(All links -unfortunately- go to Swedish language sites)
At the European Parliament elections in 2009 the participation ratio increased to 45.53 % from 37.85 % in 2004. Not a very encouraging figure but nevertheless a clear increase. For 2014 a low participation has been foreseen. However the latest opinion poll has been interpreted to show a participation ratio of about 50 % which would be about the officially stated government goal as expressed by EU-Minister Birgitta Ohlsson.
That, of course, would mean some progress. But strangely enough the Prime Minister shows an evasive attitude. He points out that it is much more important to vote for the government and local administrations, taxes and so on. Those factors will have an effect on the life of all Swedish inhabitants and are therefore much more important than “the 20 seats in the European Parliament“.
Already in 2009 the Prime Minister expressed his opinion that ““the voters are rational, they realize that the EU election is not (as) decisive for their everyday life and for the future.” He continued to say that there is a “tremendous difference” between national parliamentary elections and elections to the EP since the EP “has no influence on formation of government or influence”
What could be the motives behind this extraordinary position, particularly at this time when the EP has got real power and provides an effective counterbalance to the generally myopic and nationalistic approach of the Council? One factor is certainly that a high participation ratio will be to the disadvantage of the largest parties, both the Moderates in government and the opposition social democrats. In 2009 this was largely to the benefit of the Pirate Party (and earlier to the peculiar “Junilistan”). In 2014 it is likely that mainly the Left Party and unfortunately also the fascist Sweden Democrats will advance att the expense of the two big parties. Possibly also the Greens, although this is less certain. Interestingly we may also expect a good performance from the Peoples Party which is very weak nationally but has a high EU-profile through the popular top candidate Marit Paulsen as well as the EU-Minister Birgitta Ohlsson.
There is another factor at play. In a special committee in the Swedish Parliament the Government has to go through a sometimes awkward negotiation procedure with the other parties, mainly the Social Democrats, in order to arrive at an official Swedish position that the Government minister will then take in the Council. But apparently to the great surprise of the Prime minister, MEPs mainly from the opposition but also from hos own party, do not always vote according to the guidelines laid down by the Swedish Government. In many cases they have preferred to vote with their political EP groups which may not always have sworn allegiance to “the Swedish model.” This has annoyed the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance no end. They have gone so far as to call the renegade Swedish MP:s “confused” and “disloyal”. (Håll käften och tryck på knappen; Förvirrade EU-parlamentariker tänker själva.)
Although the Swedish Government does not pay very much attention to European matters they cannot have avoided understanding that the the Parliament from now on has a much stronger and operative function than before. For one thing the EP will probably decide the next Commission president – something which does not sit well with Ms.Merkel or Mr Hollande who are used to decide this matter by themselves. The EP has also successfully blocked or modified proposals from the council concerning e.g. the budget and the trade agreement with the USA. A very big issue right now is the privatization of water supply, strongly pushed by the Council, including Sweden, and the Commission. Despite the expressed wishes of 1.5 million Europeans in more than 7 countries the Commission and the Government chiefs are going ahead with legislation to facilitate privatization. In the Parliament there is a general opposition against the proposals and the Parliament has the power to block or amend them, something which no doubt would be fully in line with the wishes of a majority of the European population.
The strange behavior of the Head of Government and the Minister of Finance leaves only one explanation: They are deliberately trying to keep the participation ratio low in order to maintain their relative strength in the Swedish EU representation. An increased participation will doubtless benefit the various opposition parties. Unfortunately the Left Party and the fascist Sweden Democrats stand to gain most. Both those parties have the exit of Sweden from the EU on their official party program. Within the Government Alliance the Center Party and the Christian Democrats are strongly anti-EU and the Peoples Party strongly in favour. The Moderates try in the same way as the opposition social Democrats to woe the eurosceptic voters. But as always has been the case, voters don’t want copies, they want the original. In this case the always inseparable duo of ex-communists and fascists.
A practical example: The Left Party and probably also the Sweden Democrats would be against facilitation of the privatization of water supply (as would in all likelihood the Peoples Party). Since privatization of public services and utilities is one of the corner-stones of the Moderate policy it would be important to reduce the influence of those parties. This is best achieved through a low voters participation. Hence the message: “Dear voters, this election is not very important. It has nothing to do with you really.”
This is not a very agreeable scenario. The major parties, moderates and social democrats, should have assumed their responsibility and explained in concrete and practical terms the importance of the EU and in particular of the Parliament. They should have presented a well thought out strategy for working with like-minded in other countries in order to promote their respective visions of the future Europe. But all this, alas, is now to late.