A possible “Greta effect” in Sweden

A possible “Greta effect” in Sweden

Annika Sundström May 2019

Greta Thunberg is a young Swedish climate activist. Her speeches have made a worldwide impact and she might now influence the outcome of the EU election. 

According to a survey by the research institute Novus, the most important issue in the EU election on 26 May is climate and environment. In second place is the fight against crime and terrorism, followed by migration.

Scandal and disagreement in two parties

But internal disagreement in some parties has to some extent attracted more attention. With just one week to go before the elections, another senior representative of a Swedish party has been questioned. In March, the board of the Liberal Party gave MEP Cecilia Wikström an ultimatum to choose from being number one on the EU-list, or to leave the paid positions she held. She claims she was dismissed when she refused to make a choice.

Now the lead candidate of the Sweden Democrats, Peter Lundgren, is in the spotlight. He admitted that to groping a woman at a party last year, but denies wrongdoing, describing the situation as a rather drunk party where things just happened. The party issued a statement that says Peter Lundgren has apologised and moved on. The Sweden Democrat party leadership says it still has full confidence in him.

This time could be different

Swedish voters’ participation in EU elections is lower than in the national elections but still higher than the EU average. This may be partly due to the fact that the national political parties lack ambitions to position themselves on EU issues. The explanation for the low voter turnout must be sought at home: the voters have no knowledge of what is at stake. However, this time it may be different.

The media reporting on the EU appears to have increased recently. The parties’ candidates for the EU election have been attracting more interest, and the current polarisation has sharpened awareness of democratic values previously taken for granted.

Traditionally, Swedish voters have been either for or against the EU, but the yes and no dimension has weakened recently, with voters seeing the EU as much more about issues. Swedish voters make a distinction between priorities in the EU elections and the parliamentary elections: climate & environment end up at the top of the EU elections, but this is not so in national elections. Swedish voters also vote on different parties for the European Parliament and national Parliament. As many as four out of ten voters switched between the two elections in 2014.

Will there be a ‘Greta effect’?

The prioritisation of the environmental and climate issue at EU level could play a role in the 2019 election, not least considering a possible ‘Greta effect’ – the school strikes that are going on around the world for the climate could increase Swedish voters’ involvement in the election in May.

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