Sweden welcomes Obama

Sweden welcomes Obama
Swedish politicians welcomed the election of Barack Obama as president of the United States on Wednesday morning, following the Democratic candidate’s defeat of rival John McCain.

Few members of Sweden’s political elite seemed to have slept much on Tuesday night, with many instead attending election night parties in Stockholm. Around 500 politicians, journalists and businesspeople attended a party organized by the American Chamber of Commerce and the US Embassy at Stockholm’s Hilton Hotel in the small hours of Wednesday.

Per Schlingmann, secretary of Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt’s Moderate Party, said Obama’s election would provide ”new possibilities for US-Swedish cooperation and for the relationship between the EU and Europe.”

”But his biggest challenge will be meeting the high expectations placed on him.”

Mona Sahlin, leader of the opposition Social Democrats, speaking at the US Embassy’s election night party in Stockholm, said she ”always thought he would win, but I still feel a bit stunned.” Sahlin said she believed that the Obama presidency would herald a new era of transatlantic cooperation:

”President Obama has shown that he wants to re-start contact with Europe.”

Representatives of other parties were also hopeful of a new era of cooperation. Deputy Prime Minister Maud Olofsson, who is leader of the Centre Party, praised Obama’s campaign:

”Obama has caught a mood in the country and has given hope for the future to the American people. He has also managed to give hope to groups of people who used to feel that they didn’t have a voice.”

Olofsson said she hoped Obama ”would seize the mantel of leadership” in the work to secure a global climate change agreement. She added that she hoped that Sweden and the US would deepen cooperation on renewable energy.

Left Party leader Lars Ohly said the election was ”the end of eight years of suffering and an enormous revitalisation of American democracy.”

”Obama does not represent the old establishment. He has shown that he is willing to re-evaluate issues, such as the issue of withdrawing troops from Iraq and cooperating more with other countries and the UN. It is important for the rest of the world that the US becomes less aggressive and more willing to cooperate.”

Leaders of Swedish industry were also cautiously positive about Obama’s election. Börje Ekholm, CEO of Sweden’s powerful Investor holding company, said he looked forward to ”clear leadership and a strong president. That’s what business needs.”

Many politicians expressed concern over Obama’s anti-free trade stance.

Ekholm acknowledged that Obama had spoken unfavourably about free trade, ”but we should not exaggerate the anti-trade side of Obama.”

The US Ambassador to Sweden, Michael Wood, a personal friend of President George W. Bush, welcomed the election of the first black president.

”What a symbol this sends that a black man can become president of the United States.”

He added:

”After eight years America wanted a change. What [Americans] feel is excitement and the significance of this huge moment.”