More than two hundred delegates and a further five hundred party supporters attended an early conference in Solna on Saturday to formally anoint Anna Kinberg Batra as the party’s new leader, opening the way for her becoming the country's first female prime minister.
She takes over from Fredrik Reinfeldt, who was Sweden's Prime Minister between 2006 and September 2014, when the coalition Alliance he led lost the general election, paving the way for Stefan Löfven's current Social Democrat-Green coalition.
In her speech, the 44-year-old economist said Sweden needed to take an important step closer to Nato.
“That’s why my first policy on national security is the following: I want to see a study on the concrete preconditions for Swedish membership of Nato. It is time now.”
In the speech, Kinberg Batra underlined her unwillingness to toughen her party’s stance on immigration in order to fight the growing power of the nationalist Sweden Democrats, which won 13 percent of the vote in a general election in September.
“I want to be very clear about my views on openness,” she said. “We would not be such a good country without it.”
Immigration, she said, had helped drive the Swedish economy, which was why, she argued the Moderates should support it.
“We don’t say ‘go home’, we say, ‘get to work’,” she said.
Kinberg Batra nonetheless signalled that her party would start to push harder for other European countries to take a greater share of refugees seeking asylum in the European Union.
“Sweden will be a country where people come for protection from war and persecution,” she said. “The New Moderates should and will be the party that clearly pushes for more countries to be involved and take responsibility,” she said.
Jonas Hinnfors, a political science professor at Gothenburg University, told TT he saw no major differences between the positions Kinberg Batra had outlined and those of departing party leader Fredrik Reinfeldt, whose success in shifting the party to the centre after taking over in 2003 led to an unprecedented two consecutive election victories.
Reinfeldt opened the conference with a valedictory speech that celebrated the Moderates' success in bringing Sweden’s tax rate down from 53 precent when he first became an MP to 40 percent today, to the applause of delegates.
He also highlighted the Alliance governments’ reforms to the country’s school system and social insurance, but stressed that the party needed to keep developing new policies.
“Don’t stand still, keep moving and keep looking at how times are changing,” he advised. “That’s the way we stay relevant.”
Kinberg Batra studied economics at Stockholm University and worked at the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce and as a public relations consultant before becoming an MP in Reinfeldt's first government in 2006.
Her husband, David Batra, is a well-known stand-up comedian whose father was of Indian origin.