The Swedish press corps decided to celebrate Halloween early this year by commencing on something of a witch hunt targeting Sofia Arkelsten, the Moderates’ newly installed party secretary.
The first skeleton in Arkelsten’s closet was unearthed on Wednesday when it was revealed that she had accepted a trip to the south of France sponsored by Dutch oil company Shell.
The goblins continued to haunt Arkelsten on Thursday as news emerged of more sponsored trips and that she was given the free use of a fancy BMW for a few days back in 2008. Horrors, indeed!
Arkelsten’s ghoulish week ended with Expressen publishing pictures of her in tears as she discussed the escalating scandal with her colleagues, as well as a haunted housing story by Aftonbladet alleging Arkelsten had bypassed the rental housing queue and secured a first-hand contact for a flat in sought-after Södermalm in Stockholm.
It remains unclear what upsets Swedes more: that Arkelsten acquired the apartment from a landlord known for his dealings in the black market or that she didn’t have to wait in line like everyone else.
While not wanting to belittle the role of journalists in keeping public figures in check and exposing potential conflicts of interest, the ferocity with which the Swedish press pounced on Arkelsten bordered on obsessive.
And it hardly seems fair to single out Arkelsten when Swedish politicians of all stripes and at all levels have accepted similar invitations to participate in sponsored trips and events, sit on the boards of outside organisations, and engage with people who more than likely have an agenda they are trying to push.
Rather than throwing eggs at Arkelsten, Swedes may be better served by spending their Halloween knocking on the doors of politicians and, rather than accepting treats, ask why the Riksdag has no rules governing what sort of sponsored trips MPs are allowed to accept, why the country has no laws regulating the activity of lobbyists, and why political party funding remains secret.
Nevertheless, Arkelsten’s case does merit attention in that it highlights not only the importance of monitoring politicians’ relationships with profit-seeking companies, but also the challenges in drawing an appropriate line between engaging with stakeholders and allowing oneself to become a pawn to their interests.
And while The Local may not share the views of other Swedish media outlets regarding Arkelsten’s actions, readers will continue to see stories about her on the site as long as she remains a topic of debate in Sweden.
After all, part of The Local’s mission is to bring its readers Sweden’s news in English, and we would be remiss to ignore a story that has clearly captivated the Swedish public – despite our reservations about its merits.