• Sweden edition
 
Almedalen 2014
Almedalen: When will it all become too much?
An unsuspecting Visby the day before Almedalen. Photo: The Uppsala Koala

Almedalen: When will it all become too much?

Published: 01 Jul 2014 09:59 GMT+02:00

The Almedalen political week, held each year in the small city of Visby in Gotland, is a unique phenomenon.
 
It all began when Olof Palme and Krister Wickman, who were both considered as future leaders of the Social Democrat (Socialdemokraterna, S) party at the time, held an improvised meeting in Visby in 1968. Palme, who would become party leader the following year, famously spoke from the back of a lorry close to Kruttornet, the largest of the towers in the medieval wall surrounding Visby.
 
Soon it became a tradition for politicians to gather at the nearby park called Almedalen each summer to hold speeches. After all, many politicians owned or rented vacation homes in Gotland. Journalists were more than pleased to work in this beautiful setting. Joining together in beautiful Almedalen was the perfect end to the working year before the vacations started.
 
In 1991 all political parties in Sweden were, for the first time, in place at Almedalen. Three years later a seminar was held by two interest organizations representing the Swedish business community. Soon a range of special interest groups, such as labour unions, various associations, and companies realized that Almedalen was a perfect opportunity to influence policies. After all, when else were politicians from all major parties gathered in a small relaxing setting and willing to listen to you if you bought them a drink?
 
In 2001, 51 events were organized in Almedalen. In the election year 2006 the figure grew to 463. During the next election of 2010 there were 1,396 events organized. And this election year the estimated figure has mushroomed to 3,308.
 
Almedalen has become so crowded that there is barely any room left in Visby. Even small apartments in the city centre can be rented out for 10,000 kronor ($1,494) or more for the week. Many of the journalists, PR-people, politicians, interest organization representatives and intellectuals who attend have to find housing in the outskirts of Visby.
 
Almedalen is admired in neighbouring countries as an open democratic arena. Denmark and Norway have recently created copies of their own. Finland and the Baltic countries have also shown interest.
 
One can of course also look at it from another angle. It is, after all, a week during which special interest groups each spend hundreds of thousands of kronor, if not millions, to influence politics. The political class enjoys free food, drinks and parties, and is encouraged to form special relations with the labour unions, companies or organizations providing these goods.
 
It is understandable that so many special interest groups want to influence politics. The public sector in Sweden spends some 1.8 trillion kronor annually. Even small changes in taxation, spending and regulation can have significant effects for various groups and businesses. Somewhat puzzling, government agencies also spend tens of millions of tax money at Almedalen – to influence the central government to increase their respective budgets. The European Union generously spends the funding it gets from member states, to promote itself to the political elites in Sweden. Do we as a society gain anything from this race to buy political favour?
 
Of course, spending money to influence politics is anything but exclusively for Sweden. In all parts of the democratic world various organizations commit themselves to changing public policies. In the US, for example, massive sums are spent on lobbying politicians, mainly behind the public veil. Almedalen has the advantage of being an open venue, scrutinized in detail by the host of journalists who gather there.
 
The question is when the already overcrowded week will peak. Will Almedalen become even larger next year? Will it expand to 4,000 events next time an election is held? Already the cost of living and for organizing an event has skyrocketed. The vast majority of seminars held and reports released get very little if any attention, since the competition for medial and political attention is so steep. Most organizations would get more attention if they held their events any other part of the year than Almedalen. But the lure of Gotland's early summer, and the possibility to have a drink with famous politicians and journalists, has so far been greater than such considerations.
 
Most people who regularly visit Almedalen complain that it is too crowded. Yet, few are willing to stay home.
 
Nima Sanandaji is a regular op-ed contributor to The Local. His latest book is called "Active ageing – The path to more healthy years" (“Aktivt åldrande – Vägen till fler friska år”).

For more stories about Sweden, join us on Facebook and Twitter

The Local (news@thelocal.se)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
'Tinder for jobs' app targets Swedish teens
Selfiejobs has launched in Stockholm. Photo: Selfiejobs

'Tinder for jobs' app targets Swedish teens

A smartphone app designed to match young job seekers with potential employers has gained more than ten thousand likes since it launched in Stockholm a week ago. The company is already planning to target other capitals, despite criticism that it promotes discrimination. READ  

'Wild west' taxi drivers face tough new rules
Taxis at Stockholm's Arlanda Airport. Photo: Claudio Brescani/TT

'Wild west' taxi drivers face tough new rules

Stockholm taxis have a reputation for being among the most expensive in the world, but new regulations designed to make costs more transparent have been agreed on by Stockholm's Traffic Committee. READ  

Weather agency rules out white Christmas
Snow covering buildings in Stockholm's Gamla Stan. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Weather agency rules out white Christmas

Swedes hoping for a white Christmas will most likely be disappointed after a global weather agency said that temperatures are unlikely to plummet in December. READ  

Swedish teen pop 'Idol' found dead at home
The late Tristan Björling. Photo: TV4 Press Office

Swedish teen pop 'Idol' found dead at home

The producers of hit Swedish TV show Idol say they are offering support to the family of one this year's contestants, Tristan Björling, who has died. READ  

Sweden most expensive place to send a parcel
A Swedish postbox. Photo: TT

Sweden most expensive place to send a parcel

The price for sending a package via post in Sweden is the highest in the Nordic region but sending a letter remains relatively cheap according to a new report. READ  

