Many Swedes were horrified in early 2017 when U.S. President Donald Trump linked immigration to rising crime in Sweden, but an increasing number now agree with him.
Amid soaring crime rates, gang violence, complaints about education, and pregnant mothers even being turned away from maternity wards due to a lack of capacity, resentment in Sweden has built over the influx of more than 600,000 immigrants over the past five years.
And as Bloomberg reports, paying some of the world’s highest income-tax rates has been the cornerstone of Scandinavia’s social contract, with the political consensus in Sweden to save money for when the economy is less healthy.
Yet the country is showing strains all too familiar in other parts of Europe with nationalists gaining support and Swedes increasingly questioning the sustainability of their fabled cradle-to-grave welfare system.
“The Swedish social contract needs to be reformed,” a dozen entrepreneurs including Nordea Bank AB Chairman Bjorn Wahlroos and Kreab Founder Peje Emilsson wrote in an op-ed in the Dagens Industri newspaper on May 31. “Despite high taxes, politics isn’t delivering its part of the contract in important areas. We get poor value for money.”
Although taxes have been raised in recent years, welfare has deteriorated, they said.
“I don’t trust welfare at all, I need to build my own capital,” Bothen said while sipping his cappuccino at the NK department store in central Stockholm. “The problem with immigration is that our welfare state is not quite dimensioned for it. Of course we should help people, and we have a good situation here in Sweden, but we can’t handle an unlimited amount of people.”
There are warning signs across Europe of what can happen if disillusionment goes unaddressed. In Britain, popular anger over rising immigration and creaking public services fueled the vote to leave the European Union. Nationalist parties, on the march across continent, just swept to power in Italy.
And, judging by the latest polls, the rise of extreme populist groups in Sweden is accelerating fast.
As Reuters reports, dozens of people have been killed in the past two years in attacks in the capital Stockholm and other big cities by gangs that are mostly from run-down suburbs dominated by immigrants.
With public calls growing for tougher policies on crime and immigration, support has risen for the ironically named, Sweden Democrats, a party with neo-Nazi roots that wants to freeze immigration and to hold a referendum on Sweden’s membership of the European Union.
Their worried mainstream rivals have started moving to the right on crime and immigration to try to counter the Sweden Democrats’ threat in the Sept. 9 election. But so far, they are playing into the hands of the far-right.
“Right now they (mainstream parties) are competing over who can set out the most restrictive policies,” said Deputy Prime Minister Isabella Lovin, whose Green Party is part of a minority government led by the Social Democratic Party.
“It clearly benefits the Sweden Democrats.”
Opinion polls put the Sweden Democrats on about 20 percent support, up from the 13 percent of votes they secured in the 2014 election and the 5.7 percent which saw them enter parliament for the first time in 2010.
The Sweden Democrats’ rise on the back of anti-immigration sentiment mirrors gains for right-wing, populist and anti-establishment parties in other European countries such as Italy, France, Germany, Poland, Hungary, Slovenia and Austria.
The Sweden Democrats still trail the Social Democratic Party but has overtaken the main opposition Moderates in many polls. All mainstream parties have ruled out working with them.
But they could emerge from the election as kingmakers, and a strong election showing could force the next government to take their views into consideration when shaping policy.
Their policies include a total freeze on asylum seekers and accepting refugees only from Sweden’s neighbors in the future. They also want tougher penalties for crime and more powers for police, and say tax cuts and higher spending on welfare could be funded by cutting the immigration budget.
Jimmie Akesson, the leader of the Sweden Democratic party, has described the situation as “pretty fantastic”.
“We are dominating the debate even though no one will talk to us,” he told party members.
The Sweden Democrats have succeeded in linking the two in the minds of many voters, even though official statistics show no correlation between overall levels of crime and immigration. However, while the government denies it has lost control but Prime Minister Stefan Lofven has not ruled out sending the military into problem areas.
“Sweden is going down a more right-wing path,” said Nick Aylott, a political scientist at Sodertorn University said. “It is almost impossible to avoid according some sort of influence to a party with around 20 percent of the vote.”
Trump was right after all.