Tag Archives: reinfeldt

Despite budget deal, Sweden must address immigration woes


There are two ways of looking at Sweden’s approach to immigration policy.Sweden

Under one view, the country’s generous asylum policy, with respect to Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 1990s as much as Syria today, isn’t just a human rights cause. It’s also an opportunity to buttress Sweden’s much-vaunted welfare system as birth rates decline and its population becomes older. The creation of a well-integrated, highly-skilled, prosperous and genuinely happy class of ‘New Swedes’ could one day provide a template for 21st century liberal  European (and Scandinavian) values.

Under another view, the country’s increasing immigrant population is becoming ever more isolated from mainstream social and economic networks. That, in turn, has created a quasi-permanent tier of second-class immigrants without the tools or the social capital to rise to prosperity within Swedish society, and that’s weakening a welfare system already under demographic strain. At worst, it is engendering resentment among Sweden’s new immigrants and potentially, a turn to radical Islam, thereby threatening Sweden’s liberal values. Even for Syrian professionals who now live in Sweden, securing housing, employment and a sense of normalcy often prove elusive.

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RELATED: Löfven not to blame for probable early Swedish elections

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Having secured a budget deal for 2015 (and, theoretically, through 2022) between his center-left government and the center-right opposition, the four-party Alliance, Swedish prime minister Stefan Löfven will narrowly avoid a snap election in March that could have strengthened the third force of Swedish politics, the anti-immigration Sverigedemokraterna (SD, Sweden Democrats), which won 12.9% of the vote in last September’s general election and 49 seats in the Riksdag, Sweden’s unicameral parliament.


Before Löfven struck the budget deal, polls showed that the Sweden Democrats could win as much as 17.5% in fresh elections, and that’s even while its charismatic, young leader Jimmie Åkesson was still officially on leave, due to exhaustion following the September vote.

Under the terms of the deal, the so-called ‘December Agreement,’ Löfven agreed to adopt the center-right’s proposed budget for 2015, though the Alliance agreed not to reject his government’s budgets in future years. The two blocs will also cooperate on a range of issues from defense and security policy to energy policy. It pushes Sweden one step closer toward a ‘grand coalition’ government, leaving both the Sweden Democrats and the the far-left Vänsterpartiet (Left Party) in opposition to the agreement. Continue reading Despite budget deal, Sweden must address immigration woes

Löfven not to blame for (probable) early Swedish elections


If you lose a budget vote three years into your mandate, the problem’s probably with you.Sweden

If you lose a budget vote on the two-month anniversary of taking office, and less than three months after winning a general election, the problem’s probably not.

So it goes in Sweden, where voters will head to the polls on March 22 after the government lost a tough budget vote.

It wasn’t entirely unpredictable that prime minister Stefan Löfven (pictured above with Hillary Clinton) would fail to pass his first budget because of the odd dynamics of Swedish politics after September’s general election, which broke the Riksdag, Sweden’s unicameral parliament, into three blocs: Continue reading Löfven not to blame for (probable) early Swedish elections

Three things you should know about Sweden’s new health minister

wikstromPhoto credit to Philip Mauritzson.

Stand aside, Sebastian Kurz.Sweden

The competition for top heartthrob among Europe’s national government ministers just got a lot tougher with the October 3 appointment of Gabriel Wikström, the 29-year-old minister for public health, health care and sports in Sweden’s new center-left government, whose dimpled smile, steely blue eyes and blond hair are sending Turks (and others) swooning on Twitter, and the young Social Democrat is quickly becoming a sensation far beyond Sweden’s borders:

The good-looking Wikström has become something of a sensation among Turkish teens since he was named as a minister in the new Swedish government headed by Prime Minister Stefan Loefven.


So who is Wikström? Why has he been appointed a minister? And beyond his smile and boyish good looks, what are the policy issues that he’ll face as a minister?

wikstrom 3

Here are three points that tell you everything you need to know about Sweden’s newest export. Continue reading Three things you should know about Sweden’s new health minister

Swedish election results: Löfven’s dream liberal-left government


Stefan Löfven should have savored Sunday night — as Sweden’s election results came in, his center-left Sveriges socialdemokratiska arbetareparti (Swedish Social Democratic Party) emerged as the top vote-winner by an 8% margin, and Löfven is the overwhelming favorite to become Sweden’s next prime minister.Sweden

Monday morning was a different story.

