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BLOG: Sweden’s political power forum – Day One

Centre Party leader Annie Lööf kicked off Almedalen on Sunday, the annual conference where Swedish politicians, lobbyists, journalists and campaigners gather to debate on the island of Gotland.

BLOG: Sweden's political power forum - Day One
Centre Party leader, Annie Lööf, giving her keynote speech. Photo: TT

Sunday June 28th

8.21pm

Thanks for joining us on the first day of Almedalen 2015. We'll be back on Monday, when Prime Minister Stefan Löfven's Social Democrat party will dominate the agenda.

If you're tweeting about Almedalen in English, don't forget to use the hashtag #AlmedalenENG.

8.20pm

We're about to wrap up our blog for tonight, but before we go, here is a recap of Centre Party leader Annie Lööf's key points:

– Small business owners should stop being charged a payroll tax for their first member of staff during the first two years they are employed, for salaries up to 15,000 kronor a month.

– The lower threshold for state income tax should be raised from 36,900 to 37,400 kronor. 

– Chemical taxes should be introduced on flame retardants in electronics products such as refrigerators, freezers, dishwashers, washing machines, dryers and computers.

Lööf made it clear that she wanted reforms in the job market to help cut unemployment and allow more people to change professions.

She said she continued to back Sweden's open approach to immigration.

8.00pm

Centre Party leader Annie Lööf is now being quizzed by Swedish media about her speech by Swedish public broadcaster SVT, which is hosting a debate programme live from Almedalen.


Photo: TT

7.55pm

If you're just joining us, welcome to The Local's live blog from Almedalen, Sweden's annual political conference.

Each day a different party leader will take to the stage in Almedalen park on the island of Gotland.

Annie Lööf has just been speaking for the Centre Party, which currently has 22 seats in the Swedish parliament.

The party has rural roots, emerging from Sweden's Farmers' League, which was set up more than one hundred years ago. Agricultural issues remain key concerns alongside allowing local communities to make their own decisions. More recently the party has tried to attract urban voters by promising help for small businesses. 

7.52pm

Political analysts are now rushing to share their thoughts on Lööf's speech on social media and on Swedish news websites.

Most agree that the Centre Party leader did not sway far from her party's traditional ideals and themes.

However her focus on green taxes and environmental issues suggests that she is perhaps making a play for disillusioned Green Party voters.

7.43pm

Lööf has concluded her speech to a standing ovation and been given a bunch of flowers, as is standard practice at major political events in Sweden. Her supporters are waving banners and green balloons.

7.37pm

Several political commentators have noted that Lööf has dedicated quite a lot of her speech to green issues, including raising taxes on certain household chemicals.

“The bourgeoisie must stop dodging environmental issues,” she told the crowd a few moments ago, to a large applause.

Lööf has also said she wants to defend Sweden's “open society” but argued that much more must be done to improve the integration of the growing number of asylum seekers arriving in the Nordic nation.

7.32pm

Lööf has also been talking about pensioners and how she is personally concerned for elderly relatives and wants to make life “more bearable” for them. Her party is in favour of more choice when it comes to healthcare and welfare, she has said.

One policy her party is mooting is giving anyone over 75 a set number of hours a month to get state help with “whatever they need”. For example being taken for a walk, being accompanied on a grocery shop or getting cleaning assistance.

 

7.31pm

The Local's Commercial Content Editor David Landes is watching Lööf's speech and just tweeted this photo.

7.28pm

So far, so expected. Lööf is sticking to the issues outlined in the Centre Party's policy document which was released earlier in Sunday.

The paper calls for tax cuts for small businesses, an increase in the threshold for income tax and tax hikes on electrical goods such as computers and washing machines.

7.27pm

Lööf is addressing Sweden's rising inequality. She says that under the Alliance government, the average family saw its household budget rise. But she notes that in four out of ten Swedish homes there is still not enough cash left at the end of the month to save anything. Lööf says her party wants to lower income tax.

7.25pm

According to Lööf, more shorter training courses should be available to help people who want to change careers or return to further education. This approach was a key policy of the previous Alliance government.

