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'Reinfeldt has wasted Sweden's surplus'

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Social Democrat group leader Mikael Damberg doesn't think the Reinfeldt government has lived up to its promises. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT
10:17 CET+01:00
With elections fast approaching, Sweden's political leaders traded jabs over jobs, schools, and the environment on Wednesday in the first party leader debate of the year.

Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt kicked off the debate by arguing that jobs would be the main issue facing voters when they go to the polls in September.

"That's our greatest societal challenge," he said, explaining that demands on the individual were constantly increasing.

He stated that 200,000 new jobs had been created since his centre-right coalition took power in 2006. Reinfeldt claimed his government had also brought Swedes higher salaries, better purchasing power, and improved finances at the same time as interest rates have remained low.

"Our policies have brought results," the Moderate Party leader said.

Heading into the election, Reinfeldt said he hoped to stress free trade, sound public finances, and education.

But Social Democrat parliamentary leader Mikael Damberg, speaking for his party as chairman Stefan Löfven is not an MP, pointed to several promises made by the Alliance coalition that he feels have yet to be fulfilled, including better schools and strong public finances.

"In only eight years, Reinfeldt has squandered everything he inherited from (former Social Democrat Prime Minister) Göran Persson twice over. From a surplus of 67 billion kronor ($1 billion) to a deficit of 87 billion," said Damberg.

He also criticized the government's manner of tallying jobs and jobs seekers.

"If one calculates unemployment by your methods, Spain would have lower unemployment than Sweden. That doesn't add up."

In his own speech, Damberg addressed the situation in Sweden's schools, which suffered an unprecedented drop in the OECD's most recent Pisa rankings.

"To succeed in turning Swedish schools around, we need new leadership and a new government that also makes Swedish schools an economic priority," he said.

Minority Left Party leader Jonas Sjöstedt agreed with Reinfeldt that jobs would be the biggest issue in upcoming elections, claiming the government had failed to tackle unemployment.

Sjöstedt in particular took issue with the practice of workers being fired and then reemployed via staffing firms, a practice brought into sharp relief recently by budget airline Norwegian.

"In Sweden, you can do that. Fire people and rehire them the next day. Why is that the case, Fredrik Reinfeldt?" Sjöstedt asked.

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Meanwhile, Åsa Romson of the Green Party slammed Reinfeldt for ignoring one issue entirely.

"It's the climate and environmental devastation. Clearly it's not something that keeps Reinfeldt awake at night," she said.

Romson wondered why figures from state-owned energy giant Vattenfall pointed to an increased use of coal, despite a promise to the contrary made by the government during the visit of US President Barack Obama.

"How have you managed to break your promise to Obama and sabotage EU environmental policy with increased use of goal?" Romson asked before taking issue with Reinfeldt's claims about Sweden's emissions.

"It's funny that you say we've reduced our emissions at the same time that we've decided to release more abroad. Vattenfall's emissions are in Germany."

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