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‘Council demands for ethical meat break EU law’: authority

The Swedish Competition Authority (Konkurrensverket) has ruled that demands from local councils to ensure ethical standards of meat served in schools runs contrary to EU regulations.

Several county councils across Sweden demand that the meat supplied to the schools and elder care homes in their municipalities meet Swedish regulations for the treatment of animals.

But the demand for higher ethical standards have now been dismissed by the Competition Authority, which maintains that EU regulations prohibit it.

“One can not favour one country’s producers in this way. All suppliers should be treated equally,” Charlotta Frenander, a lawyer at the Competition Authority said.

The attention of the authority to the issue was brought by the Danish animal slaughter sector.

“They maintain that they are unable to compete on the same conditions,” Frenander said.

Around ten county councils demand that imported meat is produced to ethical standards equivalent to Swedish legislation.

The agriculture minister Eskil Erlandsson has argued on Sveriges Radio’s Ekot news programmed that the councils are in the wrong.

Meanwhile local councillors in Laholm and Mellerud – two of the municipalities which place the demands on imported meat – argue that the demands are not in breach of EU rules.

“We do not think it harms competition at all. If the Danish producers can guarantee that they can meet the standards for animal protection and welfare then they are welcome. Had we written “Swedish goods” then it would have been a clear breach of the EU law, but not this,” Robert Svensson, a Centre party councillor in Mellerud explained.

But the Competition Authority rejects this argument.

Even if the Danish farmers could meet the Swedish standards for animal protection, there is no way for the buyers to check this, Charlotta Frenander said.

“Common principles are lacking at EU level. Swedish producers are therefore in practice favoured, as they are bound to meet the standards.”

Michael Stråhle Wärring at Laholm council argues that the issue should be left to the courts to decide.

“It is a problem when public bodies can not buy in products with the level of animal protection that we require. As a private person, you can choose, but our school children and elderly are exposed to whatever food is bought,” he said.

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BUSINESS

Explained: Why is Sweden so worried about the EU’s minimum wage plan?

EU labour ministers meet in Brussels on Monday to discuss the European Commission's planned minimum wage directive. Why is the proposal causing such unease in Sweden?

Explained: Why is Sweden so worried about the EU's minimum wage plan?
Customers visit a branch of McDonalds in Stockholm. Photo: Stina Stjernkvist/TT

What’s happening on Monday? 

EU ministers responsible for employment and social affairs, including Sweden’s Eva Nordmark, will meet in Brussels for a two day meeting at which they hope to adopt a European Council position on a directive imposing “adequate minimum wages” on all EU countries. Once the Council, which represents member states, has agreed a common position, it will begin negotiations with the European Parliament and the European Commission. 

What’s Sweden’s position on the minimum wage directive? 

Sweden has been, along with Denmark, one of the most vocal opponents of the directive, arguing that it threatens the country’s collective bargaining model, in which unions and employers set wages without government interference. 

But on Friday, the government dropped its opposition, together with country’s umbrella union, the Swedish Trade Union Confederation, arguing that a compromise proposal put forward by the European Commission would protect Sweden’s wage autonomy. 

A majority of the members of the Swedish parliament’s employment committee are backing the government’s new stance, but three opposition parties, the Moderates, the Christian Democrats, and the Sweden Democrats, are opposed to the change in position. 

“I am extremely happy that there is broad support and majority backing for us to continue with the negotiations, to stand up for what we have come to so far, and do everything we can to protect the Swedish wage-setting model,” Sweden’s employment minister Eva Nordmark (S) said after a meeting with the employment committee on Friday. 

READ ALSO: Why Sweden doesn’t have a minimum wage and how to ensure you’re fairly paid

Why did Sweden make its dramatic last-minute u-turn? 

Sweden’s government judges that, after the compromise, the directive will no longer mean that Sweden is forced to bring in a statutory minimum wage. 

“I consider, together with experts in the civil service and experts in the unions and employer organisations, that there is no requirement for Sweden to bring in a statutory minimum wage,” Nordmark told TT. 

She added that agreeing to sign up to the directive would give Sweden the ability to take a deeper part in the negotiations giving it the power to make sure that important exceptions are made for Sweden. 

Denmark, however, is still resolved to say ‘no’ to the directive. 

Surely a minimum wage is a good thing? Isn’t Sweden supposed to be a high-wage economy? 

Sweden is certainly a high-wage economy, but that is largely thanks to its model of collective bargaining, under which wages are generally set by negotiations between employees and employers for each sector. 

If the directive sets a precedent allowing governments, either at a national or EU level, to interfere in this process, or for those who disagree with the result of the collective bargaining agreement to appeal to government entities, it could undermine the Swedish system. 

Who is still worried? 

More or less everyone. While the Swedish Trade Union Confederation is supporting the government’s decision, its vice chair Therese Guovelin, described the European Commission’s compromise proposal as simply “the least bad compromise proposal” the union had seen.

She has previously described the European Parliament’s position that the directive should apply to the entire European Union as “a catastrophe”.

“That would mean that a disgruntled employee who is not part of the union, could take their case to court, and would then end up at the EU Court, and it would then be them who would decide on what should be a reasonable salary,” she explained. “In Sweden, it’s the parties [unions and employers’ organisations] that decide on that.”

Tobias Billström, group leader for the Moderate Party, said he was concerned at the role of the European Court in the directive. 

“There are big risks with this,” he told TT. “The EU court might decide to interpret this directive as applying across the board, and then we might end up with what we wanted to avoid. The Moderates have as a result been against this development, and it’s important that Sweden gets to decide itself on the Swedish labour market.”

What might happen now? 

The European Parliament might try to remove the wording and the exemptions which Sweden hopes will allow its employers and unions to retain control of wage-setting. 

Mattias Dahl, chief executive of the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise, which represents employers’ groups, said that the government needed to stand its ground in the upcoming negotiations, reiterating that he would have preferred that the European Commission had not sought to give itself such a role in the Labour Market.  

Nordmark said that Sweden did not intend to back down to the parliament. 

“These are important red lines for us. If there are demands from the European Parliament that push in a different direction, we can lean on the Swedish opinion and what we stand for,” she said. 

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