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BLOG: Sweden's political power forum - Day Three

The Local · 30 Jun 2015, 19:54

Published: 30 Jun 2015 07:00 GMT+02:00
Updated: 30 Jun 2015 19:54 GMT+02:00

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Tuesday June 30th

8.05pm Football

That's it from The Local's live blog for today. Like Sweden's Prime Minister, we're off to see if Sweden can defeat Portugal in the Under-21 European Championship final.

Ebba Busch Thor didn't mention if she'd be watching the game, although we'll bet her husband Niklas Thor - a player for IK Sirius FK - will be watching.

Good luck Sweden!

8.00pm A long road

With three years to go until the next general election in Sweden, Ebba Busch Thor has time on her side as she attempts to make an even bigger impact on the political scene.

But it will be an uphill struggle. The party only just reached the four-percent threshold needed to secure seats in the Swedish parliament in the last national vote in September 2014 and has failed to demonstrate much growth in recent opinion polls.

7.58pm New critics

Busch Thor's debut Almedalen speech has predictably ruffled some feathers though. Martin Sundelius, a journalist for a sports programme on Swedish Radio tweeted:

"I have rarely heard a more over the top and forced speech than the one by Ebba Busch Thor tonight. Is she preparing for a crusade?"

7.50pm New supporters?

The Local has also spoken to voters who usually pick the largest centre-right opposition party, the Moderates, which recently selected Anna Kinberg Batra, 45, as its new leader.

Hannes Kataja said he was impressed by Ebba Busch Thor's speech.

"I think it was fun. Unexpected to start the speech on foreign policy. And the way she rounded off the speech was funny and pretty personal."

Caroline Högström added: "You could tell it was her first time. She sounded a bit nervous in the beginning. But there was a lot of typical Christian Democrat stuff in the speech; it was nice that it was based on ideology."

Hannes (left) and Caroline. Photo: The Local

7.45pm Reaction

Her speech seems to have gone down well with party supporters.

Carl Olehäll, a member of the Christan Democrat youth wing told The Local's reporter Emma Löfgren in Almedalen park that he thought her efforts were "very good".

Asked if he thought she could help attract younger voters to the struggling party, he added: "I think Ebba is well-posed to attract broad support overall."

Carl Olehäll. Photo: The Local

7.40pm Immigrants and individuality

Thanks for following our live coverage of Christian Democrat leader Ebba Busch Thor's debut speech at Almedalen, Sweden's political power week.

Her centre right party may be small, but the young leader appears to have made a big impact.

To recap on her key themes, she spoke about wanting to introduce temporary residency permits for asylum seekers, parents being allowed to make their own minds up about who should take parental leave and wanting to crack down on high taxes and Islamist extremists.

7.33pm And that's a (crying) wrap

Moments after mentioning motherhood, Busch Thor has ended her speech by joking (or possibly speaking seriously, we're not sure!) that she can hear her son Birger crying. She's just left the stage to a huge round of applause. 

7.31pm Babies

Ebba Busch Thor has recently had her first child and is officially still on parental leave. She's criticised the Social Democrat-Green government's welfare policies, suggesting Sweden has become too much of a "nanny state".

The Social Democrat party is trying to encourage more parents to split parental leave equally between them. Busch Thor believes it should be up to each family to decide.

She has previously said that her husband Niklas Thor, a football player for IK Sirius FK, will claim the lion's share of their parental leave.

7.26pm Integration

The 28-year-old is back on the topic of immigration now. She doesn't like the idea of new arrivals being given preferential treatment.

The leader has also warned against Swedish tolerance, adding that people risk fundamentalist views going unopposed by being too scared to offend other ethnicities and nationalities.

7.21pm A record breaking speech

Ebba Busch Thor is the youngest political leader to head a party in Sweden and this is her first speech at Almedalen. In fact, this is her first major public appearance since she was selected to lead the party in April.

7.20pm Immigration

As expected, Sweden's rising immigration population is getting some attention from the leader.

Ebba Busch Thor has told the crowd that she wants asylum seekers to be given temporary rather than permanent residency permits.

7.18pm Taxes

Next up, taxes. Her centre-right party has long campaigned for cuts. Busch Thor has pushed a familiar message to her supporters.