7.20pm

Here's what Annie Lööf looks like up on the stage. Right now she's talking about how the Centre Party would improve jobs training in Sweden.


Photo: TT

7.15pm

Wearing a hot pink dress and a navy jacket, Lööf has a captive audience. She's focusing on criticising the government's jobs policies.

The leader has accused Prime Minister Stefan Löfven of dressing up '90s politics in new clothes and offering too many trainee posts to unemployed people instead of real jobs.

7.10pm

If you're new to Swedish politics here are a few facts about Lööf, who is 31. She became MP for Jönköping County in southern Sweden when she was just 23 years old and was selected to become leader of the party in 2011. She has a degree in law and lives in Nacka, Stockholm. In April she announced that she and her husband, Carl-Johan Lööf, were due to have a baby in autumn.

7.07pm

Lööf has talked about the strong bonds between her party and the other centre-right Alliance groups that made up the previous government, led by former Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt. She's drawn comparisons to the trees that have been growing at Almedalen for many years and remain strong.

“Some say it was better before. I can agree that it was better before September last year,” she has told the crowd.

But she has also suggested that the Alliance parties need to be more self-critical.

7.02pm

Annie Lööf has taken to the stage. She was welcomed by huge cheers from supporters enjoying the evening sunshine on Gotland.  

6.53pm 

Centre Party leader Annie Lööf is set to make her keynote speech in less than ten minutes. She'll be the first party leader to take to the stage during Almedalen 2015.

4.20pm

Swedish newspaper Expressen has also been talking to Centre Party leader, Annie Lööf, ahead of her speech this evening. She said that she will attack the government, and especially Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, on his jobs policies.

“Löfven talks about jobs, jobs, jobs,” she said.

“But when it comes down to it, he chooses every time to raise taxes on jobs, jobs, jobs. Even the government's own experts, the Fiscal Policy Council, says that government policies will reduce employment by up to 30,000 people.”

The government’s coalition partners, the Green Party, will also come under fire from Lööf.

“The Social Democrats and the Green Party in government is something of an unholy alliance against jobs. The Green Party's ideas of zero growth coupled with Löfven’s tax on jobs and entrepreneurship is a toxic combination that will hold Sweden back.”

Strong stuff from Lööf, pictured below arriving at Almedalen this morning. We'll bring you the highlights from her speech which gets underway at 7pm.


Photo: TT

12.47pm

Swedish newspaper Expressen has been put together a list of the top 150 movers and shakers at Almedalen. Here are its top 20 power players (in Swedish, but with plenty of guess-the-Swede photos to help you out).

10.52am

The Centre Party is in focus throughout Sunday.

It has produced a policy document calling for tax cuts for small businesses, an increase in the threshold for income tax and tax hikes on electrical goods such as computers and washing machines.

The details of it's wish-list should it re-gain a place in government are:

Small business owners will not have to pay payroll tax for their first employee during the first two years for salaries up to 15,000 kronor. Companies can only use the tax break once. Estimated cost: 2.6 billion kronor

Raise the lower threshold for state income tax of 36,900 to 37,400 kronor. Estimated cost: 1.3 billion kronor

Chemical taxes on flame retardants in electronics products such as refrigerators, freezers, dishwashers, washing machines, dryers and computers.Tax increases of 3.5 billion kronor

Centre Party leader Annie Lööf is selling the tax increases as a new kind of green tax.

“Sweden is an environmental role model in the world. We have been able to reduce the tax burden on jobs and business, thus strengthening our growth. At the same time, we have reduced our emissions. The proposed tax on flame retardants in electronic products is a green tax.”

READ ALSO: The Local's ultimate guide to Sweden's political leaders

10.37am

There's a huge amount of preparation that goes into putting this week together. Here's what one corner of the site looked like yesterday afternoon.


Photo: TT

10.20am

Almedalen takes place in Visby, on the island of Gotland. It's a stunning location for a conference.

Here's what it looked like on Saturday.


Photo: TT

Politicians can look forward to a week of sunshine if forecasters are right. Temperatures are set to be between 18 and 22C for the more than 20,000 people expected to attend the annual event.

