.
The right in Sweden seems to have broken a political taboo. The question now is how much Sweden will resemble Denmark.