Subscribe to the latest news from the Nordic Labour Journal by e-mail. The newsletter is issued 9 times a year. Subscription is free of charge.

You are here: Home i In Focus i In Focus 2024 i Theme: Change of tack in EU policy? i Swedish MEPs: Climate crucial in EU elections
Swedish MEPs: Climate crucial in EU elections

Swedish MEPs: Climate crucial in EU elections

| Text: Bengt Rolfer och Gunhild Wallin

In the EU it is often said that the green transition will bring future jobs, but now the EU’s main climate actions are threatened. As June’s European Parliamentary elections approach, far-right parties want to either change or tear up existing decisions in the EU Green Deal and Fit for 55. The conservative EPP group is also looking at putting the brakes on the climate transition.

The Nordic Labour Journal visited the EU Parliament in Strasbourg during its penultimate session before the election and asked Swedish MEPs what is at stake when it comes to the green transition.

We got a strong and immediate impression that the climate – the political one – has hardened and become more polarised. Both Social Democrat Heléne Fritzon and the Green Party’s Alice Bah Kuhnke started their press conferences by talking about the big change they are experiencing.

The big, ground-breaking climate decisions made by the EU have had the support of the Parliament’s two main party groups, the EPP and the S&D (the EPP is made up of conservative and Christian democratic parties and the S&D consists of social democratic parties), but now, the EPP is beginning to waver.

Alice Bah Kuhnke

Alice Bah Kuhnke during a depate in the European Parliament. She is an MEP representing the Green Party.

“This is a huge change. The EPP used to draw a red line against opening up for the extreme right. We have noticed this and gathered evidence for it. This is ‘head in the sand politics’. To retreat from already insufficient climate goals is to prepare for a catastrophe,” says Alice Bah Kuhnke.

A swing to the right

Both she and Heléne Fritzon say that Sweden is now highlighted as a ‘role model’ for how traditional conservative parties collaborate with the extreme right. 

Malin Björk from the Left Party has also registered that the field has been splintered and that there has been a “clear swing” to the right in the European Parliament's Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI). 

“But so far we have managed to secure the votes,” she says.

Out of all the Swedish MEPs, only Charlie Weimers from the Sweden Democrats openly calls for the abolition of Fit for 55 (the EU’s climate goals), which include phasing out fossil fuel vehicles by 2035. At home, his message has gained a lot of media attention, but how serious is the threat really?

Johan Danielsson and Charlie Weimers

Johan Danielsson, Social Democrats, and Charlie Weimers, Sweden Democrats, are far from each other on the environmental issues that are currently dominating the European Parliament.

Prepared to cooperate

At the Swedish Moderates’ press conference, Tomas Tobé and Jessica Polfjärd admit that “impact assessments” will be conducted on the climate package and that the EPP group is prepared to collaborate with parties further to the right. The party also underlines that it has no plans to give up on its climate ambitions.

Later, we ask Jessica Polfjärd, who is also on the environment committee, to explain her party’s stance further.

“It is both the Parliament’s and the Commission’s ambition to take further steps towards climate neutrality. We see the need to do more and we want to play a constructive part. This is an excellent issue for cooperation, we know we can achieve more together. At the same time, the green and the economic transitions need to go hand in hand and also be anchored with citizens.”

 What is your view on the phasing out of the combustion engine?

“We have no problems with the fact that it will be phased out. It is an important symbol if businesses are to take the lead. You need clear and long-term rules. At the same time, a lot is happening right now. We see a conflict in the German government, which is a shame. It is not our habit to change our minds at a later stage. I believe the phase-out should remain.”

What is your overall view of the green transition? Does it threaten jobs or is it rather where future jobs lie?

“It is where the jobs of the future are created. If we are to uphold Sweden’s and Europe’s competitiveness, we have to transition. We also see that many Swedish companies want to participate in this.”

The broad majority backing the climate legislation in the European Parliament also includes the liberal Renew group – in addition to the EPP and the S&D. The Swedish Centre Party is part of the group and their MEP Emma Wiesner is a keen proponent of the green transition. She points to the recent status report from the European Environment Agency EEA.

“We now live in a time when it is more expensive to continue emitting greenhouse gases than to change. This presents us with fantastic opportunities but also shows how expensive it would be to do nothing. Many talk as if we're done with climate policy, but then you miss the opportunities to strengthen it even further," she says.

How would you do that?

Emma Wiesner rattles off a series of proposals: a substantial package to put an end to the fossil era, remove fossil projects from the EU budget, remove all fossil subsidies, ban fossil marketing, put an end-date for fossil energy production, impose climate locks on the EU budget, strengthen and expand emission trading, introduce carbon labelling on products…

Emma Wiesner

Emma Wiesner represents the Centre Party in the European Parliament. Photo: The Centre Party.

“There is no lack of proposals, for sure. That is why it is sad that we’ve ended up with this narrative that tries to portray it as if Sweden can sit back because the EU has already solved everything. This is far from reality,” says Emma Wiesner.

Technology optimmist

She is a convinced technology optimist and can see many opportunities for jobs resulting from the green transition. But she wants to downplay the individual’s responsibility and calls for changes at the systemic level and policies that make the alternatives more competitive. 

“People didn’t start using lightbulbs because they had run out of candles. It was smarter, sleeker, cheaper and better. This is what we have to do now also. If we find alternatives that are faster, sleeker, cheaper and better, people will change their lifestyles without thinking about it.”

The Centre Party wants climate lock

One concrete proposal which can be found in the Centre Party’s manifesto is the introduction of a climate lock. What is that?

"We fought long for a democracy lock in countries like Hungary and Poland. Now we want something similar for the climate. If climate policy is to be effective, there must be consequences if you do not reach your climate goals."

Both Jessica Polfjärd and Emma Wiesner are running for re-election at this year’s European Parliamentary elections. Social Democrat Johan Danielsson hopes to make a comeback after retiring halfway through his period when he was called home to become Deputy Minister for Employment in Magdalena Andersson’s short-lived Social Democrat government in 2021. 

Why do you want to return?

“The EU Parliament is an important arena for influencing decisions, not least when it comes to labour market issues. I want to follow up on several things, for instance the vision zero for fatal workplace accidents,” he says. 

Johan Danielsson also sees the climate transition as a crucial issue.

“This is about making our planet habitable after all, but our competitiveness will also benefit from having common rules. This is a prerequisite if companies are to invest in the way they are doing in Sweden right now, where tens of thousands of new industry jobs are emerging.

“If we abandon regulations like right-wing populists propose, you also pull the rug from underneath all these investments and new jobs. That would constitute a serious threat to Swedish industry and to growth and welfare,” he says. 

The EU elections 6 – 9 June

The European Parliament is made up of 705 directly elected members representing all of the 27 EU countries.

The Parliament decides on EU legislation, including the multiannual budget, together with the Council of the European Union (composed of the governments).

Due to demographic changes in the EU, the Council decided in 2023 to increase the number of Members of the European Parliament to 720 (+15) in the next European Parliament.

Between 6 and 9 June 2024, 370 million Europeans can vote to elect the members of the next European Parliament. Each member state has a certain number of seats in the parliament.


Receive Nordic Labour Journal's newsletter nine times a year. It's free.

This is themeComment