How the European elections play out in different countries is highly dependent on which system of election the member state uses. The British regional list system (including Wales and Scotland, but not Northern Ireland) still guarantees a significant advantage to larger parties with a very high threshold for gaining a regional seat (upwards of ten per cent), meaning parties can gain nine or ten per cent across the country yet still fail to achieve a single MEP.
In Sweden, however, there is a single national list, and the Swedes have thrown up a very diverse range of parties to send to Brussels. There are two bits of good news from Sweden in a Europe otherwise mired in a far-right resurgence and a directionless but emboldened populist movement. The first is that the Swedish feminist group Feminist Initiative cleared the four per cent hurdle and made history in the process. Should they repeat the feat in September they will enter Sweden’s national legislature with twenty members forming the first feminist parliamentary party in European history.
An even bigger piece of positive news is that the Swedish Green Party overtook the Cameron-inspiring Moderate party for the first time, making them the second biggest party on almost sixteen per cent. The Moderates are now doing a lot of soul searching, polling one of their worst results in any election since the 1970s. The division of parliamentary mandates means that larger parties do not win as many seats as smaller parties do per percentage point, so the victory is mostly symbolic for the Greens, but like Feminist Initiative they go into September’s national elections with a good chance of becoming a fairly equal partner in a governing coalition. The secret of their success was becoming the biggest party in all three of Sweden’s large cities and harnessing the youth vote.
The national list system also meant that the far-right (though increasingly respectable) Swedish Democrats (SD) secured two seats. Their friends in the far-right Danish People’s Party are keen on cooperation with the British Tory-led group in the European Parliament, but this leaves the Swedish Democrats without too many friends. The talk in the Swedish media is that SD fancy their chances with Britain’s favourite non-racist party. If this comes off it will mean UKIP sharing photocopying budgets with a party who went into the election promising to combat extreme feminism among other evils. Previous japes involving SD include one of their MPs attacking someone with a metal pole after a night out and some choice words about Roma that would make Nigel Farage turn away in shame.
What the Swedish elections to Brussels show best is what a pluralist media and election system looks like. With nine different parties represented from radical left to extreme right, via pink, Green and blue, it is representative in a way Britain’s system is not. With a similar system Greens in the UK would probably have around six MEPs, UKIP nineteen (not twenty-four) and one or two fewer for Labour and the Tories. This does not of course take into account Britain’s complex regional politics (The SNP and Plaid would vanish on a single national list), and the only way to solve that one would be to increase the seats allocated to Wales and Scotland and keep them separate. With its four UKIP MEPs and ten seats, the South of England could surely lose a few anyway. And if the SD’s Björn Söder pops up next to Nigel Farage in Brussels, just remind yourself that UKIP are not a racist party.