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Jobs in focus during party leader debate

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17:53 CEST+02:00
The jobs, the environment and unemployment were the dominant themes in the party leaders' debate in Sweden's parliament, the Riksdag, on Wednesday.

The tone between the blocs looks set to remain tough ahead of the autumn parliamentary election. Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt emphasised the government's commitment to full employment when he opened the debate.

"Everyone should have a job that matches their abilities," he said.

He pointed out that the Alliance coalition promised 1,000 kronor ($127.88) more per month in Swedish wallets during the last election campaign.

"It turned out to be much more than that - 1,600 to 1,700 kronor for a metalworker or a miner," said Reinfeldt.

He put the government's employment pledges up against the red-green coalition's stance on benefits.

"This will be the battle for the autumn election," he said.

Reinfeldt also stressed that the core of welfare services should be safeguarded, as well as the quality of welfare. In addition, he talked about the importance of an economy in balance.

In response, Social Democrat leader Mona Sahlin accused Reinfeldt of not doing enough to combat young unemployment. She stated that only one in 20 unemployed youth who end up in the government's job guarantee programme receive training, while one in three has no high school diploma.

Meanwhile, Left Party leader Lars Ohly accused Reinfeldt of pursuing policies that are pulling Sweden apart.

"You claim to have a policy for jobs, but there is 10 percent unemployment," he said.

In turn, Reinfeldt attacked Sahlin and accused her of wanting to raise taxes for low-paid women who work in health care, care services and education.

"It is a tax attack on women," he said.

Green Party spokesperson Maria Wetterstrand pointed out that only South Korea, Turkey and Poland have worse unemployment insurance funds than Sweden.

Reinfeldt then criticised the red-green proposal to switch tax levels for lower unemployment insurance fees. According to government calculations, it would lead to 1.8 million members paying higher taxes, many of them in typically female occupations.

Sahlin answered that that the government's unemployment insurance reforms resulted in a hotel cleaner paying five times the membership fee compared to a doctor and that the reforms ruined the solidarity of the unemployment insurance fund.

This incensed Reinfeldt.

"You would take money from women and use it to raise unemployment insurance for men who do not work. That is your solidarity," he replied.

Sahlin countered that there are those with genuinely high incomes who have received large tax cuts under Reinfeldt's government.

Centre Party leader Maud Olofsson got into a heated exchange with the red-green leaders after Reinfeldt's statements, in which she argued that much had been achieved over the past four years despite it having been a tough time and that much remains to be done.

"I thought that the Centre Party would be a sensible doorkeeper for the environment in the government," said Wetterstrand, who said she was deeply disappointed in Olofsson and the Centre Party for everything from the wolf hunt and its decisions on fertiliser taxes and biodiversity.

Olofsson responded by saying that the Green Party would not dare stand up for its own policies and the impact they would have on Swedish society if they were carried out.

"You have not showed enough of how you are taking care of your own climate goals," she said to Wetterstrand. "You would not risk facing the voters with what is required. It is a cowardly policy."

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