Alliance manifesto targets jobs and environment

Sweden's opposition Alliance put the focus on jobs and the environment as it presented its first ever joint manifesto on Wednesday. The leaders of the four centre-right parties emerged from the hotel near Stockholm where they had been negotiating, to present reforms valued at 27 billion kronor.

The parties said they planned to tackle youth unemployment with tax cuts costing 3.7 billion kronor. These include halving payroll tax for young people who are long-term unemployed. This would be funded partly by not adopting the Social Democrats recently announced rises in unemployment benefits and study grants.

“This is a job manifesto, in contrast to the Social Democrats’ benefits manifesto,” said Moderate Party leader Fredrik Reinfeldt, the presumptive prime minister in any Alliance government.

However, the Centre Party’s proposal for a special employment contract for young people did not make it to the manifesto. The concept has been criticised since it would have made it easier for employers not only to take on young people but also to fire them without notice.

The Alliance also said it would reduce income tax.

Tax cuts would happen in two stages. The first stage would cost 37 billion kronor and has been financed, the second dtage would cost 8 billion, and the money has not yet been found. But Moderate Party leader Fredrik Reinfeldt said that the first stage would create better state finances, which could in turn finance stage 2. He said that if such savings were not sufficient then the parties would find “further financing” or would postpone the cuts.

The environment also figured large in the new document. New green programmes would cost 3.5 billion kronor during the next parliament. They would include 1 billion kronor for climate research and other climate-related investments. Tax breaks on eco-cars would be introduces and a strategy to deal with the ocean environments would be developed.

Equality programmes worth 2 billion kronor would be started during the next parliament. These would include research programmes on women’s health and initiatives to help women entrepreneurs.

In education, 1.7 billion kronor would go towards more special needs teachers, increased individual support for pupils and programmes to improve reading, writing and arithmetic.

In other promises, one percent of Sweden’s GDP is to be spent on research, the real-terms value of child benefit will be protected, higher education will be strengthened and housing benefit for the retired and the early retired will be increased.

The Alliance’s previously announced proposal to phase out property tax was valued at 6 billion kronor during the first year. During 2007 the Alliance’s proposal would be less generous to house owners than the Social Democrats’ proposal to freeze house valuation levels. On the other had the 5,000 kronor ceiling on taxation of house plots will help those who now pay most. The opposition also plans reductions for people in apartments, something the Social Democrats have not proposed.

The Alliance also promised not to reduce sickness benefits, which will stay at 80 percent of a person’s final salary, up to a certain limit.

Negotiations between the parties started at lunchtime on Tuesday and continued to 3 am. After a few hours’ sleep the four party leaders continued negotiations at 7 am.

The manifesto, which, at 12 sides is somewhat longer than that of the Social Democrats, contains two new agreements on matters which have divided the Alliance in the past.

The manifesto also includes a proposal for improving immigrants’ knowledge of Swedish, although it stops short of requiring immigrants to speak the language before becoming a Swedish citizen.