Skip to main content

Sweden’s ruling coalition today, made up of the Moderates, the Liberals, and the Christian Democrats, supported by the Sweden Democrats in a confidence and supply agreement, is likely the most far-right leaning in the country’s history. The Sweden Democrats (SD) are a radical right-wing populist party with hardline, illiberal stances on both crime and immigration, from Muslim-majority countries in particular. They have enjoyed significant electoral success since first entering parliament in 2010 and are currently the second-largest party in parliament. SD’s leader Jimmie Åkesson has stated that the Sweden Democrats will not support Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson (of the Moderates) for a second term unless SD forms part of the government in 2026. So, what is the scale of influence that SD has had in their role propping up the Swedish government since 2022?

2024 EU Elections

Sweden went to the polls on June 9th to vote in the 2024 European Parliament elections. SD placed fourth, winning three of Sweden’s allotted 21 seats, while losing electoral ground for the very first time. SD used the slogan, “My Europe Builds Walls: Against Immigration, Against Criminal Gangs, Against Islamists” on their EU campaign posters, a reference to then-Prime Minister Stefan Löfven’s declaration—at the apex of the European Migration Crisis almost 10 years ago—that “his Europe doesn’t build walls.” The Green party fared better than SD, perhaps indicating that climate action was more important than curbing immigration for EU voters in Sweden in 2024. Some commentators have suggested that the result indicates that the far right is in retreat in Sweden, although more first-time voters voted for SD this time than in 2019.

Aside from the importance of climate action, the Sweden Democrats’ electoral outcome may have been affected by revelations that the party was running a social media “troll factory” to promote its views and to disparage other parties, including the coalition partners it supports. Åkesson may have further damaged the party’s prospects with his “Trumpist” response, accusing the media of conducting a smear campaign against the party in the run-up to the election. Despite this scandal, the government remains in collaboration with SD. Another potential explanation for SD’s decline in popularity may simply be that they are no longer an opposition party. Voters may not like the impact that SD has so far had on the incumbent government. However, EU elections are qualitatively different to national elections. Unsurprisingly, SD are Eurocritical, although they dropped their call for Sweden to leave the EU in 2018 after the Brexit referendum. SD may prove more popular in 2026’s general election, as their voters tend to be less interested in EU politics and/or are Eurosceptic. Despite their vote share of 13.2% in the European Parliament elections, a poll conducted after the EU results showed SD polling at 19.5%, only slightly less than their 2022 national election result.

One potential explanation for SD’s decline in popularity at the EU elections may simply be that they are no longer an opposition party. Voters may not like the impact that SD has so far had on the incumbent national government.

The Tidö Agreement

The Tidö Agreement, signed by the three coalition parties and SD, is a political cooperation agreement establishing the current cabinet with Kristersson as Prime Minister. It is split into seven section policy areas. While the Agreement was met with concern from human rights watchdogs, many of the regressive proposals outlined are unlikely to ever be implemented in practice, as they would be in conflict with EU law, the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), or Sweden’s own constitutional texts. It is difficult to determine the degree of influence that SD has over any initiatives taken by the Swedish government, of which they are not officially a part. However, we can examine the changes made by the government and assess whether they are in line with SD’s agenda.

How Have SD Influenced Criminal Justice Policy?

SD have no qualms about publicly linking increases in violent crime in Sweden—namely, gun violence and explosions connected with gang activity—to immigrants from outside Europe. Has this rhetoric translated into any changes on the ground? The minimum sentence for serious weapons offences was doubled this year in reaction to increased gun violence and gang activity. “Security zones” were introduced in April, granting the police stop and search powers without probable cause. The government wants to allow the police to use facial recognition software from cameras in public places in order to combat crime. They also want to make it easier for landlords to evict families whose children are convicted of a criminal offense.

The hardening of both criminal and immigration policy was set in motion by the previous government, led by the Social Democrats. SD and the current government have only escalated what already existed.

However, it is important to remember that the hardening of both criminal and immigration policy was set in motion by the previous government, led by the Social Democrats. Therefore, SD and the current government, by way of the Tidö Agreement, have only escalated what already existed. There has been concern, however, that this means that the parliamentary opposition is not challenging the regressive direction that crime and immigration policy is going. Rather, these repressive policies are becoming increasingly mainstream in Sweden.

How Have SD Influenced Immigration Policy?

SD’s anti-immigration stance has long been their calling card. The government has launched multiple inquiries into tightening immigration and integration policy in the last two years. An inquiry looking into how asylum rules can be pared back to the minimum requirements of the EU is currently chaired by Josephine Boswell, a judge affiliated with the Sweden Democrats. It remains to be seen if the inquiry proposals will become law, but the inquiries themselves are enough to set off alarm bells. These include investigating whether the Swedish constitution can be amended in order to revoke citizenship from naturalized citizens who are a threat to national security, and whether permanent residency can be revoked from immigrants who are no longer considered to be at risk in their countries of origin.

The government also hopes to change policy so that immigrant children (aged 15 to 18) convicted of a serious offence can be denied citizenship, and wants to allow for deportations of immigrants who are deemed to have “shortcomings in lifestyle,” which include being in debt or substance abuse. The government plans to invest approximately 300 million Swedish kronor (kr) (29 million USD) in return centers for asylum seekers whose applications have been rejected. Controversially, the government intends to require public institutions to report irregular (undocumented) migrants to the Swedish authorities.