Despite winning the election, the Social Democrats won just 31.2% of the vote, a relatively low total for the party that dominated Swedish government throughout much of the 20th century. In the last two elections, in 2006 and 2010, when outgoing prime minister Frederik Reinfeldt routed the Social Democrats, the party still won 35.0% and 30.7%, respectively.

The last time they won an election, under Göran Persson in 2002, the Social Democrats won 39.9% of the vote. The results from September 14, however, leave Löfven (pictured above) with just 113 seats in the 349-member Riksdag, Sweden’s unicameral parliament.

sweden 2014If the big loser of the election was Reinfeldt’s center-right Moderata samlingspartiet (Moderate Party), which lost 23 seats, the big winner was the far-right, anti-immigrant Sverigedemokraterna (SD, Sweden Democrats), which gained 29 seats on a platform of limiting Sweden’s generous asylum policy that in 2014 is expected to welcome more than 100,000 refugees to the country, many from war-torn Syria and Iraq. It’s a point of pride for Reinfeldt, presumably, that he spent much of the campaign extolling the compassionate values of his government, even if those costs limited his ability to promise greater welfare spending.

The rest of Sweden’s parties all made relatively small gains or losses — no other party gained or lost more than five seats in total.

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RELATED: Swedish far-right could inadvertently deliver
3rd term to Reinfeldt

: One month out, Löfven and Social Democrats lead in Sweden

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Those dynamics, however, leave Löfven in an unenviable position. Though the Sweden Democrats have clearly made the greatest gains in this election, neither the Reinfeldt-led center-right nor the Löfven center-left are willing to bring the anti-immigrant party into government, despite the efforts of its boyish leader, Jimmie Åkesson, to moderate the party’s harder nationalist (and sometimes neo-nazi and xenophobic) edges. One marvels to wonder his well his party might have done had it not been dogged by scandals that forced eight candidates out of the race after news outlets revealed their racist online commentary.

A hung parliament — and no majority for Sweden’s left

But that’s left the Riksdag without a clear majority. After the 2010 elections, the Moderates and their three allies, which together constitute the Alliansen, formed a minority government with 172 seats. Unofficially, the Swedish Democrats often delivered enough votes for Reinfeldt to fill the three-vote gap that his government needed. Löfven cannot count on the unofficial support of Åkesson’s right-wingers. Moreover, after the stunning results for the Sweden Democrats, there are now 49 seats, not 20, that are politically untouchable.

Löfven’s most natural allies, the Miljöpartiet (Green Party), actually lost a seat, falling to 21 seats. Together, with 134 seats, that leaves the Red-Green coalition 41 seats short of a majority.


Continue reading Swedish election results: Löfven’s dream liberal-left government

Swedish far-right could inadvertently deliver 3rd term to Reinfeldt


When Swedes finish voting on Sunday in general election, they might find that, to their astonishment, the only party with the seats to deliver a majority coalition is the one that both the right and left have treated as politically radioactive for years.Sweden

In the final days of the campaign, the race has tightened between the four-party center-right alliance headed by two-term prime minister Frederik Reinfeldt (pictured above) and the loose confederation of social democrats, greens and socialists that would rally behind Stefan Löfven, the former labor union leader who now heads Sweden’s center-left Sveriges socialdemokratiska arbetareparti (Swedish Social Democratic Party), which essentially created the Swedish social welfare state in the 20th century.

If the results are close, it could leave the balance of power in the hands of the far-right, anti-immigrant Sverigedemokraterna (SD, Sweden Democrats), even though the party entered the final week of the campaign crippled after news reports revealed racist online commentary of several of the party’s candidates.

