EUROPE’S failure to deliver growth and jobs has fostered a right-wing nationalist climate that is set to reward anti-immigration parties in this month’s European elections, Sweden’s prime minister has warned.
Fredrik Reinfeldt said he also saw nationalism shaping Russia’s actions during the crisis in Ukraine, which has created a significant divide between native Russian and Ukrainian speakers.
“[The economic crisis] has weakened the forces of integration or standing up for this European ideal,” he said in an interview in which he also invoked the destructive nationalism that tore Europe apart 100 years ago this summer with the outbreak of the First World War.
“The kind of [nationalist] thinking behind that, which has been a problem in Europe for hundreds of years… is very much the same kind of thinking you see Russia now doing in Ukraine or you will see in many forces throughout Europe,” Mr Reinfeldt said.
Citizens in the 28 European Union countries vote on 22-25 May for 751 members of the European Parliament.
Opinion polls suggest an influx of between 150 to 200 Euro-sceptic politicians bent on reversing decades of European Union integration.
Right-wing parties such as Britain’s Ukip – and in some cases the far-right like France’s Front National and Hungary’s Jobbik – are expected to do well.
At the national level, rightist, populist parties are now some of the biggest political forces in the traditionally liberal, tolerant Nordic region.
Mr Reinfeldt, 48, who has been in power for eight years and has moved the once right-wing Moderate Party towards the centre ground, said: “In Sweden there is a still a sense of trust between politicians and people. In many other countries there is a clear distrust.
“That is very easily replaced by a call for the [right-wing] strong man or for someone to take decisions.”
Mr Reinfeldt has pushed through market reforms in Sweden during his two terms in office, cutting income taxes and trimming one of Europe’s most extensive welfare states, though his party is tipped to lose power to the centre-left in this year’s election.
His time in government has also seen the rise of the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats party, which could hold the balance of power after the September election, polls suggest.
Mr Reinfeldt said that nationalism has led to increased belligerence. He also said Russia’s behaviour in the Ukraine crisis would damage Moscow most, leaving it internationally isolated.
“It creates instability, insecurity… so what will be the reaction? Increased defence spending, increased awareness and nervousness towards the acts of Russia, a more politically isolated Russia, possibly more economically isolated,” he said.
Sweden has talked of a “doctrinal shift” in defence policy and both the government and the leading opposition party have pledged to increase defence spending.
But Mr Reinfeldt said the political obstacles to Sweden’s Nato entry were too large to surmount – despite his own party’s wish to join.
Polls show a clear majority of Swedes are opposed to joining Nato.