Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt emerged as Sweden’s biggest loser in European parliament elections as voters across the Nordic region punished those in power.
Reinfeldt’s Conservatives fell 5.2 percentage points to 13.6 percent, becoming only the third biggest party in Sweden, according to a preliminary count from the Election Authority. The Greens jumped to 15.3 percent, while the Social Democrats won 24.4 percent, grabbing the most seats.
“This strengthens the stamp of defeat that has surrounded the government for a while now,” said Ulf Bjereld, a political science professor at Gothenburg University. “At the same time, from the Social Democrats’ perspective, one can note that they didn’t even manage to reach their utterly modest target of 25 percent.”
The EU result suggests a steep uphill struggle for the Swedish premier and his coalition as he seeks to secure a third four-year term in September’s general election. He’s struggling to persuade voters the labor market is improving. Most polls suggest the ruling coalition will lose to a Social Democrat-led opposition that has promised to spend more on job creation and to boost spending on welfare after years of tax cuts.
The EU vote also showed waning support for government parties in Denmark and Finland. In Denmark, the anti-immigration Danish People’s Party emerged as the biggest, winning 26.7 percent, according to a full preliminary count. It surpassed Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt’s Social Democrats, which won 19.1 percent and the opposition Liberal Party, which secured 16.7 percent.
“The debate in the past six months about child support, welfare subsidies to workers coming in from other EU states made voters realize the EU they have wasn’t the EU they had been promised,” Kristian Thulesen Dahl, leader of the Danish People’s Party, said yesterday. “And that let voters turn out to make a stand and change things.”
In Finland, support for the ruling National Coalition was 22.6 percent, while its coalition partner, the Social Democrats, slumped to 12.3 percent. The biggest gainers were opposition parties. The Left Alliance rose to 9.3 percent, the Center Party climbed to 19.7 percent and the euro-skeptic “The Finns” party became Finland’s third largest at 12.9 percent.
Sweden, home to companies including furniture maker Ikea and fashion retailer Hennes & Mauritz AB (HMB), has struggled to bring down unemployment. Sweden’s jobless rate is 2 1/2 times that in neighboring Norway. It’s even higher than in Denmark, where a 2008 housing crash has suppressed consumer demand and kept GDP growth at about half the rate in Sweden.
The nationalist Sweden Democrats were backed by 9.7 percent and the Feminist Initiative won 5.3 percent, both entering the EU parliament. Protest parties also surged in Greece and France, in a sign of the anti-European mood opened up by the region’s debt crisis.
“It’s tough to be a government party and we have seen the effects of that today,” Reinfeldt told his party in a speech broadcast on SVT, adding that “in many countries there is a clear counter-vote against government parties.”
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