Though Löfven’s Social Democrats (and the left, generally) have held a polling lead for much of the the past year, a September 1-4 Sifo poll from showed the left’s generic lead falling to less than 4.9%. A more recent September 8-9 Sifo survey showed the left recovering a greater margin of 7.8%. But up to one-third of the Swedish electorate may still be undecided going into the election on Sunday, making predictions difficult.

Despite Löfven’s lead, many voters approve of Reinfeldt’s performance over the past eight years, most especially as his record relates to the Swedish economy. Sweden has emerged from both the 2008-09 global financial crisis and the 2010-12 eurozone crisis with stronger economic growth than much of the rest of the European Union. While unemployment is still probably too high at around 8%, the rate is slowly declining. But Swedes don’t dislike Reinfeldt. It’s that that Swedes are ready for a change, and Löfven’s moderate social democratic approach would bring more continuity than rupture.

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RELATED: One month out, Löfven and Social Democrats lead in Sweden

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Though the two Sifo polls this month showed support for the Sweden Democrats dropping from 10.4% to 8.9%, even a ‘poor’ showing would eclipse their previous high point in the 2010 election, when they won 5.7% of the vote. The 2010 breakthrough was a watershed moment for Sweden’s far right — much to the dismay of the rest of the political spectrum. Suddenly, a far-right party that had never held any seats in the Riksdag, Sweden’s parliament, now held 20.

So even if the Sweden Democrats under-perform in the 2014 election (they won around 9.7% in the May European elections), they could still hold a large enough bloc of seats to deny either the Reinfeldt-led right or the Löfven-led left a majority.

Though the current center-right government has only a minority in the Riksdag, it has often unofficially leaned on the Sweden Democrats for support, though it’s also turned to the Miljöpartiet (Green Party) as necessary on issues like refugees and asylum.

Continue reading Swedish far-right could inadvertently deliver 3rd term to Reinfeldt

One month out, Löfven and Social Democrats lead in Sweden


Voters go to the polls in Scandinavia’s largest country on September 14, and if he can hold onto the lead that his party has enjoyed for over a year, former labor leader Stefan Löfven (pictured above) will become Sweden’s next prime minister. Sweden

That’s slightly surprising because most Swedes don’t necessarily give center-right prime minister Frederik Reinfeldt poor marks. In two terms, Reinfeldt has earned praise, domestically and abroad, for his government’s economic stewardship, bringing Sweden out of the 2008-09 financial crisis with some of the strongest growth in the European Union. In that time, Reinfeldt has reduced the size of Sweden’s public sector, while nevertheless retaining the character of his country’s renowned social welfare state.

Reinfeldt’s governments amassed an impressive series of legislative accomplishments over the past eight years. Under his watch, Sweden privatized several public interests, including the maker of Absolut vodka, and otherwise deregulated the pharmaceutical, telecommunications and energy industries. Reinfeldt introduced the  earned income tax credit to reduce taxes on the poorest Swedes while instituting a series of tax cuts, including the abolition of the wealth tax in 2007 and a reduction in the VAT rate on restaurants from 25% to 12%. His government also passed a law to permit same-sex marriage in 2009 with wide support from the opposition.


In his government’s second term, Reinfeldt avoided the recession that otherwise afflicted much of the rest of the eurozone. Though Reinfeldt and his finance minister, Anders Borg (pictured above, right, with Reinfeldt, left), have resorted to deficit spending to boost Sweden’s economy, their budget deficits haven’t fallen much below 1% of GDP. That’s a much better fiscal record than the average eurozone member, and it’s kept Swedish public debt at the relatively low level of around 40% of Swedish GDP.

It’s arguable that by reforming, privatizing or abolishing the least efficient areas of the Swedish public sector, Reinfeldt’s governments updated for the 21st century the existing welfare state that the long-dominant Sveriges socialdemokratiska arbetareparti (Swedish Social Democratic Party) built in the 20th century. Continue reading One month out, Löfven and Social Democrats lead in Sweden

European Council proposes Juncker as Commission president


Bowing to pressure from European parliamentary leaders, the European Council has proposed as its candidate for the presidency of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, the former prime minister of Luxembourg and former head of the Eurogroup, the informal gathering of the eurozone finance ministers. European_Union

That makes it virtually certain that the European Parliament will elect Juncker (pictured above) as the next Commission president, likely with the full support of the two major pan-European parties in the Parliament, Juncker’s own center-right European People’s Party (EPP) and the center-left, social democratic Party of European Socialists (PES). It also likely means that the PES candidate for the Commission  presidency, Martin Schulz, will become the Commission vice president. 

