Leaders clash over jobs

The leaders of Sweden’s main political parties have met in a parliamentary debate that gave a foretaste of the coming election campaign, with unemployment and social benefits again dominating an acrimonious discussion.

Moderate Party leader Fredrik Reinfeldt told the Swedish parliament that Swedish society is suffering from three main problems: too few people in Sweden are working, a growing number of people think the public welfare system is of a poor standard, and there is growing insecurity caused by violence, drugs and the sexualization of society.

“These are problems in society that must be addressed by policies,” he said, stressing the importance of creating jobs.

“We intend to put Sweden in work. The Moderates intend to stand for election in 2006 as the new workers’ party,” said Reinfeldt.

He also demanded to know who, other than his centre-right Alliance, was offering a potential government. No single party gets a majority on its own, he noted, in apparent reference to the Social Democrats who currently form the government alone, but rely on the Greens and communist-leaning Left Party for support in parliament.

Replying to Reinfeldt’s opening speech, the Prime Minister attacked the Moderates and the “right-wing alliance” for not talking about their joint policies.

“Why don’t you talk about your proposals? That the sick become worse off. That the unemployed become worse off. That the early-retired become worse off. This is what causes the criminality you speak of,” he said.

He also highlighted what he said were the Moderates’ “retreats” over certain policies, and described their changes of direction as “flip-flopping”.

Persson vowed that the Social Democrats would pursue the Moderates and the Alliance.

Reinfeldt replied that he and his Alliance colleagues had presented proposals to get more people into work.

“We want to do something about exclusion.”

“We have heard Göran Persson before, describing Sweden as though there weren’t 1.5 million people who are living in exclusion.”

“During your time in office over 500,000 people have gone into early retirement, and we want to do something about this,” he said.

The smaller parties also took part in the debate.

Left Party leader Lars Ohly used the occasion to criticise Liberal leader Lars Leijonborg over his attitude to China.

Leijonborg has praised China’s development and economic growth, but Ohly slammed its that the country’s poor record on workers’ rights.

“No right [for workers] to organize, no right to strike, long working days, low wages, terrible working environment,” he said, and asked Leijonborg when he intended to “stop calling himself a liberal”.

The Green Party’s spokeswoman Maria Wetterstrand criticised the Alliance for their environmental policies, and called for a global perspective. Some 150 million people were forced out of their homes last year due to weather-related disasters, she said, and warned that this figure would rise to half a billion by 2050.

Centre Party leader Maud Olofsson said she also wanted to see greener policies, particularly in relation to business. She criticised the government’s employment policies, saying that it didn’t know what was good for small companies.

“We will create real jobs in real companies, not curtain hangers in employment office-created jobs,” she said.

TT/The Local

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