• Sweden's news in English
 
app_header_v3
Almedalen 2014
Almedalen: When will it all become too much?
An unsuspecting Visby the day before Almedalen. Photo: The Uppsala Koala

Almedalen: When will it all become too much?

The Local · 1 Jul 2014, 09:59

Published: 01 Jul 2014 09:59 GMT+02:00

The Almedalen political week, held each year in the small city of Visby in Gotland, is a unique phenomenon.
 
It all began when Olof Palme and Krister Wickman, who were both considered as future leaders of the Social Democrat (Socialdemokraterna, S) party at the time, held an improvised meeting in Visby in 1968. Palme, who would become party leader the following year, famously spoke from the back of a lorry close to Kruttornet, the largest of the towers in the medieval wall surrounding Visby.
 
Soon it became a tradition for politicians to gather at the nearby park called Almedalen each summer to hold speeches. After all, many politicians owned or rented vacation homes in Gotland. Journalists were more than pleased to work in this beautiful setting. Joining together in beautiful Almedalen was the perfect end to the working year before the vacations started.
 
In 1991 all political parties in Sweden were, for the first time, in place at Almedalen. Three years later a seminar was held by two interest organizations representing the Swedish business community. Soon a range of special interest groups, such as labour unions, various associations, and companies realized that Almedalen was a perfect opportunity to influence policies. After all, when else were politicians from all major parties gathered in a small relaxing setting and willing to listen to you if you bought them a drink?
 
In 2001, 51 events were organized in Almedalen. In the election year 2006 the figure grew to 463. During the next election of 2010 there were 1,396 events organized. And this election year the estimated figure has mushroomed to 3,308.
 
Almedalen has become so crowded that there is barely any room left in Visby. Even small apartments in the city centre can be rented out for 10,000 kronor ($1,494) or more for the week. Many of the journalists, PR-people, politicians, interest organization representatives and intellectuals who attend have to find housing in the outskirts of Visby.
 
Almedalen is admired in neighbouring countries as an open democratic arena. Denmark and Norway have recently created copies of their own. Finland and the Baltic countries have also shown interest.
 
One can of course also look at it from another angle. It is, after all, a week during which special interest groups each spend hundreds of thousands of kronor, if not millions, to influence politics. The political class enjoys free food, drinks and parties, and is encouraged to form special relations with the labour unions, companies or organizations providing these goods.
 
It is understandable that so many special interest groups want to influence politics. The public sector in Sweden spends some 1.8 trillion kronor annually. Even small changes in taxation, spending and regulation can have significant effects for various groups and businesses. Somewhat puzzling, government agencies also spend tens of millions of tax money at Almedalen – to influence the central government to increase their respective budgets. The European Union generously spends the funding it gets from member states, to promote itself to the political elites in Sweden. Do we as a society gain anything from this race to buy political favour?
 
Of course, spending money to influence politics is anything but exclusively for Sweden. In all parts of the democratic world various organizations commit themselves to changing public policies. In the US, for example, massive sums are spent on lobbying politicians, mainly behind the public veil. Almedalen has the advantage of being an open venue, scrutinized in detail by the host of journalists who gather there.
Story continues below…
 
The question is when the already overcrowded week will peak. Will Almedalen become even larger next year? Will it expand to 4,000 events next time an election is held? Already the cost of living and for organizing an event has skyrocketed. The vast majority of seminars held and reports released get very little if any attention, since the competition for medial and political attention is so steep. Most organizations would get more attention if they held their events any other part of the year than Almedalen. But the lure of Gotland's early summer, and the possibility to have a drink with famous politicians and journalists, has so far been greater than such considerations.
 
Most people who regularly visit Almedalen complain that it is too crowded. Yet, few are willing to stay home.
 
Nima Sanandaji is a regular op-ed contributor to The Local. His latest book is called "Active ageing – The path to more healthy years" (“Aktivt åldrande – Vägen till fler friska år”).

For more news from Sweden, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

The Local (news@thelocal.se)

Today's headlines
Sweden to join Nato strategic centre: director
Photo: Fredrik Broman/Imagebank Sweden

Non-aligned Sweden will join Nato's Strategic Communications Centre based in nearby Latvia amid heightened tensions with Russia.

Swedes bake during 'record' warm September
Swedes relax on Malmö's Sundspromenaden at sunset on 14th September 2016. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

New record temperatures are expected in a number of places across the country.