Click here to check the full weather forecast for Almedalen or your region of Sweden

10.00am

Welcome to The Local's live coverage of Almedalen, the biggest event of the year in Swedish politics. Click here to find out why it's worth following our coverage throughout the week, whether you work in business, education or the not-for-profit sector or are simply spying on Swedish news from afar.

In short, Almedalan packs every Swedish political party's annual conference into eight days.

The Centre Party kicks off this year's gathering. Events are taking place throughout Sunday, with leader Annie Lööf taking to the stage at 7pm.

For members

SWEDEN ELECTS

Sweden Elects: I’ve got election pork coming out my ears this week

The Local's editor Emma Löfgren rounds up this week's key talking points of the Swedish election campaign.

Sweden Elects: I've got election pork coming out my ears this week

There’s an old Swedish Word of the Day in The Local’s archives: valfläsk (literally “election pork”, or pork barrel politics).

This week, there’s been enough of it to feed a Swedish town large enough for both a Biltema and a Dressmann store and still have half the pig left!

You could say it started the week before last, when the Social Democrats’ Immigration Minister Anders Ygeman floated a test balloon loaded with a 50-percent cap on non-Nordic residents in troubled neighbourhoods (it went down among the other parties like it was made out of lead).

Then last week, the Liberals threw their hat in the ring by proposing mandatory language assessments for two-year-olds who don’t attend preschool, and then make preschool mandatory for the toddlers whose Swedish isn’t deemed good enough. This, they said, was meant to help integration in areas where bilingual children don’t speak Swedish at home.

“Studies show that early preschool benefits children whose mothers are low-educated and whose parents are born abroad,” their manifesto read.

Liberal leader Johan Pehrson’s statement that in the most extreme cases – where parents clearly refuse to let their children learn Swedish – led to a social media storm that conjured up images of crying toddlers being taken into care for failing to distinguish between en and ett when quizzed.

For any parents of multilingual children (who know better than most how language works in early childhood – I’m raising a multilingual baby myself, but I’ve only just started so if you have any tips, do let me know!), I should stress that the proposal is less extreme than how it was first presented.

This is typical for valfläsk, by the way. Take something that’s perfectly obvious and hard to argue against (of course mixed neighbourhoods and children being encouraged to learn languages are generally good things) but dial it up a notch, insert something immigration-related, promise to get tough on whatever it is you want to get tough on, and propose either something that already exists or would be near-impossible to implement.

Then the Stockholm branch of the conservative Moderates proposed that entire school classes in vulnerable areas should be screened for ADHD through optional rapid tests, in order to increase the comparably lower rate of medication among foreign-born children and prevent them from falling into a life of crime.

“Detached from reality,” said their Social Democrat rival and pointed out that the partly Moderate-run region was planning to cut the number of psychiatric care clinics for young people.

The Christian Democrats, never ones to be outdone, wanted to chemically castrate sex offenders, give police access to healthcare biobanks, and let police take DNA samples from people stopped in internal border checks.

But while many of the election pledges that get tossed around this close to the election (less than a month to go, now!) tend to range from the radical to the ridiculous and are unlikely to ever be implemented, they’re still worth paying attention to. They give us an indication of the direction the parties want to take, and could well reappear in a more watered-down format later on during the governmental cycle.

They may also become part of post-election negotiations, where even small parties hold key cards as the larger parties fight to cobble together viable government coalitions.

They also say something about Sweden and the direction of the political sphere as a whole, where the parties are currently racing to outdo each other on who can be toughest on immigration and law and order.

The Local’s reporter Becky Waterton has gone through all the parties’ election pledges to see how they specifically would affect foreign residents in Sweden – in case you’ve missed her article, click here to read it.

Also in the world of Swedish politics, a new poll by SVT and Novus has the Moderates and the Sweden Democrats neck and neck, Moderate leader Ulf Kristersson promised lower taxes in his summer speech and Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson tougher sentences on gang criminals in hers, and Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Åkesson suggested changing the name of the Swedish Prison and Probation Service (Kriminalvården) to the Penal Office (Straffverket).

Sweden Elects is a new 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 plus several extra features as a newsletter in their email inbox each week. Just click on this “newsletters” option or visit the menu bar.

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