Nordic agrarian parties
The Nordic agrarian parties, or Nordic Centre parties, are agrarian political parties that belong to a political tradition peculiar to the Nordic countries. Positioning themselves in the centre of the political spectrum, but fulfilling roles distinctive to Nordic countries, they remain hard to classify by conventional political ideology.
These parties are non-socialist and typically combine a commitment to small businesses, political decentralisation, environmentalism and, at times, scepticism towards the European Union. The parties have divergent views on the free market. Internationally, they are aligned with the European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party and the Liberal International.
Historically a farmers' party, a declining farmer population after the Second World War made them broaden their scope to other issues and sections of society. At this time, they renamed themselves, three of them to Centre Party, with the Finnish Centre Party being the last to do so, in 1965. Now, the main agrarian parties are the Centre Party in Sweden, Venstre in Denmark, Centre Party in Finland, Centre Party in Norway and Progressive Party in Iceland. A similar strain of parties has emerged in the Baltic countries.[clarification needed]
Compared to continental Europe, the peasants in the Nordic countries historically had an unparalleled degree of political influence, being not only independent but also represented as the fourth estate in the national diets, like in the Swedish Riksdag of the Estates. The agrarian movement thus precedes the labour movement by centuries in Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Norway.
The first of the parties, Venstre in Denmark, was formed as a liberal, anti-tax farmers' party in 1870. The rest of the parties emerged in the early 20th century, spurred by the introduction of universal suffrage and proportional representation across the region. Finland's Agrarian League was the first to be created in 1906, followed by the Agrarian Party in Norway in 1915. Sweden's Agrarian Party, founded in 1921, emerged from the existing Lantmanna Party, and its splinter groups.
As the Scandinavian farming population declined, the parties moved towards becoming catch-all centrist parties by capturing some of the urban electorate. The Swedish Agrarian Party renamed itself to the Centre Party in 1958. The Norwegian and Finnish parties adopted the same name in 1959 and 1965 respectively.
The parties' attitudes to the free market and economic liberalism are mixed. Whereas the Norwegian Centre Party and Icelandic Progressive Party are opposed to economic liberalisation, the others, most notably the Danish Venstre, are pro-market and put a heavy emphasis on economic growth and productivity. Because of this divide, Venstre are described in some academic literature as the separate 'half-sister' of the Nordic agrarian parties. Nonetheless, all of the parties define themselves as 'non-socialist', while also distancing themselves from the label of 'bourgeois', which is reserved for the conservative and liberal parties.
Most of the parties have traditionally sat on the Eurosceptic side in their respective countries. However, for the most part, they hold these positions due to particular policies, with an emphasis on whether they believe European policies to be better or worse for rural communities.
The Centre Party in Norway is the party most opposed to European Union membership, having maintained that position since the 1972 referendum. The Icelandic Progressives, historically opposed to membership, changed their position to pro-accession in January 2009. The Danish Venstre is also in favour of the European Union and Denmark's entry into the Eurozone.
While originally supported by farmers, the parties have adapted to declining rural populations by diversifying their political base. The Finnish Centre Party receives only 10% of its support from farmers, while Venstre received only 7% of their votes from farmers in 1998.
The current Nordic agrarian parties are:
- Sweden: Centre Party
- Denmark: Venstre
- Finland: Centre Party
- Norway: Centre Party
- Iceland: Progressive Party
- Faroe Islands: Union Party
- Greenland: Feeling of Community
- Åland Islands: Centre
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