(Photo: Global Times)
European politics, which is already in a shambles, faces fresh uncertainty after the general election in Sweden earlier this month. Against the backdrop of the ever-rising populist hullabaloo, the right-wing Sweden Democrats held 13 more seats and obtained 17.6 percent of the votes, up from 12.9 percent in the previous elections four years ago.
Although the populist party did not get as many votes as expected, still it was able to garner more support than in the past. It means that negotiations led by the ruling coalition will face hurdles.
This year's general election has been shaped by immigration. Refugees and immigration policies are changing Sweden's political landscape. The political system in Sweden has been one of the most stable systems in Europe and serves as a welfare model. Sweden is an active partner in free trade. By relying on exports and the EU market, it has created many job opportunities to ensure the normal functioning of its welfare system. It prides itself as an inclusive and open country for immigrants.
However, the election results indicate that the political balance has been upset. On the two sides of the scale are no longer traditional left-wing and right-wing parties, but populists and conservatives.
The support rate of the populist, anti-immigration Democrats stands at 17.6 percent this year, compared to only 1 percent in 2002. However, according to a report by Eurobarometer in April, around eight in 10 Swedish respondents feel totally or somewhat comfortable with immigrants.
There is a common perception across European countries, including Sweden, that Europe is facing social divisions. The demands for economic and social reforms conflict with cultural identities, and multilateralism confronts racism.
The influx of immigrants has deeply impacted Swedish society. With the rising expenditure on public finance, pension payments have come under pressure. Housing, schooling to medical care - the scarcity of these resources tears the social welfare system apart. Crimes are increasing, which brings about law and order problems or even the menace of terrorism.
The ruling Swedish Social Democratic Party has tried to overcome the challenges brought about by the influx of refugees and prepared tougher steps to face the challenge. After the number of refugees swarming into the country peaked in 2015, the government tightened border controls. In June 2016, it rectified its asylum law which would only grant refugees temporary residence permits.
The policy changes in Sweden are a result of the failure of other European nations to take in the required number of refugees allocated to them by the EU through a quota, rather than to cope with rising populist forces within the country.
The issue of refugees is not only an economic and social one, but more a cultural one. Cultural problems seem more important than the economic contributions immigrants make in shaping opinion.
In the eyes of Swedish populists, refugees do not want to become part of their culture, which shows a lack of respect for local culture and law. After they get the permits to live, they always stay away from areas where Swedish people live, which does no good to social integration and adds to the locals' sense of insecurity. For European countries, it is particularly vital to make immigrants from various parts of the world integrate into their societies.
Within European countries, populist parties are insular. Despite their popularity, they cannot form a coalition with other parties. Hence the dilemma - populist parties oppose for the sake of opposition and affect their countries' policies as opposition parties.
Besides, populist parties are likely to have an impact at both European and global levels. In addition to opposing refugees, they also call on withdrawing from the EU. This means EU institutions are increasingly detached from voters of member states and the legitimacy and effectiveness of EU institutions is being undermined.
After various elections throughout Europe in 2017, the populist trend is rising. It not only won populist parties higher ratings and seats, but also brought the European continent under the shadow of populism. Given the fast pace and huge number of immigrants, Europe, which is grappling with a stagnant economy, can hardly absorb all of them. What is worse, the EU cannot ensure internal security and effectively crack down on terrorism. This leaves room for populist parties to split society, create conflicts of cultural identities and call for economic and social reforms.