Unclear school situation for migrant children
File photo: The Local

Unclear school situation for migrant children

Sweden's National Agency for Education has stated that the current law allowing children of EU citizens the right to a place in school is unclear, as many new arrivals may slip through the net. READ  

Malmö's Champions League bid ended
Juventus striker Carlos Tevez shakes off Malmö's Markus Halsti during the Italian side's victory on November 26th 2014. Photo:Andreas Hillergren/TT

Malmö's Champions League bid ended

The Swedish champions were defeated by the Italian side Juventus 0-2 at home and will need to win their last Champions League match in order to keep their hopes alive of playing in Europe. READ  

Cash for Swedes who saw dying Dad on TV
Svea Court of Appeal in Stockholm. Photo: Leif R Jansson/TT

Cash for Swedes who saw dying Dad on TV

Relatives of a man whose final moments appeared in a television programme about a hospital in Sweden have each been awarded 20,000 kronor ($2,700) in compensation, after a court ruled that his privacy had been breached. READ  

Sweden rallies behind women in Ukraine
Sweden's foreign minister Margot Wallström in Kiev. Photo: Gustav Sjöholm/TT

Sweden rallies behind women in Ukraine

Sweden's Foreign Minister Margot Wallström is making her first visit to Ukraine, where she has urged leaders to press on with efforts to support women and cut corruption as tensions continue in the east of the country. READ  

The Local's Countdown to Christmas
Five magical Swedish winter markets
Kalmar Castle, Småland is hosting a Christmas market. Photo: Flickr/Simon Green

Five magical Swedish winter markets

Stockholm and Gothenburg may be the main tourist draws when it comes to winter markets in Sweden, but away from the big cities, Swedes do their Christmas shopping in barns, castles and farm shops. Here are The Local's top tips for 2014. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Lifestyle
Five magical Swedish winter markets
Sponsored Article
SIS: the thinking behind globalised learning
Lifestyle
Top ten Swedish Christmas presents
National
'Swedish' street dog becomes global celebrity
Lifestyle
VIDEO: How to stay stylish in Sweden in November
Blog updates

26 November

Is Putin trying to buy up Europe’s nationalists? (Globally Local) »

" Photo: Alexey Druzhinin/AFP Political funding is a murky business at the best of times. If a party..." READ »

 

26 November

Not Pants (Blogweiser) »

" The woman who took the picture above was on her first visit to IKEA. She had just..." READ »

 
 
 
Imagebank Sweden
Society
Decorating your home for Swedish Christmas
Gallery
People-watching: November 26th
Sponsored Article
How to get your own office anywhere in the world
National
'I'm a Swedish 'expat' in my home country'
Sponsored Article
Introducing... Family life in Stockholm
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Sweden's 2015 Eurovision hopefuls
Gallery
Property of the week: Rosengården
National
'Racist' Black Pete party scrapped in Sweden
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Sweden's Christmas gifts through the years
Lifestyle
'I'm spreading Japan's 'cute' culture in Sweden'
National
Ebola: Sweden's leading expert speaks
National
Why this Swedish rabbi is facing death threats
National
Fears up to 300 Swedes fighting with Isis
Lifestyle
How to make Swedish mulled wine
Gallery
People-watching: November 22nd - 23rd
Society
What's on in Sweden: November 20th to 27th
National
How to boost your career in Skåne, Sweden's south
Lifestyle
How an Umeå museum is rewriting Swedish history
National
Timeline: Julian Assange sex allegations
Lifestyle
Five unique backpacker hostels in Stockholm
National
Bones show off Sweden's history
National
What new word are Swedes voting on?
National
Why African Swedes are angry about Santa's helper
National
Pine, tar, and tinder: flavours from the north
Gallery
Selfies, solidarity and Hillary Clinton: Stefan Löfven on tour
Gallery
People-watching: November 19th
Society
Why are international professionals leaving Sweden?
Business & Money
Meet the Swedes who made suits for The Hunger Games
Technology
'I'm among the first Swedes with a microchip'
National
What is Sweden doing about bird flu?
Gallery
Property of the week: Eriksberg
National
Vecka45: Sweden's most innovative week
Gallery
In Pictures: The clubs and loves of Sweden's Sven-Göran Eriksson
Society
What's On in Sweden: November 13th to 20th
Gallery
People-watching: November 16th
National
Driving (expats) home for Christmas?
Lifestyle
Make your own Swedish pea soup
Politics
"Totally unacceptable": Defence Minister on Stockholm submarine
Society
The A-Ö guide to making life in Sweden easier
National
How a Swedish party inspired a masterpiece
National
Seen the new Ace of Base yet?
Sponsored Article
The best options for oversea transfers
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

803
jobs available
Swedish Down Town
Consulting & Productions

We are an innovative business company which provides valuable assistance with the Swedish authorities, Swedish language practice, and general communications.
Call 0731 004 781 or visit:
swedishdowntown.com
PSD Media
PSD Media is marketing company that offers innovative solutions for online retailers. We provide modern solutions that help increase traffic and raise conversion. Visit our site at:
psdmedia.se
If you want to drink, that’s your business. If you want to stop, we can help.
Learn more about English-language Alcoholics Anonymous in Sweden. No dues. No fees. Confidentiality assured.
aa-europe.org/sweden
The Local Spain is hiring!
The Local is seeking a new editor for our site in Spain to join our growing team of internationally-minded, driven, ambitious and clued-up journalists.
Details and how to apply