It’s obviously a defeat for British prime minister David Cameron who, just last week, was still holding out hope that he could pull together a blocking minority to keep Juncker from receiving the Council’s endorsement. But by the time the Council gathered to vote, only Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán joined Cameron in opposing Juncker. Not only did Cameron fail to win over allies, he failed to keep both Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte and Swedish prime minister Frederik Reinfeldt, neither of whom are enthusiastic about the prospects of a Juncker candidacy.

Contacted by a reporter for the Moscow-based RIA Novosti earlier today, I had a chance to put together some quick thoughts on what the Juncker decision means. Here are my real-time responses, which will double as my real-time analysis on where things go from here.  

On how the choice reflects the European parliamentary elections on May 25:

The choice reflects the fact that Juncker was the candidate of the European People’s Party, the pan-European group of center-right, Christian democratic parties, and the EPP won the greatest number of seats in the European parliamentary elections on May 25. The EPP nominated Juncker as its candidate for the European Commission presidency prior to the May 25 parliamentary elections, just as several other European parliamentary parties nominated their own candidates. The candidates — the German term ‘Spitzenkandidaten‘ developed widespread use across Europe — campaigned throughout the spring, and they participated in a set of debates on the EU’s future.

Under the Lisbon treaty, the European Council is supposed to ‘propose’ a candidate for Commission president, which will be ‘elected’ by the European Parliament, with the Council ‘taking into account’ the results of the parliamentary election. No one knows exactly what that means, but Juncker and the other parliamentary leaders believe firmly that the Council must propose Juncker as its candidate. In so doing today, the Council has set an important precedent for future parliamentary elections, though national leaders will be loathe to admit it.

Proponents of the Spitzenkandidaten system argue that Juncker represents the will of the European electorate, because he’s the candidate of the party that won the most votes, but it’s not so simple as that. There’s no real indication that the majority of European voters were voting on the basis of this or that Commission presidential candidate. Voter turnout has dropped significantly since the first European elections in 1979, and voters often cast their ballots on the basis of national governments or other factors. To the extent there was a unifying theme to the elections, it was the rise of euroscepticism on both the far right and the far left, with the victories of groups like the United Kingdom Independence Party, France’s Front national (National Front) and Denmark’s Dansk Folkeparti (People’s Party). Whatever ‘mandate’ you take away from the European elections, it’s hard to argue there’s a groundswell of genuine democratic support for Juncker. It was only last October that Juncker’s own center-right Christian Social People’s Party suffered so many losses in Luxembourg’s national elections that he was forced out as prime minister after 18 years.

Continue reading European Council proposes Juncker as Commission president

It won’t necessarily take much to block Juncker in Council vote

David Cameron and Angela Merkel

One fact that’s becoming increasingly clear in the current tussle over electing a new president of the European Commission is that the eventual candidate must win a qualified majority on the European Council, as well as an absolute majority in the European Parliament. European_Union

Though the rules for qualified majority voting on the Council are greatly simplified under the Treaty of Lisbon, it’s worth noting that those rules don’t take effect until November 2014.

That means that the old rules, under the Treaty of Nice, will be in effect during the current fight this summer over whether former Luxembourg prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker, the candidate of the European People’s Party (EPP), can become the next Commission president.

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RELATED: Here come the Spitzenkandidaten! But does anybody care?

RELATED: The mother-of-all-battles over
European integration has begun

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With the current president of the Council, Herman Van Rompuy, currently taking the lead on the process, the Council will submit a formal proposal for Commission president during its next official summit on June 26 and 27.