7.16pm Welfare

The Christan Democrat leader is clearly trying to demonstrate that she understands what makes ordinary Swedes tick.

"Most people are too worried about the future to care about Almedalen" she has told the crowds, and criticised what she has described as the failing Swedish welfare state.

7.10pm Islamist extremists

Busch Thor has moved on to discussing terrorism and cited recent figures from Sweden's intelligence agency Säpo which suggest that at least 300 Swedes have fought alongside radical Islamist groups in the Middle East.

She has said that the Christian Democrats would like to go further than the current government in punishing Swedes who join Isis, by charging them with treason.

The policy suggestion has won her a huge applause.

7.04pm Russia

Dressed in a light pink jacket, Busch Thor looks fairly confident as she addresses Russian aggression as her first topic, noting that Swedes are becoming increasingly concerned about their eastern neighbour.

The centre-right leader has said that Sweden must seek to work more closely with Nato.

7.02pm Busch Thor takes to the stage

The leader has thanked people for coming to watch her. At just 28 she notes that this is her eighth Almedalen, but her first as a party leader.

7.00pm Crowds gather

It's crowded in Almedalen park where Christian Democrat leader Ebba Busch Thor's speech will start any moment. But her supporters are being entertained by Sweden's Eurovision hero.

6.54pm Sweden's youngest political leader

The Christian Democrats might be the smallest party in the Swedish parliament but they have certainly captured attention at Almedalen. 

Ebba Busch Thor, 28, is the first woman to lead the party and the youngest ever leader in the Swedish parliament. She's just had a baby boy by the way and is officially still on parental leave.

She's expected to address several themes already outlined in media interviews throughout the day including relaxing labour laws to make it easier for companies to lay off the staff they want to go, rather than the newest team members automatically being asked to leave, introducing temporary rather than permanent residency permits for asylum seekers and tougher penalties for Swedish citizens known to have fought alongside extremist groups.

If you need a quick brush up on who's who in Swedish politics ahead of Busch Thor's keynote speech, don't miss The Local's handy guide.

Ebba Busch Thor being interviewed at Almedalen. Photo: TT

5.18pm Feminists

Sweden’s Feminist Initiative party failed to score any seats in September’s general election, despite rising support. But as always at Almedalen, the group is making its presence heard. Leader Gudrun Schyman is famous for burning 100,000 kronor (around $13,000) at the political conference on Gotland five years ago. This afternoon, she made a more low key speech.

5.17pm World attention

While Almedalen is one of the biggest political gatherings on the planet that most people outside Sweden know nothing about, it is starting to grab global attention. The Local's Maddy Savage was invited to explain what goes on at the conference on the BBC's Outside Source programme earlier this afternoon.

4.57pm Sweden versus Portugal

Sweden's Prime Minister Stefan Löfven has admitted he won't be sticking around to mingle at networking events at Almedalen this evening because he wants to watch the European Under-21s Championship final.

Sweden takes on Portugal, with both sides hoping to take the title for the first time.

Asked by Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet on Tuesday if he thought football was "en sossesport" (a socialist sport), he replied: "Yes, absolutely, this is a sport that everyone can engage with...we see around the world that football is something you dot need to be rich to enjoy."

The game gets underway at Prague's Eden Stadium at 8.45pm local time.

Some of Sweden's Under 21 team celebrating a previous goal against Denmark. Photo: TT

3.24pm Foreign workers

The Local’s James Savage is at a seminar organised by Saco, a union representing graduate professionals in Sweden.

The role of foreign workers in Sweden’s economy is being discussed as well as how to help immigrants integrate into Swedish society.

Irene Wennemo, State Secretary Sweden’s Minister for Employment Ylva Johansson has told the gathering that many asylum seekers come from Syria and speak both English and Arabic, two major world languages. 

Noting that many live in large immigrant suburbs, she recognised that it is hard for them to learn Swedish if they are not meeting others who speak it for real, aside from at occasional language lessons.

The seminar has also learned how long it can take for some highly qualified professionals to be cleared to work in Sweden. For pharmacists the wait is usually two years.

