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Sweden’s new foreign minister settles in

Jan Eliasson has begun work as Sweden's new Foreign Minister. Eliasson, 65, was appointed on March 27th as Ministry of Foreign Affairs head by Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson following the resignation of former Swedish Foreign Minister Laila Freivalds.

The widely experienced and much-respected diplomat and politician has since his appointment been preoccupied with his duties as President of the United Nations General Assembly.

On Monday, he officially began work at Sweden’s Foreign Ministry.

With experience at the UN and as a former Ministry of Foreign Affairs representative, including a recent post as Swedish Ambassador to the US, Eliasson was regarded as a solid choice to succeed Freivalds.

Freivalds left the Ministry amid uproar over her handling of the 2004 Tsunami and recent ‘Mohammed cartoon’ crises.

As Foreign Minister, the governing Social Democrats hope Eliasson will utilise his network of international contacts and restore stability to the Foreign Ministry.

“I have had 40 good years, and now I want to function as a catalyst for change,” he stated.

Such measures could be critical in this election year, as Social Democrats slightly trail the opposition in many polls.

Eliasson’s first trip as Foreign Minister will be to Finland.

He will travel across the Baltic Sea on Friday to meet with his counterpart Erkki Tuomioja and Finnish President Tarja Halonen.

Items on the agenda for the visit include discussing Russo-Finnish relations and the future of the European Union.

SWEDEN ELECTS

Sweden Elects: PM Andersson bids to reclaim patriotism and the big election issues

Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson mentioned Sweden and Swedishness no fewer than 70 times in her speech at the country's largest political event, writes The Local's editor Emma Löfgren in our new column Sweden Elects – which launches this week with just over two months to go until the election.

Sweden Elects: PM Andersson bids to reclaim patriotism and the big election issues

Sweden Elects is a new weekly column by Editor Emma Löfgren looking at the big talking points and issues in the Swedish election race. Members of The Local Sweden can sign up to receive the column plus several extra features as a newsletter in their email inbox each week. Just click on this “newsletters” option or visit the menu bar.

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“I love Sweden and I’m proud to be Swedish.”

If you want to win the hearts and minds of Swedes, talk about the loveliness of long summer nights, barbecues and wild swimming, and do so from a stage in one of the most picturesque towns in Sweden.

Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson understood that much when she last night, on the first day of Sweden’s annual political festival Almedalen Week, gave a speech that did not shy away from invoking some of the most proudly Swedish of perceived Swedish features and values – everything from fields of daisies to trust, solidarity and hard work.

It was a speech clearly designed to reclaim patriotism from the nationalists ahead of the September 11th election, with a grand total of 71 mentions of “Swedish” or “Sweden” in half an hour. There was so much talk about Swedish values that it felt at times like those forced-collective notes you get in the laundry room: In this housing association we don’t leave fluff in the dryer. “In Sweden we don’t queue jump – not the supermarket queues and not in healthcare.”

“Sweden should be that Sweden which we love in every neighbourhood,” she said as she pledged to crack down on segregation and gang crime, one of three priority areas she has previously laid out for her government.

When it came to her other two priority areas, she spoke relatively briefly about the climate crisis but spent considerably more time on her third pledge to stop privatisation and profit-making in the welfare system – an issue where the Social Democrats have tried to firmly return to their traditional left-wing roots, while moving right on crime and punishment.

If you think I’m not talking much about specific policies, it’s because the speech didn’t address them much – but to be fair to the prime minister, an Almedalen speech at the height of summer rarely does. Andersson even said it herself: “What’s at stake in this election is more than different opinions on exactly how many prison cells we need (…) it’s which values should permeate Sweden. What kind of country we should be”.

