Borg: No cash for euro currency fund

Sweden's Finance Minister Anders Borg has lent his support to a German initiative to create a European currency fund to support euro countries with budgetary problems, but said that Sweden would not be contributing finance.

“Swedish taxpayers money will not be spent on this,” Borg said to journalists at the Government Offices on Tuesday.

Borg expressed support for the initiative, however, saying that the Greek crisis has shown that regulations need to be tightened, and the tools for crisis management improved.

The proposal to establish the European currency fund is in response to several euro countries, with Greece at the forefront, experiencing record budget deficits and spiralling state debt in the wake of the finance crisis and the recession.

Euro countries are not permitted, according to existing regulations, to give each other direct financial support and to ask the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for assistance, which EU member states Lithuania and Hungary have done, is politically sensitive within the currency union.

“It is of the utmost importance to tighten the regulations currently applicable to euro countries. There are a number of euro countries which have seriously mismanaged their economic policies and have thus significant deficits,” Anders Borg said.

A tightening of the rules and sanctions for countries which break the agreed budget rules are, according to Borg, a prerequisite for the establishment of the fund which is being touted by several of the larger euro countries.

“If you want to have a fund which part-finances and eases the situation for countries in crisis then a strict regulatory framework must be attached to it. The current set up has not provided for any possibilities to assist countries with significant economic concerns.”

Borg wants to see a “tangible monitoring” of the countries which do not keep their houses in order and has noted the German demand for “stronger sanctions.”

The proposals aired to address the crisis, and the budget problems in Greece and other European countries are, according to Anders Borg, a failure on the part of many European governments. The currency union itself, despite all its problems, he regards as positive.

In response to a question over the impact of a currency fund on Sweden, Borg replied:

“In the best case it can contribute to more ordered public finances in the euro countries. This is also good for Sweden. But we are not in the euro and our public finances are in good shape.”

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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.