That explains why the focus of the fight over Juncker has moved from the Parliament to a fight between German chancellor Angela Merkel and British prime minister David Cameron (pictured above, last week, left, with Swedish prime minister Frederik Reinfeldt and Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte).

Under the Lisbon rules, qualified majority voting means that a proposal under consideration by the Council must meet three requirements:

  • a majority of countries within the European Union (15 out of 28 countries);
  • a supermajority (74%) of countries according to a formula of voting weights; and
  • a supermajority of countries representing  at least 62% of the EU-wide population.

The trickiest hurdle is meeting the 74% hurdle. The system assigns weights, roughly corresponding to population, to each country, with a maximum of 29 for each of Germany, France, the United Kingdom and Italy, and a minimum of three for the smallest member, Malta. With a total of 352 weighted votes after Croatia’s July 2013 EU accession, that means Juncker must win at least 260 weighted votes. Conversely, it means that a minority consisting of 93 weighted votes can block Juncker.

Cameron is committed to opposing Juncker.

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán, who belongs to the EPP, has also opposed Juncker in retribution for Luxembourg’s outspoken role on the Commission in the past five years attacking Orbán’s questionable respect for democratic norms and press freedom in Hungary.

Reinfeldt, the Swedish prime minister, has also voiced doubts about Juncker’s candidacy, even though he also belongs to the EPP. If Juncker fails to pass muster in the Council, Reinfeldt himself has been mentioned as a compromise candidate, given the likelihood that his center-right Moderata samlingspartiet (Moderate Party) is expected to lose national elections in September.

Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, has joined Reinfeldt in his hesitation over Juncker. Rutte, like Cameron and Reinfeldt, is generally a Merkel ally on European economic policy and the need for trimming national budgets, but he belongs to the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe (ALDE), the third-largest European parliamentary bloc.

If Sweden (10 weighted votes) and The Netherlands (13 votes) join Hungary (12 votes) and the United Kingdom (29 votes), Cameron will have 64 votes to block Juncker — and he’ll need just 29 more votes to do so.

Those votes could come from Italy, where prime minister Matteo Renzi has demanded a more flexible interpretation of EU budget rules and a greater emphasis on economic growth stimulation (instead of austerity) in exchange for backing Juncker. A deal seemed imminent earlier this week, though Renzi hasn’t yet declared either support or opposition for Juncker.

Right now, the momentum seems to be with Merkel and Juncker, and flowing away from Cameron. Either Rutte or Reinfeldt could back down from their criticisms. Furthermore, Renzi might be wary of alienating Merkel just four months into his premiership and days before Italy assumes the six-month rotating Council presidency. But Cameron, who has suggested Denmark’s social democratic prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt as an alternative Commission president, might yet persuade Renzi to join him for at least one shot at obtaining a more reformist Commission president than Juncker.

It’s worth noting that French president François Hollande, like Renzi, would like to see a greater emphasis on growth at the European level, and he hasn’t firmly indicated that he’ll support Juncker, either.

Continue reading It won’t necessarily take much to block Juncker in Council vote

The mother-of-all-battles over European integration has begun


Three days after the European elections, the reverberations are still shaking the entire continent, with leaders at the national and European level firing the first shots in what promises to be an epic battle over European integration — and that will determine who really calls the shots in the European Union.European_Union

Last night, at an informal meeting of the European Council, the leaders of all 28 member-states of the European Union met to discuss how to approach the election of the next president of the European Commission, the powerful regulatory and executive arm of the European Union. The term of current president José Manuel Barroso, who has served in the role since 2004, will end within six months.

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RELATED: In depth — European parliamentary elections

RELATED: The European parliamentary elections are real four contests

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They poured cold water on the notion that they would automatically propose former Luxembourg prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker as Commission president. Since Sunday, Juncker has stridently made his case that as the Commission presidential candidate (the ‘Spitzenkandiat‘) of the European People’s Party (EPP), which won the greatest number of seats in Sunday’s EU-wide elections, he should have the first right to attempt to assemble a parliamentary majority. That’s a position that, ironically, even the center-left Party of European Socialists (PES), the second-largest bloc in the European Parliament has endorsed:

Commenting on the leaders’ decision, outgoing Socialist group leader Hannes Swoboda tweeted that it’s “absurd that Juncker has our backing to start negotiations but is blocked in the Council by his own EPP family!”

