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PARTY LEADER DEBATE

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Party leaders jostle over job loss threat

The opposition Social Democrats have accused the government of being ill-prepared to deal with unemployment in the new year's first party leader debate in the Riksdag.

Party leaders jostle over job loss threat

Mikael Damberg, the spokesperson for the opposition Social Democrats in parliament, said that Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt far too often discusses the economic crisis on the continent but forgets to tackle unemployment at home.

Government policy took aim at high growth in good times, Damberg said, before likening Reinfeldt’s tactics to poor waxing in cross country skiing.

“If Reinfeldt was head waxer for the national cross country team we’d be in trouble. The government has chosen wax for good times but they won’t have any traction when going uphill,” Damberg said.

Reinfeldt, who as prime minister opened the debate, focused on the European financial crisis and the risks facing Sweden in the year ahead.

“What’s important now is that we protect our competitiveness and readiness for an even worse crisis,” he said.

Deputy Prime Minister Jan Björklund said the Social Democrat idea that it is possible to raise taxes during a recession was illogical. He said that even the economist and leftwing darling John Maynard Keynes did not suggest such a tactic during bad times.

Damberg, who steps in for party leader Stefan Löfven who is not an MP, warned 35,000 Swedes risked losing their jobs this year.

“It would be dishonest to claim this is simple,” Reinfeldt replied, before outlining several “offensive measures” in the budget meant to tackle the dip.

The other party leaders were all given their turn to outline what they consider to be key issues in Swedish politics.

Green Party spokesperson Gustaf Fridolin said the government had not done enough to tackle climate change.

“Global warming will have untold consequences and cause human suffering before my daughter reaches pension age,” he said.

SEE ALSO: Sweden’s Green Party: moving to the city?

Fridolin, who also teaches at community college level, spoke at length about cuts to the public education system, with 12,000 children leaving compulsory education without adequate grades to go onto high school.

Liberal Party (Folkpartiet) leader Jan Björklund, who is also education minister, said that reforms to the school system would take time to show results.

SEE ALSO: ‘More Swedish kids should learn Chinese’: Björklund

Left Party leader Jonas Sjöstedt instead took up what he says is a lack of support for women’s shelters across Sweden.

SEE ALSO: Left Party veteran Lars Werner dead

”Every year, 75,000 women are assaulted by their partner. There’s a lot to be done to protect these women, yet the shelters are full. When is the government’s promise to make things better going to come true?” he said.

The prime minister responded that the police had to introduce special violence against women units, and that a national coordinator had been assigned to monitor that task.

Sjöstedt and the Christian Democrat leader Göran Hägglund asked whether the Social Democrats supported the ban on profits in the welfare sector proposed by the Trade Union Confederation on Tuesday.

SEE ALSO: Unions propose profit cap on welfare sector profits

Damberg replied that the Social Democrats liked much of the proposal but underlined that it came from the unions.

Damberg also questioned why Hägglund was so reticent to probe profits in the state-funded welfare sector.

Centre Party leader and Enterprise Minister Annie Lööf decided to turn the tables on the opposition for its winter sports reference.

“The opposition’s line would be like competing in Vasaloppet backwards, with the wrong wax, and wearing Gustav Vasa’s old wooden skies,” she retorted.

SEE ALSO: ‘The Centre Party is a confused party’: expert

The ensuing debate focused heavily on jobs and challenges ahead as the eurozone crisis meanders on, affecting Swedish exports.

The last of the party leaders, Jimmie Åkesson of the Sweden Democrats, decided to speak about how his party, long a pariah in Swedish mainstream politics, had become an acceptable partner when the other parties wanted to push legislation through parliament.

SEE ALSO: Sweden Democrats to publish tell-all book

Social Democrat Damberg later in the debate pointed out that his party was not opposed to voting the same way in some key policy areas as the Sweden Democrats, but underlined that they did not share the immigration-critical party’s fundamental values.

TT/The Local/at

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SWEDEN ELECTS

Sweden Elects: How powerful are the Sweden Democrats now?

The Local's editor Emma Löfgren explains how Sweden's parliamentary committees work – and the role the Sweden Democrats will play in them.

Sweden Elects: How powerful are the Sweden Democrats now?