Other inquiries have proposed mandatory tests on Swedish language and society for individuals applying for permanent residency, and extending the residency requirement for citizenship from 5 years to 8 years. Another proposal is for asylum seekers to be required to reside in government accommodation centers for the duration of the application process. None of the government’s proposed changes are necessarily beyond the pale for a Western democracy, but they are indicative of a paradigm shift in Swedish politics.

None of the government’s proposed changes are necessarily beyond the pale for a Western democracy, but they are indicative of a paradigm shift in Swedish politics.

In terms of changes that have already been implemented, in late 2023 the minimum salary threshold for a work permit was raised to 26,560 kr/month (2,500 USD). This is over twice the previous threshold. Another change relates to the minimum age a spouse or cohabiting partner must be to apply for a resident permit in order to reunite with someone in Sweden. It was previously 18, and this has been raised to 21. Police have been given enhanced powers along Sweden’s borders regarding electronic surveillance and stop and search. Fees for interpretation services have been introduced in healthcare settings for the first time. This change in tone from the incumbent government, no doubt influenced by SD’s rhetoric, does appear to be having the desired effect, as international protection applications are down and a record number of citizenship applications are being rejected.

How Have SD Influenced Climate Policy?

In terms of climate action, the Swedish Climate Policy Council has warned that this government’s approach to climate policy has led to a rise in greenhouse gas emissions for the first time in 20 years. This is remarkable considering that Sweden was the first country in the world to set a net zero target back in 2017. In September 2023, the government was criticized for cutting funds for environmental measures by 259 million kr (approx. 25 million USD) as part of the budget. More recently, the government revealed plans to invest over 1 billion kr (96 million USD) in the airline industry, hitting back at the concept of “flight-shame” related to the environmental impact of flying. SD was instrumental in getting Sweden’s biofuels commitment down to 6% for the next three years. Mixing biofuels into diesel and petrol lowers car emissions, but it is more expensive for consumers. Previously, petrol had to contain 7.8% biofuel and diesel had to contain 30.5% biofuel. The government is set to scrap a tax on plastic bags later this year, which was introduced by the previous government in 2020 to reduce plastic waste. In a volte-face late last year, however, SD pledged to support Sweden’s net zero target for 2045.

Here to Stay

SD are no strangers to controversy. SD MP Elsa Widding resigned last year after attending a conspiracy theorist conference. Another SD MP, David Lang, resigned just weeks ago after being recorded singing the far-right chant “Auslander raus” (foreigners out) in the aftermath of the EU elections. Both of these resignations have further narrowed the already slim majority in parliament that the current government has.

Björn Söder, another SD MP, was heavily criticized for tweeting that the Pride movement has “close and legitimate” links to pedophilia. There were calls for Richard Jomshof (SD MP) to resign as chairman of the parliament’s justice committee over a tweet where he described the Prophet Mohammed as a “warlord, mass-murderer, slave trader and bandit.” He held onto his job, but has since been in the news for proposing a ban on Muslim symbols such as the crescent moon, likening them to the swastika. The party leader himself is on the record spouting anti-Muslim and Islamophobic rhetoric, including stating that immigrants should not have the right to build new mosques in Sweden.

The mainstream’s adoption of the Sweden Democrats’ policies and frames, far from combatting the illiberal threat, can only contribute to the further hollowing out of Sweden’s liberal democracy.

Despite these instances of xenophobia, SD do not seem to be going anywhere. Though they have nowhere near the power that governing parties do, it does appear that they have had success in advancing their political agenda. A survey conducted by Civil Rights Defenders in 2023 found increased concern about the quality of democracy in Sweden, a year after the Tidö Agreement was signed. 59% of people surveyed agreed that Sweden is moving in an undemocratic direction (44% in 2022) and 65% of those surveyed agreed that Sweden’s basic democratic principles had been threatened in the last 12 months (40% in 2022). Despite their staying power and support from parts of the electorate, the Sweden Democrats’ success perhaps comes at the perceived cost of liberal democracy. Their influence on the government, even if indirect, has made life increasingly difficult for Sweden’s migrant communities, and seeks to close the door on new migrants and asylum seekers, all while further securitizing life for Swedes of all backgrounds. The mainstream’s adoption of the Sweden Democrats’ policies and frames, far from combatting the illiberal threat, can only contribute to the further hollowing out of Sweden’s liberal democracy.


Orlaith Rice is a PhD candidate at the Sutherland School of Law, University College Dublin (UCD) and a member of the ERC-funded Foundations project. Her doctoral thesis investigates democratic decay in Sweden. 

Image made by John Chrobak using “Johan Pehrson 2022 Stockholm 01,” by FarbrorAnna licensed under CC Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International; “P061418-427090,” by Audiovisual Service licensed under CC Attribution 4.0 International; “Jimmie Åkessons vårtal på Långholmen i Stockholm 2024 09,” by Frankie Fouganthin licensed under CC Attribution 4.0 International; “P061521-697284,” by Audiovisual Service licensed under CC Attribution 4.0 International; “Refugees from Syria to Sweden 04,” by Frankie Fouganthin licensed under CC Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International.

X