The Scandinavian far right hardly contributes to the new Salvini-alliance
The contribution from the Scandinavian far right – the Danish People’s Party (DF) and the Sweden Democrats (SD) – to Salvini's alliance, the European Alliance of People and Nations, is likely to be very small. In short, because DF is losing support and because SD is uninterested in joining.
The strength of the far right in terms of electoral support and group formation is a key question in the upcoming European Parliamentary elections, even if it gains disproportionate attention from the mainstream media. More specifically, the question is whether the support for far right parties will continue to increase across European countries and whether Matteo Salvini, the leader of the Lega and interior minister in Italy, will be able to bring most far right parties into the same group, namely the Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF). The extent to which he will succeed remains to be seen, but the contribution from the Scandinavian far right – the Danish People’s Party (DF) and the Sweden Democrats (SD) – is likely to be very small. In short, because DF is losing support and because SD is uninterested in joining the new Salvini-led alliance.
DF is struggling
In Denmark, DF is really struggling at the electoral arena. Despite broadening its appeal by adding the fight against social dumping to its well-established radical right agenda (i.e. national sovereignty and welfare chauvinism), DF is likely to suffer a massive electoral defeat. While DF was the largest party with astonishing 26.6 % of the votes in the previous EP election in 2014, it may receive no more than 12-13 % this time. Consequently, the party may lose two out of its four seats. Two more recently emerging far right parties, the (more) nativist and economically right-wing New Right and the profoundly islamophobic and extreme right party Hard Line, may enter parliament after the national elections in June, but they are not running for the European election.
SD is doing better
In Sweden, the Sweden Democrats is doing much better, although the party has recently lost quite a few voters to the Christian Democrats. SD focuses on four key issues: immigration, law and order, freedom of speech and environmental issues. The latter is mostly about the local environment and animal rights rather than climate change. While the party received just above 3 percent in 2009 and almost 10 percent in 2014, it is likely to get around 16 percent this time. If so, the party will win a symbolic victory by replacing the Moderates as the largest party on the right. Other far right parties such as the (more) radical right Alternative for Sweden led by the previous youth wing leader of the SD and the Citizens’ Coalition, a more bourgeoisie radical right party, are, in contrast to Denmark, also running for European election. However, these parties are marginal receiving no more than 0.3 and 0.2 per cent, respectively, in the recent parliamentary election.
That the far right is stronger in Sweden than in Denmark is unprecedented and somewhat puzzling. In fact, even the Sweden Democrats used to – and probably still – see the Danish party as the more successful older brother. Moreover, judged by the type and experience of candidates put forward by the two parties, the DF seem to take European election more seriously than the SD.
The short answer is that the support in the polls reflects general trends in national politics. The Sweden Democrats have gradually strengthened its position due to increasing saliency of the immigration issue in Swedish politics and it remains the only clear-cut anti-immigration alternative. Danish People’s Party, by contrast, is under pressure from mainstream parties coopting their policies, on the one hand, and far right competitors offering even more radical positions (e.g., NR wants to leave to the EU and HL wants to ban Islam and deport all Muslims in Denmark), on the other hand. Given that the two latter are not running for the European election, the cooptation by the mainstream parties is probably a more important factor. In fact, surveys indicate that the Social Democrats have been able to regain a significant number of voters from DF after they adopted stricter immigration policies and more traditional left-wing economics. Support for Social Democrats in the European election is likely to increase from 19.1 percent in 2014 to almost 28 percent.
On top of this challenge from the mainstream, the DF is missing its extremely popular top candidate from the two EP elections, Morten Messerschmidt. Messerschmidt has been a well-known and rhetorically strong politician in Denmark for more than a decade. In the 2014 European elections he received more personal votes than any other Danish politician have done before – almost 460 000. However, Messerschimdt stepped down as chair of DF’s party group in the EP in 2016 after being linked to economic misconduct. In short, DF has spent EU-funds for national purposes and they were asked to repay 402.481 euro. This case most likely contributed to a perception among voters that the DF is doing the exact same thing as they criticized established parties, namely lavishly spending taxpayer’s money on its own activities.
The difference in electoral strength is not the only puzzling aspect of the Scandinavian far right; so is the diverging strategies between the DF and SD as regards which parties they would like to collaborate with after the election. While DF is part of the new Salvini-alliance – in fact, its current chair of the EP party group, Anders Vistisen, is one of key architects of the new alliance – the SD has explicitly said they are not interested in collaboration with parties like Lega or Marine Le Pen’s National Rally in Italy. SD argues that the Salvini-alliance consists of too many Putin-friendly parties and that the radical right in Europe should aim towards closer collaboration with more mainstream national-conservative forces.
This is somewhat unexpected given that these two parties collaborate closely at the Nordic level and that they have adopted similar strategies previously at the European level. In current European Parliament, both DF and SD are part of the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR). The fact that they ended up in this group is difficult to explain with standard theories of group formation, in which policy congruence has been the main explanatory factor. Instead, some colleagues argue that these two parties – but also UKIP and the Finns party – “privileged national ‘respectability’ calculations when deciding alliance strategies”. Consequently, rather than aligning with parties, which were ideologically similar to themselves, they joined forces with parties that voters and national political elites generally viewed as less radical in order to boost legitimacy domestically. As of now, this explanation only applies to the SD. One reason might be that DF, to a lesser extent, fears the potential costs of being associated with radical parties elsewhere, whereas SD is still struggling to be considered salongfähig – politically legitimate – by mainstream Swedish parties. At least, the DF seems to be more self-confident than ever before and the party believes that Danish voters would not doubt its commitment to NATO and the West even if some of its European partners are more Putin-friendly.
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