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Unprincipled Protest

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Berlin Policy Journal  | 31.08.2016


by Clemens Bomsdorf


Northern Europe: Playing with Fire, Using a Small Flame Precautionary Brexit tourism among the Finns, disunity within the Danish People's Party, a clearer anti-Europe course for the Swedish Democrats. As soon as the populists of Northern Europe are in power, they fall apart on EU questions.

Resistance against the EU rescue fund, along with criticism of the common currency and Brussels in general, have helped the Perussuomalaiset party (the Finns, formerly known as the True Finns) grow.


They first made it into government in the elections of April 2015, winning almost 18 percent of the vote. But only a few months passed before the party abandoned one of its main demands and voted for a new aid package for Greece in the summer 2015 for the sake of peace within the coalition.


The Finns have had to learn how to build voter support when they are shaping policies from within government rather than rejecting policies from outside. In the meantime, the party's approval ratings have fallen drastically; at the moment, only 8 percent of voters say that they would vote for them.


In fact, many Northern European right-wing populists seem willing to compromise as soon as they reach power. After the Brexit vote, calls for EU exit referenda were understandably muted - it is one thing when such demands come from the opposition, and another entirely when they stand a realistic chance of success.


For a long time now, Scandinavia has been a paragon of social democracy. Those times are over. It is now the Northern European countries - with the exception of Iceland -where right-wing populists are enjoying some of their most dramatic victories, often earlier than in other countries.


In (non-EU) Norway, the right - the Fremskrittspartiet, or Progress Party - has shown itself willing to negotiate on some of its core issues: now it takes the stance that the country's robust financial cushion should be tapped only conservatively to avoid destabilizing the economy. In Denmark, the Danish People's Party (DF) was not ready to take on the responsibility of leading the government, even though it has represented the second strongest faction in parliament since June 2015. Instead, it has attempted to steer the ruling conservative government under Lars Lokke Rasmussen.


Morten Messerschmidt is one of the DF's most important representatives on EU questions. For seven years now he has pulled off a tricky balancing act: he has simultaneously been a part of the EU system as a parliamentary representative, while also one of its greatest - and most popular - critics. He received over 465,000 votes in the European elections two years ago, more than any Danish candidate had ever achieved.


This means that Messerschmidt's voice has a particular weight when it comes to deciding whether the Danes should demand a referendum following the British example. Yet Messerschmidt originally expressed a wish that the British majority would vote against Brexit; now he merely advises to "keep calm." Conversely, the EU political speaker of the party - the far less influential Kenneth Kristensen Berth - has already declared that he would like a referendum to take place in Denmark if Britain succeeds in securing a good deal with the EU.

In Sweden, the Left Party (Vänsterpartiet), which barely attained 6 percent of the vote in the 2014 elections, demands that Sweden's EU membership put up for debate again; and the right Sweden Democrats (Sverigedemokraterna, 13 percent) want an exit referendum. Both are part of the opposition; a red-green minority government is in power.


The Sweden Democrats reject EU membership, but they have never made European questions a major topic; they have instead traditionally focused more on policies toward foreigners and domestic security. In Sweden, there is a clear majority in favor of remaining in the EU - unlike in Finland, Norway, and Denmark, working with the right-wing populists on the national level is currently unthinkable. The probability that the Sweden Democrats would have to shift away from anti-European discourse to reach power is thus remarkably low. - BY CLEMENS BOMSDORF

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