It’s already starting to appear that, behind the scenes, the EPP, which won around 214 seats, and the PES, which won around 191 seats, are coming closer to forming a ‘grand coalition’ to back Juncker’s candidacy in a bid to assert the precedent that the Parliament should be the institution to determine the Commission presidency, not the Council. Both Juncker and the PES Spitzenkandidat, German social democrat Martin Schulz, have argued repeatedly that the Parliament should reject any Commission president that wasn’t among the original Spitzenkandidaten.

But it’s not so simple. The Commission president must win not only a parliamentary majority. He or she must also win a qualified majority among the heads of government and state that comprise the  Council, and enthusiasm among those leaders seems to be flagging for Juncker.

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RELATED: Here come the Spitzenkandidaten! But does anybody care?

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The key player, German chancellor Angela Merkel (pictured above), seemed testy in two press conferences since the election when asked about the looming showdown. As the leader of one of the top parties in the EPP, she officially supports Juncker, but her comments should hardly give Juncker comfort:

She also thanked Juncker for the “good campaign” he ran for the European People’s Party, but seemed slightly irritated by the avalanche of questions as to whether she backs Juncker to become the next EU commission president.

“I don’t decide who gets the post. Juncker is our candidate, the EPP candidate, and we will put his name forward in the discussions. It’s always been said that it’s up to the strongest group to put forward the candidate, but just being the strongest group is not enough, a majority is required,” she said.

A detailed look at the European parliamentary election results (part 2)

 Across Europe on Monday, officials, voters and everyone else were trying to sort through the consequences of yesterday’s voting, across all 28 member-states, to elect the 751 members of the European Parliament.European_Union

Late Sunday, I began analyzing the results on a state-by-state basis — you can read my take here on what the European election results mean in Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Italy and Spain.

This post picks up where that left off, however, with a look at some of the results in Europe’s mid-sized member-states.

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RELATED: A detailed look at the European parliamentary election results (part 1)

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With the count now almost complete, here’s where the Europe-wide parties stand:


The European People’s Party (EPP), which has been the largest group in the European Parliament since 1999, will continue to be the largest group, but with fewer seats (215) than after any election since 1994.

The second-largest group, the Party of European Socialists (PES) has 188 seats, a slight gain, but not the breakout performance for which it was hoping.

The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats of Europe (ALDE) will remain the third-largest group, notwithstanding the collapse of two of its constituent parties, the Liberal Democrats in the United Kingdom and the Freie Demokratische Partei (FDP, Free Democratic Party) in Germany.

The European Greens have won 53 seats, just two less than before the elections. The Party of the European Left, which had hoped to make strong gains on the strength of its anti-austerity message, gained nine seats to 44.

The Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), a slightly eurosceptic group of conservative parties, including the Conservative Party of the United Kingdom, holds steady at 46 seats — that’s a slight loss of around eight seats. The Movement for a Europe of Liberties and Democracy (MELD) gained six.

The real increase was among the ‘non-inscrits,’ the unaffiliated MEPs, which will rise from around 30 to 104. The bulk of those MEPs include the newly elected eurosceptics that have made such a big splash in the past 24 hours, including Marine Le Pen’s Front national (FN, National Front) in France.

But, in addition to being a pan-European contest with wide-ranging themes that resonate throughout the European Union, the elections are also 28 national contests, and they’ve already claimed resignations of two center-left leaders — Eamon Gilmore, of Ireland’s Labour Party, and Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, of the Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE, Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party).

Here’s a look at how the European elections are affecting nine more mid-sized counties across the European Union: Poland, Romania, The Netherlands, Belgium, Greece, the Czech Republic, Portugal, Hungary and Sweden.

