Heavyweights in Brussels bouts

The unspoken tension between Prime Minister Göran Persson and EU Commissioner - and, some say, PM-in-waiting - Margot Wallström became rather loudly spoken last week. And all the papers were listening.

Adhering to the adage ‘keep your friends close and your enemies closer’, Persson invited Wallström to return from Brussels to take a ministerial post as part of a planned a government shake-up in preparation for the 2006 elections. He didn’t get the reply he expected.

“I answered that we have a unique chance of strengthening our position in the EU and the EU Commission,” Wallström told DN in an interview last week, “And that I can serve Sweden and the government best if I am there.”

If Wallström’s confidence is a measure of her increasing stature in Swedish politics, Persson’s response was a reminder that Prime Ministers don’t like to be snubbed:

“I think it’s sad. When the party calls, you usually answer,” he said. “It’s a matter of principle that you will be there for the party you serve. Many of us have accepted jobs we didn’t want.”

While Persson didn’t directly call Wallström a traitor, that’s how she took it – and the mud-slinging continued through the week.

“I am absolutely not disloyal,” Wallström told Tuesday’s papers. “Party loyalty is something which comes from within. I have been a member of the Social Democratic Party since my teens and have had many different roles through the years. Nobody can doubt my loyalty.”

Aftonbladet certainly didn’t – at least not at first glance. The paper listed “ten reasons for Margot to stay in Brussels”, including “belief in the EU”, “not uprooting her family again” and “popularity in Brussels”.

But then, sneaking in at number ten was “Salary”. Apparently a government minister picks up 108,000 crowns a month, half of which disappears in tax. On the other hand an EU minister earns 180,000 crowns a month – and pays only 15% tax.

The EU may mean a lot to Wallström, but it doesn’t to the Swedish public, according to Monday’s Svenska Dagbladet. Only 37% are expected to vote in the European Parliament elections on June 13th, while 75% can’t name a single one of the country’s 22 MEPs.

More worryingly, it doesn’t seem to mean a great deal to the 70 Swedish candidates standing in the elections. SvD gave five “simple” questions about the European Parliament to the ten candidates from each party – and was not impressed by the answers.

The Centre Party and Social Democrats came top of the class with an average score of 3.9 out of 5, while the Greens and the Left Party were the Euro-dunces with averages of 2.1 and 2.5 respectively. Five of the Green Party candidates could only answer one question correctly.

“This is troubling,” said Rutger Lindahl, professor of political science at Gothenburg University. “Four correct answers would have been more reassuring.”

SvD’s Questions

  • 1. In which of the following areas does the European Parliament NOT have the right of veto: new members, environment, financial markets, agriculture?
  • 2. Who is the Speaker of the European Parliament?
  • 3. Which party groups have been the biggest during the European Parliament’s mandate period?
  • 4. How many MEPs will the European Parliament have after June 13th?
  • 5. What’s the basic principle for trade in services within the EU according to the new services directive?


1. Agriculture; 2. Pat Cox; 3. Conservatives-Christian Democrats, Socialists, Liberals; 4. 732; 5. A service which can legally be sold in one EU country has admittance to every other EU country.