Hej,

The speaker of parliament has given Ulf Kristersson, leader of the conservative Moderates and the likely next prime minister of Sweden, October 12th as a deadline to conclude his government negotiations.

If Kristersson comes up with a viable proposal for a ruling coalition, the speaker will put that proposal to parliament within four days. Chances are Sweden will have its new right-wing government by mid-October.

What will that government look like? Most likely, it will consist of at least the Moderates and the Christian Democrats. Rumours have it Kristersson is hoping to bring the Liberals into the governmental fold, and it is unlikely that the far-right Sweden Democrats will be part of the government.

But anyone who thinks the latter means they will be left on the sidelines is mistaken. They will have demanded significant concessions in order to support Kristersson’s government (and especially to make way for the Liberals) from parliament, and judging from recent news, they got them.

In a joint press release last week, the right wing – the Moderates, Christian Democrats, Liberals and Sweden Democrats – said they had reached a deal on how to share responsibility for their parliamentary committees.

There are 15 committees in the Swedish parliament, seats on which are held by members of parliament, with larger parties getting more seats as well as more high-ranking roles such as chair and deputy chair.

The right wing is after this election entitled to 16 chair and deputy chair roles, and the Sweden Democrats will get half of those, the parties agreed. The key thing that many political pundits were keeping an eye on was which committees, as that tells us a lot about how far they got in their negotiations with the other right-wing parties. The answer: far.

The Sweden Democrats will get to chair the Justice, Foreign Affairs, Labour Market, and Industry and Trade Committees – all heavyweight committees. 

Their most high-profile appointment is Richard Jomshof, one of the most senior Sweden Democrats who in the run-up to the election gave an anti-Islam speech (not the first time). He will chair the Justice Committee.

The Moderates will chair the Finance and Social Insurance Committees (plus the EU Committee), the Christian Democrats will chair the Health and Welfare Committee, and the Liberals will chair the Education Committee.

On the other side, the left-wing parties will get to chair the Defence, Taxation, Constitution, Civil Affairs, Transport and Communications, Environment and Agriculture, and Cultural Affairs Committees.

So what exactly do the parliamentary committees do, and how much influence will the Sweden Democrats now have over legislation?

The votes of every member of the committees count equally (there are at least 15 members on every committee, representing the various parties from left to right), and the chair gets the final vote if there’s a tie. He or she also has influence over the committee’s agenda and over how meetings are directed, with the position also bringing prestige.

All government bills and proposals by members of parliament first go through one of the committees before they can be put to the main chamber for a vote. The committee adopts a position on the proposal and although the final decision rests with the 349 members of the main chamber, they usually vote for the committee’s position since the make-up of their members represent the parties in parliament.

Although chair positions give them a procedural advantage, the Sweden Democrats won’t have unlimited power over their committees, since as I said, the other parties have seats too and their votes count equally.

The main benefit for the Sweden Democrats is rather the soft power it gives them. The chair is the face of the parliamentary committee, and these senior roles will force the other parties to take them seriously.

Another aspect to bear in mind is that they’ll have enough seats on each committee that they will have a key kingmaker role where they can side either with the government or the opposition – giving them fairly significant negotiating power when it comes to future legislation.

In other news, the Swedish parliament last week re-elected the popular Andreas Norlén as speaker, it’s been taking much longer than usual to get a work permit (here’s why) and foreigners are calling for the Migration Agency to issue special visas to allow those affected by renewal delays to leave Sweden and return, the Nord Stream 2 pipeline has stopped leaking gas, and households in Sweden are starting to feel the economic squeeze.

In the latest episode of our Sweden in Focus podcast, host Paul O’Mahony is joined by Handelsbanken chief economist Johan Löf, as well as The Local’s Becky Waterton, Richard Orange and James Savage.

Many thanks to everyone who’s got in touch lately with your thoughts and feedback about Sweden Elects. I’m happy it’s useful to you. If you have any questions about Swedish politics, you’re always welcome to get in touch.

Best wishes,

Emma

Sweden Elects is a weekly column by Editor Emma Löfgren looking at the big talking points and issues in the Swedish election race. Members of The Local Sweden can sign up to receive the column as a newsletter in their email inbox each week. Just click on this “newsletters” option or visit the menu bar.

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