Continue reading A detailed look at the European parliamentary election results (part 2)

14 in 2014: European Union parliamentary elections


9. European Union parliamentary elections, May 22-25.European_Union

If for no other reason, the upcoming elections for the European Parliament will be the most important since direct EP elections began in 1979 because under the new Lisbon Treaty, it will be the European Parliament that decides who will become the next chair of the European Commission, the chief executive organ of the European Union (though German chancellor Angela Merkel has argued that the treaty’s language indicates that the Commission appointment need only ‘take into account’ the EP elections).  In any event, it still means that early in 2014, each of the major cross-national party groupings within the European Parliament will designate their nominees to succeed José Manuel Barroso, the former center-right Portuguese prime minister who will step down in November 2014 after a decade heading the Commission.

The eight European Parliament will have 751 members, over 56% of whom will come from just six member-states: Germany (96), France (74), the United Kingdom (73), Italy (73), Spain (54) and Poland (51).  Four states, Estonia, Malta, Luxembourg and Cyprus, will elect the minimum number of representatives (six).

Between 1979 and 1999, the Party of European Socialists (PES) and its predecessor was the largest group in the European Parliament.  Its members include the major center-left socialist/social democratic parties of Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Portugal, Spain and Sweden, and the labour parties of Ireland, Malta, The Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

Since 1999, however, the European People’s Party (EPP), a group of center-right and Christian democratic parties, have held the largest number of seats.  In the most recent 2009 elections, the EPP won 265 seats to just 183 for the PES.  The EPP’s members include the major Christian democratic parties in Benelux, the Austrian People’s Party, the French UMP, Germany’s Christian Democratic Union Greece’s New Democracy, Hungary’s Fidesz, Ireland’s centrist Fine Gael, Italy’s Forza Italia, Portugal’s Social Democratic Party, Poland’s Civic Platform, Spain’s People’s Party and Sweden’s Moderate Party.

The third-largest group, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party (ALDE), contains includes most of Europe’s liberal parties, notably Belgium’s Open VLD, the Danish Venestre, Luxembourg’s newly elected Liberals, the Dutch VVD, the British Liberal Democrats, and Ireland’s Fianna Fáil.

Other groups include:

  • the European Green Party (which includes essentially all of Europe’s green and ecological parties),
  • the Party of the European Left (whose members include the German Die Linke and Greece’s SYRIZA),
  • the slightly eurosceptic Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists (whose members include the Czech Civic Democrats, the UK Conservatives and Poland’s Law and Justice Party),
  • the Movement for a Europe of Liberties and Democracy, formed in 2009 as another slightly euroskeptic group (whose members includes Italy’s Northern League, the Danish People’s Party and the Finns Party), and
  • the European Alliance for Freedom, formed in 2010 as a staunchly euroskeptic, far-right group (whose members include the French National Front, the Dutch Party of Freedom, the Flemish Vlaams Belang and Austria’s Freedom Party).

Although the EPP won’t determine its candidate for Commission president until a convention on March 6-7 and ALDE won’t determine its candidate until February 1, the PES has already nominated Martin Schulz, a member of Germany’s Social Democratic Party and president of the European Parliament since 2012. Polish prime minister Donald Tusk, Luxembourg’s Viviane Reding, the Commission’s vice president and current commissioner for justice, former Luxembourgish prime minister and Eurogroup chair Jean-Claude Juncker, former Latvian prime minister Valdis Dombrovskis, Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaitė, Swedish prime minister Frederik Reinfeldt and IMF managing director Christine Lagarde of France have all been touted as possible EPP candidates.  ALDE will choose between former Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt and Finland’s Olli Rehn, currently commissioner for economic and monetary affairs.

Herman Van Rompuy, former Belgian prime minister and the first president of the European Council, the council of European heads of state/government, will also step down at the end of 2014 after two 2.5-year terms in that position.   The first EU high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, Catherine Ashton of the United Kingdom, is also likely to step down.

