Brussels fears Swedish far right aims to thwart EU law-making program

Sweden is due to take over the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU on January 1.

STOCKHOLM — A far-right shadow is looming over Sweden’s imminent EU presidency.

Sweden has long been seen as a cooperative and constructive member of the EU with a succession of mainstream governments able to corral domestic parliamentary support for many of Brussels’ big ideas.

But a general election in September left the new center-right Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson dependent on the far-right, Euroskeptic Sweden Democrats (SD) for his parliamentary mandate. That’s raised a question mark over whether Stockholm can maintain momentum on the key files piling up in the EU’s in-tray.
Diplomats in Brussels — who were looking forward to the Swedish presidency as one that would be able to get things done — are now worried that the Sweden Democrats’ anti-EU tone will infect the way they operate.

“It’s news to no one that the Sweden Democrats are the parliament’s most EU critical party,” SD leader Jimmie Åkesson said during a parliamentary debate on EU affairs earlier this month. “We believe in cooperation … but we must move away from the almost manic idea that [Brussels] should meddle more and more in the politics of member states.”

The EU’s institutional architecture gives the country with the rotating six-month presidency of the Council of the EU — currently the Czech Republic — a central role in setting and progressing the bloc’s policy agenda. To that end, it is seen as helpful if the presidency country has a clear attitude to EU cooperation and a widely understood position on central issues on the agenda.

But the rise of SD, a party with neo-Nazi roots, has scrambled the picture of Swedish-EU relations for outsiders looking in. This is the first time SD has held real influence, and officials in Brussels are still figuring out what policy stances like its ultra-hard line on immigration and relatively friendly attitude to Viktor Orbán’s Hungary could mean for the way Sweden deals with the EU.

Swedish diplomats in Brussels have assured their colleagues that their presidency will be run from Brussels and not from Stockholm. That has reassured some in the Council, but the potential influence of SD has prompted unease among others in Brussels.

Iratxe García Pérez, the leader of the Socialists and Democrats group in the European Parliament tweeted following a recent trip to Stockholm: ”I expressed my concern about the negative influence that extreme-right Sweden Democrats will have not only on the Swedish government, but also the Swedish EU presidency starting in January.”

While Kristersson’s Moderate Party and its two smaller center-right coalition allies are staunchly pro-EU, SD pushed for a referendum on Sweden’s EU membership in the months after Brexit.
At the parliamentary debate in Stockholm this month, the dissonance in messaging between Kristersson and SD leader Åkesson was on full display.

“In my government, we see all the possibilities of a stronger EU,” Kristersson said as he opened the session.