3.12pm Terrorism on the table

Prime Minister Stefan Löfven got a huge cheer during his speech last night when he spoke about fighting terrorism. But exactly how to do that remains a matter of sharp debate in Sweden.

Earlier on Tuesday the Folke Bernadotte Academy (also known as the Swedish Agency for Peace, Security and Development) hosted a seminar and panel discussion, entitled “Time to talk to the terrorist?”

British diplomat and former chief of staff to Tony Blair, Jonathan Powell, was a key speaker at the event, along with Swedish diplomat Ingmar Karlsson and Swedish journalist Bitte Hammargren.

“Politicians will lie in parliament if asked about negotiations with terrrorists. We always do this, we always say we will not talk to terrorists, but we do,” said Powell.

“Politicians don't want to discuss these things in public. We need to let them discuss it in private it we want it to succeed.”

“You've got to keep going with negotiating processes and let that bicycle keep going, not knock it over.”

Asked if Sweden - which has enjoyed peace for more than 200 years could play a special role in such talks, Bitte Hammegren told the audience:

“Sweden did create such a space [for negotiation] between Jewish representatives and PLO [Palestine Liberation Organisation]...after that Sweden lost the ball to Norway. I do think that Sweden can still play a role. However, Sweden's image has been tarnished over the years. I don't think we can speak with the same moral high-brow attitude that we used to."

Powell (left) attended the seminar along with Swedish diplomat Ingmar Karlsson and Swedish journalist Bitte Hammargren. Photo: The Local

3.03pm Veteran visitors

While Almedalen is the place to be seen if you work in business or politics, in theory it remains a forum that is open to anyone, although hotels and campsite places sell out fast.

Karl Pettersson, a retired mechanical engineer, and Tove Petterson, a former physiotherapist, have been coming to the conference for 35 years. The live in Stockholm and own a summer house on Gotland.

"We are just interested in the themes here, we are not members of a particular party," Tove told The Local.

"Every interest is represented here, every community...from political groups representing every view to physical therapists to yoga people, the Red Cross, everyone can come here and be informed."

She added that she had noticed the event becoming bigger and more commercial in recent years but still felt it had a value.

"It's not a problem for us, but for people coming from Stockholm it is becoming more of a problem finding somewhere to stay. Every ferry and every plane is overbooked."

"We have been here since before Midsummer," smiled Karl. "We spend two to three months here each year."


1.30pm Green matters

Global as well as national issues are being tackled at Almedalen. Sweden’s environment minister Åsa Romson has been speaking in the European Commission’s panel discussion on climate change. 

Romson said she was feeling positive about the chances of reaching a “powerful, ambitious” deal at the Paris Climate Change Conference in December - not the kind of words that usually trip lightly from the lips of Green politicians.

So why have things improved so much?

Johan Kuylenstierna, head of the Stockholm Environment institute, told the panel that a key change was the “explosion of interest” in climate change from the global financial sector.

“Industry knows climate change is global problem and it needs to take global responsibility,” he said.

Peter Wallin, CFO of construction giant Skanska, said urbanisation and infrastructure were key to tackling the problem.

But the European Commission’s Pierre Schellekens pointed out that the road is still long to reach a deal.

"If the current pace of negotiation is kept up, we have one and a half minutes to negotiate every line of the deal. And even if we get a deal, it won’t be enough on its own to reach the target of a 2 percent rise in global temperatures," he said.


1.10pm Fewer refugees?

After rumours this morning that Sweden’s youngest political leader, Ebba Busch Thor, 28, was courted by the nationalist Sweden Democrat party in December 2014, before she took over at the helm of the Christian Democrats, she has been addressing the issue of immigration head on.

Her party is in favour of temporary residency permits for asylum seekers, rather than the permanent ones that Sweden currently hands out. She has also called on other EU nations to share the burden of growing numbers of refugees escaping violence in the Middle East and Africa.

“I think that if we can harmonise things between Sweden and other countries, if we move to a temporary residency permit instead of a permanent one, I think more people will look to move to other countries and fewer will come to Sweden. And I think that would be good,” Busch Thor told the TT news agency.

