Margot Wallström: “I don’t want to be leader”

Sweden's EU commissioner, Margot Wallström, has tried to put an end to speculation that she is angling to lead the Social Democrats after prime minister Göran Persson. But despite her assurances that she wants to remain in her Brussels role, supporters in Sweden say they hope she will change her mind.

“I am not a candidate for the party chairmanship,” wrote Wallström in Monday’s Aftonbladet. “I do not want to be part of the speculation.”

Speaking to Swedish Radio later in the day, Wallström said that she and her colleagues are called on a daily basis by journalists wondering when she will be coming home to take over the party leadership. The debate is taking up “a lot of time and energy”, she said, and had to stop.

“I’ll continue to be a Social Democrat but it’s also the case that I have an important job where I am, and I hope to get support for what I’m doing,” said Wallström.

Wallström’s reputation at home has strengthened considerably in her absence despite – or perhaps because of – a well-publicised rift with Göran Persson.

In May 2004 the prime minister invited her home from Brussels to take a ministerial post as part of a planned a government shake-up in preparation for the 2006 elections. Wallström refused the offer, leading him to question her loyalty in public.

“I think it’s sad. When the party calls, you usually answer,” Persson said at the time. “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.”

But in March of this year, a survey in the newspaper Metro revealed that 37% of Swedes saw Wallström as a new party leader. And in a telephone survey of departmental heads at the service and communication union Seko, 62% said they want Persson to go and 80% wanted to see Wallström take over.

Even after Wallström’s article, Social Democrats in Sweden expressed their view that she is the best person to take over after Göran Persson.

“I think everything will be different on the day we need a new party leader,” said member of parliament Anne Ludvigsson. “It is very important that it is a woman next time.”

Such comments perhaps say more about the lack of viable candidates to take over after Persson than about Wallström herself. But Ludvigsson, the vice chairman of the Social Democrat women’s group, says that Wallström is still the favourite for the whole party.

“She is currently the only one we can see taking over,” said Ludvigsson.

And Margot Wallström still offers a ray of hope to those who would see her as Sweden’s next prime minister:

“I’m going to continue to have my heart in the party – there’s no need to doubt that,” she said. “And I’ll do what I can to contribute.”

Sources: Dagens Nyheter, Svenska Dagbladet, Aftonbladet, SR