With regard to parties, the Swedish and Norwegian political landscapes are very alike. Both countries have a small social liberal party (less than 5%) and a bigger “conservative” one. The Swedish moderates (20-25%) are a synthesis of conservatism and neo-liberalism; in Norway the conservative Right Party (10-15%) exists beside the neo-liberal Progress Party (10-15%). There is a long tradition of Socialdemocratic Labour Party rule. In the period after the second world war, those parties were supported by 40 to 50 percent of the electorate, but nowadays their support has fallen to between 30 and 40 percent.
While the social-democrat vote declined, that of the ex-communists increased, and is now at 10%.
The Scandinavian rural population formed their own political parties, in Sweden before and in Norway after world war one. Their inspiration came partly from the Social-Revolutionary Party in Russia, and from the Populist Party in USA. Green was a natural choice of colour for the party flags and the four-leaf clover symbol, since it was the colour of the agrarian parties in central and eastern Europe. Such parties were united in the so-called Green International.
The new Scandinavian Farmer’s Parties were critical of the many negative aspects of industrialization, and campaigned at the same time for better living conditions for the rural population. Neither the industrial right nor the urban and industrial orientated labour party could offer solutions for the problems of the countryside. Vital ideas to the farmers’ movements were those of protection of the right of national self-determination and protection of the national culture. In the 1930s the Farmers’ Parties and the Labour Parties joined in so-called “crisis agreements”, and the Farmers’ Parties gained acceptance for most of their agricultural policy. After the second world war the parties continued to campaign for equal rights for all, no matter how they earned a living or where they lived. As the parties were building an identity far broader than their names would indicate, they were renamed at the end of the 1950s.
In the 1960s the ideas of decentralization and environmental care developed into a new ideology with natural roots within the Scandinavian Centre Parties. In 1973 the Swedish Centre Party took sides against an expansion of the use of nuclear power. 25% of Swedes voted for the party — which now was the second largest in the country — and the Centre Party leader became the first non-socialist Prime Minister of Sweden in forty years.
In Norway the Centre Party had emerged as the strongest opponent of the EEC, and the 1972 referendum decided against membership. When the question of membership arose again in the early 1990s, it was time for the Norwegians to make their Centre Party the second largest party in the Parliament. Once again the party led Norwegian resistance, and in 1994 the voters said no to EU membership.
In the late 1980s the Swedish Greens (5%) — a new party with roots in the environmental, pacifist and feminist movements — made their way to parliament. At the same time, the twenty-five year old Christian Democrats started to grow. Both parties increased their support at the expense of the Swedish Centre Party.
In the most recent elections, the Scandinavian Christian Democrats attained their best results so far (10-15%). The Greens are not represented in the Norwegian Parliament.
Today the Centre Parties’ level of support is between five and ten percent. The big question now is the European one, where the Norwegian Centre Party would prefer to keep Norway outside the EU, while the Swedish Centre Party wants to decentralize the EU and make it into a Europe of the Nations.
Patrik Ehn is a member of the Swedish Centre Party