Sweden, Finland and Portugal: The three defeats of the far right in the European elections

Sweden Democrats, the Finns Party and Chega performed poorly at the June 9 vote, despite extremist groups making huge gains across the rest of the continent

Demócratas suecos elecciones europeas
Senior officials of the far-right Sweden Democrats follow the results of the European elections on Sunday in a restaurant in Stockholm.Pontus Lundahl (via REUTERS)

The advance of ultranationalist and far-right parties has shaken the European Union, but in northern Europe, the far right was badly hurt in Sunday’s election. Finland and Sweden voted against the current. Extremist parties lost ground, and environmentalists and left-wing groups made important gains, providing a lifeline for their respective groups in the European Parliament. The EU election was also bad for the Portuguese extreme right. Chega, founded in 2019, has entered the European Parliament for the first time with two MEPs, but these results were far from the ambitious objectives it had set itself and far from the historic support it achieved in the general elections in March.

Meanwhile, in the Netherlands, the far-right party of Geert Wilders came in second place in the European elections (behind the coalition of Social Democrats and the Greens). While this defeat is less of a blow — the Party for Freedom will go from having one to six MEPs in the European Parliament — it marks a shift from the November 2023 general elections, when it received the most votes.

The defeats of the Sweden Democrats, the Finns Party and Chega have elements in common, such as the fact their voters are less interested in EU affairs, but also factors that are particular to each. Although the three formations account for around 20% of the lawmakers in their respective national parliaments, each group is in a different situation. In Finland, they control seven ministries, while in Sweden they are the leading force on the right and support — and condition — the conservative-led coalition government.

While in Sweden and Finland, the far right’s disappointing result can be considered a verdict on their management in government, this is not the case in Portugal, where Chega failed in its effort to be a part of the executive.

The profound and unexpected setback suffered by the Sweden Democrats and the Finns Party threatens to upset the fragile coalitions that govern the two countries. Both parties have tried to downplay their dismal results by blaming the results on low turnout and voter apathy regarding the EU.

Although the Swedish Democrats maintain their three seats in the European Parliament, there were long faces in the Stockholm restaurant where senior party officials followed the count of the European vote. Not only because the party’s goal — supported by polls — was to obtain a couple more representatives, but because the loss of more than half a million votes in less than two years has abruptly ended their nearly three-decade-long upward rise. In 1988, the small group of neo-Nazis that originally made up the Swedish Democrats were supported by just a thousand voters. Since then, it improved its results in each election (13 in total, including parliamentary and European elections), peaking in 2022, with the support of one in five voters (1.33 million people).

That changed on Sunday. The Swedish far-right group won 13% of the vote and were surpassed by the Moderate Party, the Green Party, and the Swedish Social Democratic Party (SAP). The result is not the only crisis to hit the Swedish Democrats. On May 15, a private television station, using hidden cameras, exposed a troll factory where Swedish Democrat staffers used social media accounts with fake profiles to spread disinformation and attack members of other parties, including the Christian Democrats, which it supports in government.

Asa Wikforss, professor of Theoretical Philosophy at Stockholm University and member of the Swedish Academy, believes that Jimmie Åkesson, who has led the Swedish Democrats for two decades, responded to the troll factory scandal with a “Trumpist” strategy that hurt its results at the polls.

The Swedish Democrats only deleted 45 especially offensive messages, and Åkesson spread the fake news that it was the result of “a gigantic internal influence operation carried out by the entire left-liberal establishment” and accused mainstream media of participating in a “smear campaign.”

In the final stretch of the campaign, the leaders of the far-right party returned to the openly xenophobic discourse that they had tried to moderate in the past five years. Åkesson accused the SAP of wanting to “replace the population to secure power with the help of Muslim voters.” Richard Jomshof, one of the most influential figures in the party, tweeted: “The SAP have blood on their hands [in reference to violence between criminal gangs]. Think about that when you go to vote.”

“Many people voted for the extreme right in previous elections solely because they do not want more immigrants to arrive,” says Wikforss, “this time they thought that their neo-Nazi rhetoric would be more tolerated.” The university professor argues that conservative voters who supported the Swedish Democrats in the last election were turned off by the troll factory scandal and the party’s aggressive campaign.

The Sweden Democrats lost support throughout the country, but maintains its popularity among young people between 21 and 30 years old. Driven by social media, the party grew notably among first-time voters (from 9% to 15%).

The fall of Sweden’s radicals is offset by the debacle of their Finnish partners. The far-right party, which in the less than 12 months in which it has been part of the Executive has been involved in multiple scandals with racist overtones, added on Sunday a quarter of the 600,000 votes it won in last year’s parliamentary elections.

The fall of the Swedish radicals is obscured when compared to the debacle of their Finnish partners. The Finns Party — which in the less than 12 months it has been part of the government has been hit by multiple scandals over racism — won just a quarter of the 600,000 votes it received in last year’s parliamentary elections.

Kimmo Elo, a researcher at the Center for Parliamentary Studies at the University of Turku, argues that the conservative National Coalition Party (KOK) — which won the European election with 25% of the vote — benefited from the fact that one of the central issues of the campaign was the war in Ukraine and its possible consequences. “KOK had three very experienced candidates in defense and security issues against whom The Finns Party could not compete.”

Sebastian Tynkkynen, head of the Finns Party list in the European Parliament elections, on Sunday evening in Helsinki.
Sebastian Tynkkynen, head of the Finns Party list in the European Parliament elections, on Sunday evening in Helsinki.JARNO KUUSINEN (EFE)

Success of environmentalists

Unlike previous elections, this time immigration did not dominate the election debates in northern Europe. Climate change instead carried more weight, which helped bolster environmental political groups. A quarter of Swedish voters opted for the Green Party or the Left Party (7% more than in 2019). In Finland, the Left Alliance climbed to second position, winning almost three times as many votes as five years ago.

In Portugal, support for the far-right group Chega fell below 10%, despite the fact that immigration was one of the central issues of the campaign. Emboldened by the March elections, where it won 18% of the popular vote (more than one million votes) and key victories in regions such as the Algarve, Chega had aimed to win the European election. Instead, Chega voters showed apathy or disloyalty to the cause that had mobilized them just three months ago.

Like Chega in Portugal, the far-right party Vox also fell in Spain: it went from winning 12.4% of the vote in the July 2023 general election to securing 9.6% at Sunday’s poll. This, however, is up from the party’s results in the 2019 European election, meaning it will now have six MEPs, up from four. The anti-establishment Spanish party Se Acabó la Fiesta (The Party is Over) also won a surprise three seats at the June 9 vote.

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