• Sweden's news in English
 
app_header_v3
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?

The Local · 1 Jul 2014, 09:59

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.
Story continues below…
 
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 news from Sweden, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

The Local (news@thelocal.se)

Today's headlines
Swedish police backtrack on 'gunfight' claims
The scene of the shooting on June 22nd. Photo: Christine Olsson/TT

Police have retracted a claim that a suspected gunman had fired shots at a patrol unit before officers shot him dead.

Crayfish poachers send Swedes' blood boiling
Has anyone seen this crayfish? Photo: Hasse Holmberg/TT

Oh no, not just before crayfish season!

Police hunt suspected gunman, 22, in Malmö
Rosengård Centrum. Photo: Simon Paulin/SvD/TT

Malmö police are looking for a 22-year-old suspect in connection with a shooting at a shopping centre in Rosengård.

Really old stinky cheese found on royal Swedish shipwreck
A diamond ring, the stinky cheese and gold coins. Photo: Lars Einarsson/Kalmar County Museum

Swedish scientists have discovered what is believed to be 340-year-old cheese on board a 17th century shipwreck.

Man charged with groping girls at kids' football cup
The accused in court. Photo: Adam Ihse/TT

A 36-year-old sports manager whose team was sent home from Sweden after he was accused of groping three teenage girls at an international children's football tournament now faces trial.

Concern over barrage of fake Russian news in Sweden
The Russian propaganda site Sputnik News

Sweden is being subjected to constant disinformation campaigns by Russia and Isis, according to authorities.

'Let refugees go to uni while they wait': demand
A student at Stockholm University. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

Asylum seekers in Sweden should be allowed to start university studies while they are waiting for decisions on their cases, it has been proposed.

The Local List
Ten Swedish phrases you only hear in summer
Let's work on that tan. Photo: Vilhelm Stokstad/TT

Summer always leaves foreigners baffled by Swedes' unique seasonal habits. Here's The Local's guide to navigating small talk when the sun comes out.

So Sweden has high taxes? Not as high as you might think
A taxpayer hands in their tax declaration. Photo: Bertil Ericson/TT

So you think Swedes pay a lot in tax? Others pay much more, according to a new study.

Man injured in shooting at Malmö shopping mall
Rosengård Centrum in Malmö. Photo: Björn Lindgren/TT

Police cordoned off an area around a shopping centre in Malmö after a man was shot on Tuesday afternoon.

Sponsored Article
What can newcomers learn about Sweden at Almedalen?
Politics
Why Sweden's high taxes are not as high as you think
Sponsored Article
5 reasons you should try dating with The Inner Circle
National
What's haggis in a condom doing on Swedish children's TV?
National
Meet the northern Swede who is the world's best mosquito killer
Blog updates

26 July

A summer of change; a summer of beauty (The Diplomatic Dispatch) »

"You would have had to try hard to miss the political upheavals in the UK after…" READ »

 

22 July

After the horror, carry on regardless (Globally Local) »

"This time last week, we were just digesting the horror of the Nice killings, in which…" READ »

 
 
 
National
Sweden's Hollywood star Alicia Vikander puts her pen in the bottle
Sponsored Article
Gran Canaria: Where Swedes go to work (and play)
Gallery
People-watching: July 22nd-24th
The Local Voices
The Jewish Syrian who dreams of rebuilding his country
National
Watch this Swedish weather host leave his fly open... on live TV
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
The Local Voices
'I fled war in Syria. I never expected to be beaten in Sweden'
Sponsored Article
Why Swiss hospitality graduates are in demand
National
WATCH: Asylum seeker brutally beaten by Swedish bus driver
Technology
Why everyone is talking about Sweden's GTA pride parade
Sponsored Article
Five easy ways to travel more often
National
EU hits truck cartel with record price fixing fine
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
Society
OPINION: Why Sweden is the most extreme country in the world
The Local Voices
'There is equality in accommodation in Sweden: Everyone is suffering'
Sponsored Article
'Sweden's Lauryn Hill' touches the country's musical soul
Gallery
Property of the week: Gräsö, Östhammar
Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
Gallery
People-watching: July 15th-17th
National
How to make sure you're not caught out by Sweden's old bank notes
Sponsored Article
Local guide: the best of Berlin
Business & Money
Why Sweden has been named the most innovative country in Europe
Sponsored Article
Why you need a EuroBonus American Express Card
National
Terror attack: what should you do?
National
French expat on the moment he was assaulted by a Stockholm bouncer
Technology
Gunman? Nah, smartphone Swede
The Local Voices
'If the war in Syria ended today, would you go back?'
The Local Voices
‘I feel like I’m living in a grave!’
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Sweden's Princess Victoria celebrates 39th birthday
Gallery
People-watching: July 13th
National
Swedes discover surprise mountain
Politics
What Sweden's home secretary thinks of Britain's new PM
Gallery
Property of the week: Smedjebacken, Dalarna
The Local Voices
'Even xenophobic Swedes can be polite’
Politics
WATCH: A very Swedish take on Brexit...
The Local Voices
'The best time to be smuggled to Europe is August 20th, 2015'
The Local Voices
Swedes: Stop obsessing over your material life and start talking to strangers
3,351
jobs available