‘Swedish lobbyists have a culture of transparency’

Following revelations that one-in-three Swedish politicians or top political aides go on to consult for Swedish lobbyists, The Local speaks with industry spokeswoman Anna-Karin Hedlund about how the Swedish landscape differs from other countries.

'Swedish lobbyists have a culture of transparency'

A report by The Association of Public Relations Consultancies in Sweden) (Föreningen Public Relations Konsultföretag i Sverige – PRECIS) last year outlined some differences between lobbying in Sweden, the EU and the US.

It quickly noted that “corruption doesn’t thrive in sunlight” had long been the guiding principle when introducing rules for lobbying in the US. Sweden, in contrast, has a more informal structure.

“This means there is tangible risk that we lack transparency,” the report noted.

Anna-Karin Hedlund, managing director at Diplomat Communications and PRECIS chairwoman, said that while Sweden did not, for example, require that lobbyists be registered as such, there is a culture of openness in Sweden that she hoped the industry would continue to foster.

She said that former politicians who moved over to lobbying shared those values.

“Consultants often set up meetings rather than take part in them, but if they do we always play with open cards about who you are representing,” Hedlund said.

“Swedish politicians haven’t made any specific decisions about how to regulate lobbying, like setting up rules about who gets access to parliament, who can ask to see which documents, or who can call themselves a lobbyist.”

Hedlund argued some types of would-be regulations could simply end up creating a great deal of paperwork without achieving the desired transparency.

“So if I visit someone in parliament, my visit is logged, but if I bump into someone I know who works as an MP on the street or socially, that conversation doesn’t show up in any register,” she offered as an example.

“There are also other European countries where PR firms are required to register, but law firms are not,” she added, saying that such a distinction was too fluid to be truly helpful.

She also noted that as far as comparisons to the US went, the Swedish political structure meant that a lone politician rarely acts outside their party platform.

“The party focus means there is a different avenue for lobbying,” Hedlund said.

“While the traditional image portrays the lobbyist courting individual politicians, you need a broader tactic in Sweden.”

She said lobbyists therefore spend more time on swaying public opinion and trying to exert influence over the parties as wholes.

“You can’t just pick an MP to target your efforts towards, as they are very tied to their party,” she explained.

Another key difference, according to Hedlund, is that big state agencies are more independent of the ministers in Sweden, while the order-of-the-day trickles down into public agencies more directly in the US.

“It is much harder to influence how state agencies [in Sweden] implement decisions because the public servants don’t depend on being re-elected once every four years.”

On Monday, the tabloid Aftonbladet reported that more than one in three of Swedish parliamentarians and top aides who have quit politics since 2006 ended up working for lobbyists in some capacity or other.

Hedlund admitted that while she and her colleagues had long shied away from the term “lobbyist”, the structure had been in place for a long time. Furthermore, many Swedish organizations and associations have long been adept at exerting political pressure. Hedlund mentioned the Swedish Trade Union Confederation (LO), the farmers association LRF and the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise (Svenskt näringsliv) as examples.

“It’s taken a very long time for lobbying to become professionalized in Sweden, yet specific groups influencing politics is something we’ve had for as long as we’ve had democracy,” Hedlund said.

“Maybe we woke up a bit late, as it is only in the past 20 years that we have had fully fledged companies who work with consultants on specific briefs.”

She reiterated that because the Swedish political process had many components to it, lobbyists often approached their briefs from many directions.

“We have a broad palette in moving public opinion along,” she said.

Ann Törnkvist

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Governments including Sweden’s see support tumble for their handling of COVID-19, survey shows

Governments are fast losing support for their handling of the coronavirus outbreak from a public that widely believes death and infection figures to be higher than statistics show, a survey of six countries including Sweden revealed on Saturday.

Governments including Sweden's see support tumble for their handling of COVID-19, survey shows
Sweden's Prime Minister Stefan Lofven (L) speaks with Denmark's Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen during an EU summit in Brussels on July 20, 2020. AFP

Support for the federal government of the United States, the country with the most reported infections and deaths, dropped by four percentage points from mid-June, with 44 percent of respondents declaring themselves dissatisfied, said a report by the Kekst CNC communications consulting group.

In Britain, just over a third of respondents approved of their government's actions, a three-point decline in one month, according to the report, based on an opinion poll conducted over five days in mid-July. 

It also included France, Sweden, Japan and Germany.

“In most countries this month, support for national governments is falling,” the report said.

The notable exception was France, where approval rose by six percentage points, yielding a dissatisfaction rate of 41 percent.

France, which has the world's seventh-highest COVID-19 toll, has all but emerged from lockdown but has seen infections increase in recent days, prompting the government to order face masks in all enclosed public spaces.

In Sweden, which took a controversial soft approach to lockdown and has a higher toll than its neighbours, the prime minister's approval rating has shrunk from a positive seven percent to a neutral zero, the poll found.


People who participated in the survey —  1,000 per country polled — generally believed the coronavirus to be more widespread, and more deadly, than official figures show.

“Despite relatively low incidence rates compared to earlier in the pandemic in most countries (with the exception of the US), people significantly overestimate the spread and fatality rate of the disease,” Kekst CNC said.

In Sweden and Britain, the public believed that six or seven percent of people have died from the coronavirus, about 100 times the reported rate.

In the United States, respondents estimated that almost a tenth of the population had died of the virus, more than 200 times the real toll, while Germans thought their tally was 300 times higher than what has been reported.

Such views, said the report, “will be impacting consumer behaviour and wider attitudes — business leaders and governments will need to be conscious of this as they move to restart economies and transition into living with coronavirus for the medium to longer term.”

The poll also revealed that fear of a second outbreak wave is growing, and that an ever larger number of people believe the impacts will last for more than a year.

People “are becoming resigned to living with coronavirus for the forseeable future, and looking to leaders and business to pave the way forward,” the report said.

They are also increasingly likely to prioritise limiting the spread of the virus even if the economy suffers.

“In the US, 54 percent want the government to prioritise limiting the spread of the virus over protecting the economy,” it said.

The poll found that mask-wearing was generally popular, except in Sweden, where only about 15 percent of people sport a face-covering in public.

Even in the United States, where mask-wearing has become a politically polarising issue, 63 percent of respondents said they were in favour.