May 15, 2024

“We Must Give People Hope”

Hanna Gedin of the Swedish Left Party on perspectives for the European elections

As the European Parliament elections this June draw nearer, the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation is conducting a series of interviews with left-wing parties and candidates from across the EU on the election campaign, their political programmes, and the challenges facing left-wing forces domestically and at a European level. The foundation’s Duroyan Fertl spoke to Hanna Gedin, second on the list for Sweden’s Left Party, Vänsterpartiet, about the Left’s priorities in this election year.

What are Vänsterpartiet’s key priorities in this European Parliament election campaign? What are your key campaign areas or flagship demands?

There are three key priorities for this campaign: the climate transition, securing good and safe jobs, and the cost-of-living crisis. In some respects, the EU is more progressive on climate than the right-wing Swedish government, which is now dismantling years of climate policies, but the neoliberal dogma that prevails at the EU level prevents state aid measures to deliver the large investments needed for the green transition. EU member states must be allowed to make huge investments for a just transition, creating jobs and a better life for many people, and the EU must stop subsidizing the fossil industry.

On the issue of securing good jobs, the EU’s prioritizing of capital and competition comes at the expense of job quality — the recent fight around the platform work directive is a case in point. We also want to change the rules around public procurement, where securing the lowest price has been made the key condition for making procurements, something that leads to social dumping. Alongside the European trade unions, we are calling for a new kind of procurement where social clauses and collective bargaining are made the key factors.

Finally, on the cost of living, we can see that inflation has led to more poverty and increased social injustice, while at the same time the big companies in Sweden are making historic profits. We need to build a different kind of society, one that works for all the people, not just for a few. One reason we have a housing crisis in Sweden — which is being caused by a shortage in apartments and increasing rents — is because housing is deemed to be just another commodity on the European market, preventing us from using state aid to build new housing and forcing public housing companies to operate under market rules.

What do you see as the biggest challenges for the Left on the European level right now?

The system of market liberalism enshrined in the EU has withdrawn the democratic decision-making process — and the discussion about building a better future for the people — and placed control in the hands of the “market”. This is not only bad for society but also for people’s belief and trust in politics and collective action, and in the possibility of large-scale, positive change. The climate crisis is an acute and existential threat to us all, and it is time for the people to take back control over the future. We must give people hope.

Here there is, of course, an overlap with our campaign issues for this election. The way electricity is priced on the EU market not only hinders the green transition in Sweden — it also means the cheap and green electricity produced in Sweden is sold at the highest European market price, and our electricity bills have continued to rise. Likewise, the Swedish rail system has been heavily privatized and is in a very bad shape, yet it is pricy and inaccessible in large parts of the country. With different EU rules, it would be possible for Sweden to make massive investments in public transport, creating jobs, lowering prices, and benefitting the environment.

Of course, another major problem is the growth and rise of the far right across the EU. This is a huge problem, not only for the Left, but for the many people who are being and will be affected by its racist and misogynist politics. The far right is very good at finding scapegoats and simple solutions to complex problems. They manage to get themselves into the centre of the debate constantly, something that we as left parties struggle to do. We desperately need to find a way to change the agenda.

The Swedish government is currently being propped up by the support of the far-right Sweden Democrats (SD). What kind of influence is the far right exercising as a result?

Although SD are not formally part of the Swedish government, they are the biggest right-wing party in the country, and they have a massive influence on government policies around issues like migration, crime, and ethnicity. Also, it is worth pointing out that SD is not just a far-right party — it is a party that was founded by actual Nazis, making it even more extreme than many other European far-right parties.

Before the election, SD consciously used less right-wing rhetoric on, say, pensions and unemployment conditions, but they now seem to care less. The government is reducing the rights of the unemployed and those too sick to work and are quickly introducing many new laws, leaving many Swedes deeply troubled. Some of these laws were unthinkable a few years ago, like creating “visitation zones” that allow the police to search anyone in a particular area without suspicion of a crime — and of course, those areas are where many migrants live. Laws are also being passed diminishing the economic support for civil society drastically. It is horrible on so many levels.

Is there much in the way of a resistance or fightback taking place against this?

Of course, there are some social mobilizations against this, but I feel — and this is just my view — we’re in a kind of a collective mass psychosis or something. Perhaps it’s because of the pandemic, which was followed so quickly by the war, and then NATO membership, and so on. People seem to be looking inwards more, and not mobilizing to the same extent as before. The main exception would seem to be around Gaza, where we are seeing huge demonstrations in Sweden against the atrocities being committed there.

We have very worrying opinion polls showing that young men in particular are leaning more and more towards the political right wing, including the extreme right-wing parties. So, I fear we might be experiencing a larger political development, where everything is moving towards the right. Yet, at the same time, we have other opinion polls saying that more people in Sweden define themselves as left-wing than as right-wing, and this is the kind of shift we haven’t seen for years, so it’s actually a bit difficult to say exactly what’s happening.

What are the main political debates or contradictions in Sweden at the moment?

As mentioned, when you look at the social movements and what people are taking to the streets about, it’s Palestine — we’re seeing huge demonstrations on a regular basis. Despite this, the government and the foreign minister are still trying to defend Israel’s actions as proportionate. Then there’s the big industrial fight still going on around Tesla, with a lot of workers in Sweden, and in Denmark and Finland too, joining the struggle to defend collective bargaining and the Nordic model. I would say those are the two main issues mobilizing people right now.

