• Sweden's news in English
 
jobs_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

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit
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 news from Sweden, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

The Local (news@thelocal.se)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit


Today's headlines
Swedes protest cutbacks in personal assistance budget
Demonstrations were held in 25 towns and cities across Sweden on Saturday. Photo: Janerik Hansson / TT

Thousands of people staged demonstrations across Sweden on Saturday to protest recent cutbacks in the budget funding personal assistance for people with disabilities.

Police launch manhunt after deadly Stockholm shooting
No suspects have yet been arrested over the attack. Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT

Swedish police have launched a massive manhunt after masked gunmen barged into a Stockholm café and shot two people to death late on Friday.

Sweden has fourth happiest workers in the world: report
Is Swedish fika the secret? Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Sweden is home to the fourth happiest workers in the world, an international survey has claimed.

Here's how much Ikea staff are getting for Christmas
Christmas comes early for Ikea staff. Photo: Vegard Wivestad Grøtt/NTB scanpix/TT

Staff at Ikea are getting an early Christmas treat in the form of millions of euros to share between them.

Sweden threatens action to stop Facebook 'hate and lies'
Should Facebook crack down on hate speech? Photo: AP Photo/dapd, Timur Emek

Sweden could impose legal obligations on Facebook as a last resort if the social network does not crack down on hate speech and fake news, the culture and democracy minister has threatened.

In pictures
This is what Sweden's new Icehotel looks like
An artist's impression of the hotel in winter. Photo: PinPin Studio/Icehotel

The famous Icehotel in Jukkasjärvi has just opened its new year-round section. Have a look at some of the first pictures of one of the world's most unusual hotels here.

The Local List
Sweden's pioneering free press act turns 250
It doesn't look bad for 250 years old. Photo: Regeringen

On the day of its 250th anniversary, The Local looks at five facts worth knowing about Sweden's groundbreaking Freedom of the Press Act.

Beware ice, Swedes warned after string of accidents
File photo of a Swedish car not related to the story. Photo: Tomas Oneborg / SvD / TT

Swedes have been warned to be on their guards as stretches of the country's southern roads turned into ice rinks due to the chilly temperatures, causing a string of car accidents.

The Local List
Ten things you should never say to a Swede
These things are guaranteed to anger Swedes. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

The Local List
Seven bizarre Swedish academic traditions
Student life in Lund, southern Sweden. Photo: Johan Nilsson/SCANPIX

The Local guides you through Sweden's ancient universities' top academic traditions all foreign students need to know about.

Sponsored Article
Smart songwriters: Sweden's next big music export?
National
Final proof that Sweden has NOT banned Christmas lights
Sponsored Article
Why Stockholm attracts so much talent from abroad
Travel
IN PICTURES: Stockholm's new myth-busting Viking museum
The Local Voices
Job market matchmaker hooks up 1,300 newcomers and Swedes
Blog updates

14 November

Hello darkness, my old friend (The Diplomatic Dispatch) »

"I started thinking about November’s blog for The Local at the end of October, as the…" READ »

 

6 October

10 useful hjälpverb (The Swedish Teacher) »

"Hej! I think the so-called “hjalpverb” (auxiliary verbs in English) are a good way to get…" READ »

 
 
 
Sponsored Article
18 Stockholm innovations to keep an eye on
Gallery
People-watching: November 30th
Sponsored Article
Sweden to Hong Kong: The Local guide
National
This is how cold it's going to get in Sweden this week
Gallery
Property of the week: Skellefteå
National
Inside Sweden's perilous Sami reindeer pilgrimage
Sponsored Article
Programmers' bootcamp: Change your life in 12 weeks
The Local Voices
'My name is Sami and I am a proud Swede - it hurts when people say I'm not Swedish'
Sponsored Article
We visited 5 'murder spots' in Malmö
National
Swedish Advent 'less popular than Christmas Eve'
Gallery
People-watching: November 25th-27th
Sponsored Article
Why Stockholm startups are teaching kids to program
Swedish city to put all workers through LGBT course
Sponsored Article
Smart songwriters: Sweden's next big music export?
National
The five weirdest attacks on Sweden's giant straw yule goat
Gallery
People-watching: November 23rd
Sponsored Article
'Learning to trade gave me the life I wanted'
The Local Voices
'Swedes are stylish: you need to dress well if you want to fit in'
Sponsored Article
Stockholm: leading the way in clean energy innovation
National
Critics slam Swedish paper's Donald Trump cartoon as anti-Semitic
Sponsored Article
Michael Björklund: 'Being a chef is crazy work'
National
Men call Sweden's mansplaining hotline for mansplaining tips
Sponsored Article
We visited 5 'murder spots' in Malmö
Gallery
Property of the week: Gotland
Sponsored Article
HIV in Sweden today is not like it was yesterday
Gallery
People-watching: November 18th-20th
Sponsored Article
Mette Helbæk: ‘We have a basic human need to connect'
Culture
Shooting starts on The Bridge 4
Sponsored Article
Terje Håkonsen: 'I try to make everything count'
Travel
Sweden's ten most beautiful places
Sponsored Article
Lina Thomsgård: 'I try to break down barriers every day'
The Local Voices
Having a Swedish girlfriend didn't help this Egyptian evade culture shock
Sponsored Article
'We wanted to turn ideas into action'
Gallery
People-watching: November 16th
Culture
What the world of Harry Potter would look like... set in Sweden
National
Here's where Sweden's best non-native English speakers live
The Local Voices
This new book by a Syrian writer gives refugee children their own hero
Politics
Do Swedish polls underestimate support for Sweden Democrats?
3,561
jobs available