Where to see the Northern Lights in Sweden
The Northern Lights pictured in Sweden on Wednesday night. Photo: Norrsken Sverige

An unusually high level of solar activity means the spectacle could be visible from rare spots in the country.

Swedish police 'in crisis' says union head
A file photo of Swedish police officers. Photo: Tomas Oneborg/SvD/TT

The creation of a new merged national police authority in Sweden has not gone well, according to the Swedish Police Union.

Nobel Prizes 2016
Nobel Literature Prize announcement delayed
Haruki Murakami (pictured) is one of the bookmakers' favourites. Photo: Bernat Armangue/AP/TT

The delay is due to 'arithmetic', an academician said.

Horny elk hold up Swedish hunt
One of the randy animals in question. Photo: Mikael Fritzon/TT

The giant things just can't contain themselves.

Sweden to ban masks but not burqas at football matches
A masked supporter at a Stockholm derby football match last year. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

The ban is designed to curb violence at sporting events in Sweden, but it must also follow conventions on religious freedom.

Video
Heckler humbles Swedish golf champion with perfect putt
Henrik Stenson met his match in the final practice for the Ryder Cup. Photo: Charlie Riedel/AP/TT

Well that wasn't supposed to happen...

Presented by Invest Stockholm
Stockholm: creating solutions to global challenges

It’s no secret that Stockholm is serious about sustainability. We took a look at how the city's emerging startups are tackling global challenges, making the world a better place.

Warm weather melts H&M profits
An H&M store in central Stockholm. Photo: Maja Suslin/TT

A warm autumn may be good news for Swedes, but it was bad news for Sweden's biggest clothing brand.

Sponsored Article
‘I view the world in a different way now’
National
OPINION: Sweden bad, Norway good, Trump better? I'm confused
Sponsored Article
Top 7 tips to help you learn Swedish
National
Here's how much Sweden's highest-earning authors make
National
Where to see the Northern Lights in Sweden
Blog updates

27 September

Cutting your nose …. (The Diplomatic Dispatch) »

"Last week, Jeremy Browne, the Special Representative for the City of London, visited Sweden. Jeremy was…" READ »

 

7 September

Svensk or svenska? (The Swedish Teacher) »

"Hejsan! My inbox is full of questions :-). Here’s one about when to use “svensk” and…" READ »

 
 
 
Sponsored Article
Expat finances in Sweden: the Common Reporting Standard
Gallery
People-watching: September 28th
Sponsored Article
Let's Talk: a personal Swedish language tutor in your pocket
National
Aliens' sex lives? Why Swedes want Nasa to send a condom into space
Analysis & Opinion
'If Sweden really wants startups, drop the red tape on migration'
Gallery
Property of the week: Gotland
Sponsored Article
Retiring abroad: ensuring your health is covered
National
Trump an 'embarrassment' Springsteen tells Sweden
Sponsored Article
'Creating a sense of home': Collective living in Stockholm
Gallery
People-watching: September 23rd-25th
Politics
Russian Sweden Democrat aide resigns over suspect deal
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
National
Muslim teacher leaves job after not shaking male colleague's hand
Sponsored Article
Gran Canaria: 'So much more than beaches'
Travel
Why we adore autumn in Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: September 21st
Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
National
Stockholmers hunt killer badger after attack on neighbourhood hipster cat
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
The Local Voices
Why this Russian developer is committed to helping refugees - with tech
Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
National
Six key points in Sweden's budget plan
Sponsored Article
Retiring abroad: ensuring your health is covered
The Local Voices
How a Swedish name finally made recruiters notice this Iranian's CV
Sponsored Article
'There was no future for me in Turkey'
Gallery
Property of the week: Luleå
Sponsored Article
7 reasons you should join Sweden’s ’a-kassa’
Gallery
People-watching: September 16th-18th
Sponsored Article
‘Extremism can't be defeated on the battlefield alone’
Culture
Why Swedish TV has given these kids' trucks a sex swap
Sponsored Article
Stockholm: creating solutions to global challenges
National
TIMELINE: Everything you need to know about the Julian Assange case
Gallery
People-watching: September 14th
Politics
Why Sweden is putting troops on holiday dream island Gotland
The Local Voices
'What I mean when I say: I came here to blow myself up'
Society
VIDEO: Are Swedes that unfriendly?
The Local Voices
'Whenever I apply for jobs I’m treated like an unwanted stranger'
2,997
jobs available