As the Left, we’re still looking for a better strategy, and we need to prioritize better than we have done before. People must be able to better understand what we stand for. So, we are trying to focus on very concrete things in people’s lives, like pensions, like the fact the government is cutting the public sector and health, those kinds of things. We are also seeing growing inequalities in Sweden, with more and more people no longer covered by social security and standing in line for food. The lines keep growing, as people can’t afford to buy food. This is not a new thing in Sweden, but it’s been aggravated a lot.

We’re trying to do this, but it’s a question of setting the agenda and it has been very difficult with the NATO issue ongoing. There hasn’t even been a discussion around this — it’s been more of a one-way communication about NATO for months. With the war in Ukraine ongoing, it is difficult to set the agenda when faced with populistic proposals from the right wing.

Sweden recently joined NATO after a long period of uncertainty. What is Vänsterpartiet’s position on NATO membership and the struggle against war and militarization?

There is a peace movement in Sweden, but I would say that majority sentiment is firmly in solidarity with Ukraine in the face of Russia’s aggression. The invasion shocked Swedish society, and I think that’s why there hasn’t really been any debate about NATO membership.

Vänsterpartiet remains against membership, but we can’t change it now. So, we are focusing on the Swedish government’s failure to secure agreement from the US around preventing them stationing nuclear arms or US troops on Swedish soil, for example. The government has basically accepted everything — even more, I think, than Denmark and Norway, where there are at least unilateral agreements preventing nuclear arms in Denmark and Norway during peacetime.

Swedish public opinion is clearly opposed to nuclear arms, but Russia’s horrible invasion of Ukraine has put a kind of a dampener on the broader discussion. Now that Sweden has actually joined NATO — now that it’s too late — a small discussion has begun, with people beginning to realize with concern that this might mean our kids being sent to wars in different countries, and American soldiers stationed in Sweden, and so on. But none of this was discussed beforehand.

In hindsight, there was not enough discussion on the NATO issue at all. This is not only about militarization and NATO either — it also affects the possibility of Sweden having its own voice in foreign policy, of which we have a long and proud tradition. No longer.

Vänsterpartiet will be holding a party congress soon — before the EU elections, in fact. Are you able to share some of the big issues under debate?

Yes, our coming party congress will be held over 5 days, which is huge. During the pandemic we had congresses, but they were all digital, and we couldn’t go into detail as much as we would have wished, so at the last congress it was decided that this one should be 5 days long. Vänsterpartiet congresses decide a lot, and this time is no exception. There will be a lot of voting — as there should be — and I think we already have over 1,000 motions and amendments submitted. We will adopt a completely new party programme — our most important document. The current program is quite long and theoretical, and the people who drafted the new one wanted it to be shorter, better connected to everyday politics, and not overly focused on theory.

I think debate at the congress will also focus on what defines us as a party and what distinguishes us from others. We are a socialist party, we are a feminist party, we are a green party — the issue is how we should express that.

There will be debate on NATO and such issues, too, and there will be debate on the EU. In our current programme, we envisage leaving the EU, and we always get asked right before European elections, “So, do you want to leave now?” So, again, the issue for us is how to express our position better. How can we keep our criticism of the EU, but at the same time — while not pushing for a “Swexit” here and now — keep leaving as an option in the future?

Finally, of course, there will be a big debate around climate change, and a lot of the motions and amendments concern this as well.

It will be historic, and quite challenging, and some people say we’re crazy having such a big congress. It’s also a particular difficulty to have that kind of party congress just one month before the European elections, because we don’t know what will be said about us, and what the outcome will be. So, it’s a challenge from many perspectives.

Vänsterpartiet participated in a recent meeting of European left-wing forces in Copenhagen. How does greater collaboration with other left forces at a European level feature in your outlook?

I think it shows our strength that this collaboration between progressive left parties within Europe and the EU is expanding. As you might know, at this meeting in Copenhagen, we adopted a ten-point programme for the European elections, and it was refreshing to discover all these left parties don’t have many differences when it comes to how to approach many different questions.

Of course, we have different national contexts, but it’s a strength to be able to show that we have the same kind of view on society and the problems we face, and I think that the Left could actually grow in this election. Overall, I think it’s very positive. I personally have very good cooperation with different European left parties, and I am pushing for Sweden’s Left Party to get more experience from other left parties in Europe, so we can learn from each other.

Your party’s polling looks good at the moment. Are you confident about expanding your presence in Europe from one to two seats at this election?

That’s our goal — a long time ago, we had three MEPs, now we have just one. You can never trust the polls, though — people might show up on the day and vote differently, or you might have a debate with a question you didn’t see coming, and suddenly everything is about that. So, we don’t know, but we are working to win two mandates. This would be a great result, and it would also be a starting point for getting a new government at the next Swedish election in 2026. It would send a message to the right wing, and to the far right, to say “your time has passed”.


Hanna Gedin is a Vänsterpartiet candidate for the 2024 European elections, and previously held a number of leading positions in the party.

Top photo by Jessica Segerberg.

This article was first published on May 8, 2024, on rosalux.de.


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