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What will right-wing policies bring to Nordic/Baltic countries in 2023?


As we enter 2023, the rise of right-wing political parties in Nordic countries poses a challenge for advocacy efforts.

By Lauri Beekmann
Executive director, NordAN

In 2023 our nations will face a number of significant difficulties occupying most of our governments' time and attention. At the same time, we have seen a growing support for right-wing political parties, with several Nordic governments turning right. The key themes for all of our countries could be summed up as follows:

  • The economic recovery: the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly affected the economy, and Russia's ongoing war against the free world will continue to impact the globe.

  • Climate change: The Nordic countries have ambitious climate targets and will need to continue working to reduce their carbon emissions and transition to a more sustainable economy.

  • Ageing populations: The ageing of the population will continue to present challenges for social services and pension systems in the Nordic and Baltic countries.

  • Migrant and refugee integration: To ensure that refugees and migrants are successfully integrated into the local population, governments must develop policies promoting social inclusion and understanding between different cultures. The future challenges for the Ukrainian refugee crisis will be determined by several factors, including the situation in Ukraine and the countries hosting refugees. As such, solutions must be comprehensive, taking into account both the short and long-term needs of refugees and addressing the underlying causes of displacement.

  • Digital transformation: For our countries, particularly in the labour market and social services, the quickening pace of technological change will continue to present both opportunities and challenges. Governments must be prepared to respond to digital transformation's shifting economic, social, and cultural landscape as it accelerates.

As a result, these issues receive priority over other, less pressing issues because they require immediate attention and resources. Additionally, governments often need more time and resources and must prioritize the problems they address to make the most impact. 

Changing governments
In 2023, there will be two parliamentary elections in our region. In Estonia in March and in Finland in April. 


In Finland, there is another attempt to liberalize the alcohol retail monopoly's position by allowing wine to be sold in grocery stores. In December 2022, the National Coalition Party (Kokoomus, centre-right) proposed the release of wines for sale in grocery stores and kiosks in its alternative budget. It is important to note that the National Coalition Party, which advocates for a market-based economy and individual freedom and was the strongest supporter of the Alcohol Act change in 2018, is currently leading in the polls with 24%. During the 2015 parliamentary elections, they received 18%, while in 2019, they received 17%. Compared to this, the Centre Party (Keskusta) has fallen to a historic low, with only 9% support in a recent poll. The Centre Party has consistently won elections over the years, averaging 20-24% of the votes.

How does the turn to the right affect our region?
The rise of right-wing parties and governments in Europe has posed a number of difficulties for social policies. Right-wing parties and governments frequently prioritize economic liberalization and individual responsibility over the welfare state and social justice. This might result in policies that limit access to social services and welfare or shift the burden of social protection to individuals and commercial entities.

Remember that earlier in 2022, Sweden's right-wing formed a new government with far-right backing. The government is run by the Moderate Party (centre-right), which generally supports tax cuts, the free market, civil liberties and economic liberalism. Other coalition parties are Christian Democrats (centre-right to right-wing) and the Liberal People's Party (centre-right). The government is supported by Sweden Democrats (right-wing to far-right), which is now the second-largest party in Riksdag.

Additionally, Sweden will hold the presidency of the European Union in the first half of 2023. Will Sweden's new right-wing approach be "maximum freedom for business, minimum investment in European political integration, aggressive line on migrants and rights," as ATN, the All Things Nordic, have expressed it?

Only a couple of weeks ago, Danish Social Democrats agreed new government with the right-wing opposition. With this new government, it seems unlikely that the previous government's plan to raise the drinking age to 18 will be on the agenda again. A fresh governing partner of the Social Democrats, Venstre (Denmark's Liberal Party, centre-right), expressed its position in March last year through the words of its Health Rapporteur Martin Geertsen: "We also do not support a general raising of the age limit for purchasing alcohol from 16 to 18, since we cannot support taking away people's responsibility and personal choice." 

Alcohol and drug policies are not targeted, but...
The upcoming elections in Estonia (in March) are at least framed as a contest between two likely winners - the liberal centre-right Reform Party or the right-wing to far-right Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE). EKRE had its first and only government experience a few years ago when they were invited to the coalition by the centre-left Estonian Centre Party. That was the government that, in August of 2019, decreased alcohol taxes to react to the high cross-border trade between Estonia and Latvia. As of now, the EKRE is ahead of the Centre Party in polls, with 18% support (in October even 25%).

Turning right is obviously not primarily motivated by the desire to liberalize alcohol and drug policies. These issues are simply not important enough for the public to have that weight and attention. Migration, green deals, and security are some of the slogans that appear appealing and turn voters away from the traditional centre and centre-left solutions and policies. However, these overall changes could affect alcohol and drug policies as well.


It should be also noted that the centre-right and far-right populist parties in the Nordic region can differ from their counterparts in other western countries. For instance, the Sweden Democrats support the Swedish welfare state but are against providing welfare to people who are not Swedish citizens and permanent residents of Sweden. They appear to support a mixed market economy combining ideas from the centre-left and centre-right. On the one hand, they have stated that the Systembolaget is vital for public health, but on the other hand, they have also expressed support for the implementation of farm sales. As an additional note, it is worth mentioning that in October 2020, a group of Sweden Democrats submitted a proposal to the Riksdag to end Systembolaget's monopoly. 

It remains to be seen whether the current political trends in the Nordic region represent a long-term shift in preferences or are simply a temporary coincidence. However, the changes we have observed and, in part, mentioned above pose a challenge for us as advocates. When dealing with right-wing governments and mentalities, can we still use the same advocacy "language"? Hence, learning new "languages" might just be our main task in 2023.

Lauri Beekmann
Executive director, NordAN

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