Bildt’s Bilge

by Andrew Stuttaford

Carl Bildt is a member of Sweden’s center-right (sort of) Moderate party, a former Swedish prime minister and, until recently, his country’s foreign minister. He’s a eurofundamentalist, and a strong believer in the ruinous single currency (fortunately for Sweden and its economy, Swedish voters ignored the advice of Bildt and most of the rest of the Swedish establishment, and rejected the euro in a 2003 referendum).  

In recent years, Bildt has made something of a name for himself for taking a hard (verbal) line against the Russian aggression in Ukraine, “gravely concerned” here and “gravely concerned there”, apparently unembarrassed by the fact that both the last Moderate-led government and its Social Democrat predecessors had neglected Sweden’s defenses to a very dangerous degree.

On Twitter Bildt now describes himself as an “entrepreneur in future and peace”.  Okey dokey.

Judging by a recent tweet,  Bildt watched Britain’s recent election debate. Here’s what he wrote:

“Watching UK election debate. Where would Britain be without people from other countries? Poor, boring and declining. But few dare to say so.”

Leaving aside that “boring” (really, Carl?), the trademark faux bravery (“few dare to say so”) and the straw man (no party, not even that wicked UKIP, is proposing a complete ban on immigration), Bildt’s condescending and dishonest comment offers an interesting insight into the extreme ‘open borders’ mentality that was largely responsible for the Moderates’ humiliating defeat in last year’s general election, a defeat made all the more shameful by the post-democratic deal his party struck with the new Social Democrat-led government to avoid what would have, in effect, been a fresh election in which immigration might have played too much of a role to be acceptable to Sweden’s political establishment of left and right.    

And why may that have been?

A Foreign Affairs piece by Ivar Ekman gives a hint. Here’s an extract:

Over the past several decades, a stream of people from countries such as Bosnia, Iraq, and Somalia have taken advantage of Sweden’s asylum policies, the most generous in Europe. As a result, this once homogenous Nordic country has been utterly reshaped. In 2000, 11 percent of Sweden’s population was foreign-born. Today, the proportion is closer to 17 percent, higher than any comparable country in Europe — and higher also than the United States, where only 13 percent of the total population is foreign-born.

And far from slowing down, the trend is accelerating. In 2013, Sweden — a country of 9.5 million — received a total of 54,000 asylum requests, a 24 percent increase over 2012. In September, Sweden became the first European government to offer permanent residency — a designation that extends to all immediate family members — to any Syrian who manages to arrive in Sweden. Since then, Sweden has been taking in Syrians at a rate of more than 500 per week.

All this is happening against the backdrop of big economic challenges. Sweden’s open refugee policies were formulated in the 1970s, at a time when it was the fourth-richest country in the world and unemployment rates hovered just above zero. “Equality” and “solidarity” were the catchwords of the day. It was an easy time to be generous, in other words, to people fleeing dictatorships in countries such as Chile and Iran. But economic growth has been sluggish since the 2008 financial crisis and, even more worryingly, jobs have become scarce — especially in the sorts of low-skilled sectors that newly arrived immigrants have traditionally flocked to. Unemployment is now stubbornly stuck above eight percent. Among foreign-born Swedes, the rate is twice as large.

As The Local reported last year, none of this seemed to worry Fredrik Reinfeldt, the prime minister who lead the Moderates to defeat in 2014:

“There is no place for the Sweden Democrats on the ‘borgerlig’ (liberal/conservative) side of Swedish politics,” he said. Reinfeldt furthermore rejected the notion that Sweden offers a safe haven for more refugees than the country can cope with, saying that there is plenty of room in the Nordic countries for more human beings fleeing oppression and war.

 ”What does the word “enough” mean? Sweden is full? The Nordic region is full? Are we too many people? We are 25 million people living in the North. I often fly over the Swedish countryside and I would advise others to do. There are endless fields and forests. There’s more space than you might imagine. Those who claim that the country is full, they should demonstrate where it is full.

With an attitude like that, as arrogant as it is ignorant, it is hardly surprising that the Moderates saw enough of their support seep away to the (distinctly hard-edged) Sweden Democrats (a party opposed to mass immigration) to cost them an election, but, Reinfeldt’s extremism and its  implicit contempt for the nation-state shows that Bildt is no outlier.   

I would not be looking for the Moderates to return to power any time soon

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