According to Sunday’s Aftonbladet, Sweden is the only EU country with a leader who didn’t get a degree and a finance minister who didn’t even make it to high school.
While thirteen of the EU’s 25 leaders are lawyers and five are economists, Göran Persson left college in Örebro without a qualification. But he won’t be turning to his finance minister, Bosse Ringholm, for nuggets of academic wisdom in the middle of EU meetings: Ringholm left school at 16. In contrast, the other 24 finance ministers all went to university and ten are economists.
“The education level in the government began to go down in the 1970s,” said political commentator Anders Isaksson.
But Aftonbladet avoided any thorny discussions about whether a few years spent studying advanced macroeconomics, international trade and taxation theory would make you, say, a better finance minister, and instead pointed out that “today we have a constitution which supposes that anyone can be a politician”.
“This shows that anyone can earn a living in politics,” said Isaksson. “There’s no great reason to get yourself an academic education.”
Nevertheless, there are voters among the educated and the shrewd Persson has made sure not to alienate them – by including a few brains in his cabinet.
In fact, 16 of Sweden’s 22 ministers “have some form of university or high school education”. Four are lawyers, and a good number have Bachelors and Masters degrees. Top of the class is environment minister Lena Sommestad who is a professor of economic history.
But of course what matters with the majority of voters isn’t a politician’s academic background or policies, but his or her taste in music. Politically they may be left or right, but musically Sweden’s politicians are strictly middle-of-the-road.
“The happy relationship between the Swedish establishment and the pop industry is over,” according to a new book published by the ‘free market think tank’ Timbro.
Saturday’s Dagens Nyheter got into the groove by revealing that instead of hot Swedish bands like the all-conquering Hives, you’re more likely to find an old rocker on a politician’s iPod.
Disappointingly, Göran ‘university of life’ Persson didn’t pick The Three Degrees as his favourite band. Instead he plumped for Sweden’s greatest tenor, Jussi Björling, while the Folk Party’s Lars Leijonborg likes to shake it to Elvis and Louis Armstrong.
The Christian Democrats’ leader, Göran Hägglund, is apparently “weak for Verdi and the Rolling Stones” and the Left Party’s Lars Ohly has “a fascination for Queen”.
But the most popular act among Sweden’s political elite is Bruce Springsteen. Maud Olofsson (Centre Party leader), Mona Sahlin (Minister for Integration) and Leif Pagrotsky (Minister for Industry and Trade) are all fans of ‘The Boss’, as is Per Nuder (Minister for Policy Coordination) who revealed that Springsteen was once in line for the Olof Palme Prize.
In the face of such a profound lack of cool, Monday’s headline in Svenska Dagbladet was hardly surprising: “Youth gives thumbs down for politics”.
Researchers at Gothenburg University questioned 70,000 children aged 14-15 in 28 countries about their attitudes towards democracy and citizenship, and found that Nordic youngsters are the most apathetic.
21% of Swedish youngsters said that they would consider joining a political party. While that may be high by adult standards, the figure for southern European children was 45%.
When asked if they would take part in political demonstrations there was a little more enthusiasm all across Europe. 89% of Cypriot kids were already reaching for their banners, and even Nordic kids were keen for a good march, with 56% saying they would participate.
But only if it’s legal, mind – when asked if they would consider occupying buildings or spraying political slogans on walls, only 18% of Swedes said yes.