But can a technocrat such as Andersson sell that vision? A former finance minister with a successful track record, she carried herself with the most gravitas when she spoke about the negative effects on the economy on the back of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, referring to the high rate of inflation as “Putin prices”. As a leader who enjoys far higher confidence figures than her main opponent – Ulf Kristersson of the Moderate Party – she sounds more convincing when talking about the economy and specific policies than about her love for “Swedish nature, the right to roam, paddling silently over a quiet lake or smelling the coniferous forest”.

I’m curious to know how you as a reader of The Local feel when politicians talk about “Swedish values”. Do you feel included or excluded, does it depend on how they talk about them and if so, what makes the difference? Is it possible to paint a positive patriotic vision? We’re likely going to hear much more talk about Swedishness and values from other politicians in the coming days at Almedalen Week, so feel free to email your thoughts to me at [email protected] – if I’m allowed to share them on The Local or in a future newsletter, please state so clearly in your email and whether or not we may use your name.

You can read Andersson’s full speech in Swedish here and watch it here.

A more international election?

Andersson also spoke about Sweden’s military defence and landmark decision to join Nato (“it’s how we best defend Sweden’s freedom, democracy and our way of life”), and it was fitting that she did so during Almedalen Week, which is held in Visby on the island of Gotland.

Gotland, as you probably know, has received attention in Sweden and beyond in the past months. Strategically located in the Baltic Sea, the popular tourism island was at the centre of Sweden’s defence debate even before the invasion of Ukraine, and that’s even more the case now.

We can expect foreign policy to play a bigger part in this election campaign than it normally does, after Sweden and Finland last week struck a deal that moved them one step closer to joining Nato.

The most controversial point of that deal is Turkey’s claim that Sweden promised to extradite 73 individuals Turkey labelled “terrorists” in exchange for them allowing Sweden to join Nato. Swedish ministers have since said that it is in the hands of independent courts and Swedish citizens cannot in any case be deported, but Andersson has stopped short of fully denying it, and there is growing concern among Turkish and Kurdish refugees about the protection of non-citizens vs realpolitik.

It’s another example of how important it is that the voices of non-citizens are also heard in the political debate – there are a lot of people who live in Sweden, perhaps even intend to stay here permanently, who are just as invested in its future as everyone else, but aren’t yet formally citizens.

The election on September 11th is likely to be a crucial vote, with a win for the opposition bringing the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats their first chance to form national policy, and a win for the Social Democrats putting a fragile government in power for the third term in a row.

What’s next?

Almedalen Week is Sweden’s annual political festival. It takes place in the medieval town of Visby on the island of Gotland and is typically attended by around 40,000 people – 95 percent of them coming from outside Gotland. Interest has been falling in recent years, but with two months to go until the election, it’s a key event in all party leaders’ calendars.

The main highlights of the week will be the party leaders’ speeches at Almedalen, which will all be broadcast live at almedalsveckanplay.info. Sweden’s public broadcaster SVT will show them with expert comments immediately afterwards (in Swedish) – I had a look at their website and it should be possible to watch these wherever you are in the world.

Here’s when they’ll take the stage:

Monday (today), 11am. Moderate leader Ulf Kristersson.

Monday (today), 7pm. Left leader Nooshi Dadgostar.

Tuesday, 11am. Christian Democrat leader Ebba Busch.

Tuesday, 7pm. Liberal leader Johan Pehrson.

Wednesday, 11am. Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Åkesson.

Wednesday, 7pm. Centre leader Annie Lööf.

Thursday, 11am. Green leader Per Bolund.

Also, don’t miss The Local’s special Almedalen episode of our Sweden in Focus podcast. Our publisher James Savage and acting editor Richard Orange have been mingling with politicians and pundits and will have the latest news for you in a special episode which will be released this week.

The Local will as always cover the Swedish election from the point of view of international citizens living in Sweden. In our Sweden Elects newsletter, I will take a look every week at the issues that affect you; the biggest talking points; the whos, hows and whys; and several extra features just for paying members (you can find out HERE how to receive the newsletter to your inbox with everything included, and membership also gives you unlimited access to all of The Local’s articles).

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