Ebba Busch Thor at Almedalen this week. Photo: TT

12.52pm Island life

More than 20,000 people are crammed into Visby to attend over 3,000 events this week. But away from the jam packed cobbled streets in the walled Medieval city centre, life goes on for Gotland residents. The suburbs remain quiet and peaceful; The Local spotted pensioners tending to a communal allotment and children enjoying the sunshine at a playground when we took a stroll in northern Visby earlier in the day.

12.00pm Saab announces billion-kronor deal at Almedalen

Almedalen is also the time for large businesses to flex their muscles and the week often includes one or two surprise announcements.

On that note, Swedish defence giant Saab has just revealed it has signed an 8.6 billion kronor ($1.04 billion) deal to build two new submarines for Sweden's military at a press conference in Visby.

11.01am Getting down to the nitty-gritty of Swedish politics

It's impossible to walk five metres in Visby this week without overhearing politicians and pundits as they discuss the hottest current affairs topics of the day.

The tabloid Expressen's political reporter Niklas Svensson is interviewing a long list of Swedish ministers live on stage today. Here's Home Affairs Minister Anders Ygeman earlier, talking about terrorism, surveillance and policing.

10.00am Heavy heads

Almedalen's tents are starting to fill up, although we're pretty sure there are plenty of tired Swedes among the crowds. This week is as much about networking and mingling as it is actually listening to political debates. Here's a flavour of one of the after parties last night.

8.45am Sweden Democrats tried to lure female leader

Swedish newspapers are full of the revelation that the new young leader of the Christan Democrats, Ebba Busch Thor, was apparently courted by the nationalist Sweden Democrats at the end of last year.

Tabloid Aftonbladet broke the story, printing minutes of a meeting it says took place during Sweden’s political crisis, when Prime Minister Stefan Löfven briefly called a snap election, a move which was later reversed.

Story continues below…

“Because we are a party that is growing very fast, we can benefit from linking up with skilled and competent politicians,” Henrik Vinge, a press officer for the party confirmed to Aftonbladet.

But he would not comment on whether Busch Thor was involved in any specific discussions.

Göran Hägglund was still leader of the Christian Democrats at the time of the alleged talks, with 28-year-old Busch Thor taking over in April.

Ebba Thor has been leading the Christian Democrats since April 2015. Photo: TT

8.20am Press centre

We're blogging from the press centre in Almedalen right now, which seems to embody Swedish stereotypes this morning. There's plenty of strong black coffee, open sandwiches (smörgås) and even some locally grown tomatoes and carrots for journalists to snack on. It's a huge open plan room but most reporters here are sitting as far away from each other as possible - respecting personal space. You could hear a pin drop.

7.01am Labour laws

The Christian Democrats have already put labour laws top of their agenda at Almedalen.

In Sweden all companies - regardless of their size - can by law operate a 'last-in-first-out' policy for new employees. Currently two exceptions can be made, but the Christian Democrats want this extended to four people.

"It needs to be less risky to make hires and more flexible for businesses to adapt and retain key employees in times of rapid change in the world around us," leader Ebba Busch Thor has written in a debate article in Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet.

6.58am Who are the Christian Democrats anyway?

Here's a bit more information on the Christian Democrats:

These politicians have religious roots and have been trying build wider support in recent years, but the party is struggling to gain popularity. It only just reached the four-percent threshold needed to secure seats in the Swedish parliament in the last general election in September 2014, having previously held top ministerial posts as part of the centre-right Alliance. Busch Thor has said that she plans to promote the party's traditional conservative values and to fight to increase rights for families in Sweden.

6.35am Good morning!

Welcome back to The Local's live coverage of Almedalen - the biggest political gathering that most of the world has never heard of. The island of Gotland is the hottest place on the planet to be this week if you're a campaigner, journalist, politician or entrepreneur.

Last night Social Democrat leader Stefan Löfven took to the stage and made his first Almedalen speech since becoming Prime Minister. We blogged the key moments here.

On Tuesday, the Christian Democrats will dominate the agenda. The centre-right party is the smallest in parliament and its head, Ebba Bush Thor, 28, is the youngest leader of a Swedish parliamentary party in history.

Don't miss The Local's guide to who's who in Swedish politics

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

The Local (news@thelocal.se)

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