Given the tumult of the eurozone sovereign debt crisis, almost everyone expects that European voters may use the elections as an opportunity to register dissatisfaction with the direction of European governance.  In particular, that could bode well for the stridently leftist MEP candidates — most notably in Greece, where SYRIZA (the Coalition of the Radical Left — Συνασπισμός Ριζοσπαστικής Αριστεράς) of Alexis Tsipras leads EP polls.  It could also bode well for euroskeptic candidates — most notably in the United Kingdom, where Nigel Farage (pictured above) and his anti-EU United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) is competing for first place with the Conservative Party and the Labour Party in EP polls, and in France, where Marine Le Pen’s nationalist Front National (FN, National Front) leads EP polls.

Photo credit to Lucas Schifes.

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Can Sweden save the European Union from the NSA spooks?

facebook goes arctic

Even as the media continues to debate leaks revealing the secret surveillance program of the U.S. National Security Agency, code-named ‘PRISM,’ one of the chief private-sector actors in the PRISM scandal opened its first non-U.S. site on Wednesday, giving one European nation a key jurisdictional hook to regulate future data privacy.USflagEuropean_UnionSweden

According to news reports from The Guardian, Facebook, has been cooperating voluntarily with the NSA’s PRISM program since summer 2009, thereby exposing the private data of both U.S. and non-U.S. citizens alike to the purview of the NSA under the authority of the U.S. PATRIOT Act passed in the aftermath of the 2001 al Qaeda terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

But Facebook also opened a new facility to host its servers in far northern Sweden on Wednesday (in part to use the chilly Arctic weather to more efficiently cool its European servers).  Despite the awkward timing, it is Facebook’s first server hall outside of the United States, and its opening comes when European Union leaders are pushing for answers on the extent to which NSA has been permitted access to private, personal data by Facebook, Google, YouTube, Apple, AOL and other service providers and while the European Parliament is considering a new data protection directive that would enhance protection of the personal data of EU citizens.  Assuming that the European Union cannot stop U.S. government agencies, it means that European regulators could target U.S. technology companies in greater measure — after all, the EU already places restrictions on Google’s StreetView program and has already banned the European use of Facebook’s face recognition software.

So does that give Sweden a unique opportunity to ensure that the private data of EU citizens is not caught up in the NSA snare?

After all, Sweden is virtually synonymous with good government, right?

According to Transparency International, it’s among the least corrupt countries is the world.  In the middle of the 18th century, Sweden essentially invented the concept of freedom of information with the Freedom of the Press Act of 1766, and its leaders over the past two decades championed a EU-wide freedom of information regime.

But a reputation for transparency doesn’t necessarily connote a reputation for protecting privacy.  Wikileaks founder Julian Assange was so worried that Swedish authorities would extradite him to the United States that he chose to hunker down in Ecuador’s London embassy instead of allowing British authorities to transfer him to Sweden for a trial on a sexual harassment charge.  Swedes have also raised concerns with EU policymakers that the push for more robust data protection could actually harm government transparency by limiting the Swedish government’s ability to provide open access to documents.

Moreover, the current center-right coalition headed by prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt of the Moderata samlingspartiet (Moderate Party) has introduced greater levels of Swedish surveillance.  In 2009, it narrowly passed legislation that would allow the government’s Försvarets radioanstalt (the National Defence Radio Establishment) to wiretap and access all international telephone and internet traffic, even if all  ultimate parties in the traffic are Swedish.  Though the legislation, know as the ‘FRA law’ passed only narrowly by Sweden’s parliament, the law had its genesis in the prior center-left government of the Sveriges socialdemokratiska arbetareparti (Swedish Social Democratic Workers Party).  It essentially codified into Swedish national law much of what PRISM has been purported to do within the United States.

The law caused some amount of concern, especially in neighboring Finland because all of its Internet and phone traffic at the time routed through Sweden.

Sweden’s foreign minister Karl Bildt earlier this week protested that Swedish activities under the FRA law are not similar to what’s been reported PRISM, in part on the basis that the FRA law was debated publicly and enacted by a duly elected parliament.  In that regard, Bildt’s right — it was clear just what was at stake when the Swedish parliament adopted the FRA law; in contrast, Facebook wasn’t even developed until three years after the U.S. PATRIOT Act.  In addition, Bildt expressed a healthy hint of suspicion about other ‘certain states,’ presumably including the United States:


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