BLOG: Sweden's political power forum - Day Four

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BLOG: Sweden's political power forum - Day Four
Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Åkesson, speaking on Wednesday. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

The nationalist Sweden Democrat party's leader Jimmie Åkesson has told his nation's biggest political conference that he wants to create a better county for children and crack down on extremism.


Wednesday, July 1st

8.20pm Good night

That's almost it from The Local's live blogging team. Thanks for following our coverage throughout the day.

If you'd like to join international discussions about this year's Almedalen conference, don't forget to use the hashtag #AlmedalenENG if you're writing in English.

Thursday's agenda is set to be dominated by the government's junior coalition partner, the Greens. We'll be tweeting all the key moments.

8.10pm Trending

'Åkesson' is currently the third biggest trending topic on Twitter, but the majority of comments are criticising the Sweden Democrat leader for making such a long speech, with plenty describing it as "boring" and "unclear".

Commentator Sofia Mirjamsdotter tweeted: "Clearest party, vaguest speech".

But the far right nationalist clearly has plenty of strong supporters too.

Irina Sedova (below) said she thought his speech was "great".

"Jimmie Åkesson speaks his mind and stands up for Sweden and its children," she told The Local.

8.01pm A family friendly party?

So, Sweden's far right, anti-immigration group is trying to position itself as the most family-friendly party in Sweden.

Jimmie Åkesson's speech has predictably stirred strong emotions from both his supporters and critics - made obvious by the cheering and heckling we mentioned earlier, as well as the protestor who tried to join him on stage.

Andrea (pictured below on the right), told The Local: "I thought it was a bad speech."

She was there with Peter, who continued: "He's trying to present easy answers to difficult questions. But these issues are too complicated to be solved in simplistic ways."

7.55pm It's all over

Anti-immigration Åkesson ended his speech in English, saying "the sky's the limit". Earlier in the day The Local quizzed his party secretary Richard Jomshof about the increased use of the global language in Sweden.

He said that all refugees must become fluent in Swedish but added “it’s okay” for foreign businesspeople to use English instead.

7.48pm He's still going...

This is the longest speech of the week so far.

7.45pm December Agreement

Jimmie Åkesson has criticised the December Agreement reached by Sweden's mainstream political parties after the Sweden Democrats attempted to block the Social Democrat-Green government's budget at the end of last year.

READ ALSO: Do you understand how Sweden is being run?

7.43pm More heckling

7.41pm Individual parenting

The nationalist leader is talking about parental leave again - it is clear that he no longer wants his anti-immigration group to be viewed as a one policy party.

7.38pm A captive audience

Many of Åkesson's supporters are carrying banners and balloons. Here's a photo of the audience, taken by the TT news agency.

7.37pm Paid sick leave for preschool staff

The Sweden Democrats announced earlier on Wednesday that they want to change the rules on sick pay to make sure that preschool teachers do not go to work when they are ill.

Åkesson has told his audience that he hopes the move will reduce infections spreading among children, staff and their parents.

Currently anyone working in Sweden does not get paid for the first day they take off work due to sickness, with wages on subsequent days usually capped at 80 percent of individual salaries. 

Åkesson has said his new policy will cost Swedish state around 250 million kronor a year, but will save money in the long term.

7.31pm A protestor interrupts

A woman dressed in white and wearing flowers in her hair has just been escorted away from the speech area by police. She tried and failed to reach the stage where the nationalist leader is speaking.

7.29pm Parental leave

Sweden's generous parental leave policies are world famous, but like Christan Democrat leader Ebba Busch Thor on Tuesday night, Åkesson has criticised the government's push to get more fathers to take at least three months off work when they have children. He believes that it should be up to parents to decide who should take leave and when, rather than politicians.

7.26pm Family friendly?

"Children are the most important thing we have" the far right leader has said.

7.24pm Children in focus

Now Åkesson has returned to the family policies he announced earlier in the day. The leader has pledged that should his party get into government, kids in Sweden would experience the "best childhood in the world". He has told his audience about his joy at becoming a father 18 months ago.

7.23pm Heckling

We mentioned the noisy crowd earlier. But not everyone is cheering for the leader.

Photo: TT

7.22pm Competition

Jimmie Åkesson is clearly trying to position his far-right group as a mainstream rival to Sweden's centre-left government and the bloc of four centre-right Alliance parties that made up Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt's previous coalition. The banners behind the nationalist leader read "opposition party"

7.15pm Animated crowd

While all the party leaders who have spoken so far this week have attracted applause from their supporters, Åkesson's crowd is definitely the most vocal. He's getting whistles and cheers after almost every sentence. The nationalist has just made a joke about becoming Sweden's Prime Minister.

7.09pm Terrorism

Åkesson has stressed that the world needs to crack down on Islamist extremists and criticised Swedes who have made the journey to Iraq and Syria to fight alongside terror groups such as Isis.

7.07pm Immigration

He has quickly moved on to his favourite topic: immigration. The nationalist leader wants to limit the number of refugees seeking asylum in Sweden.

7.06pm Praise for Sweden's young footballers

Åkesson has congratulated Sweden's Under-21 team which won the European Championship on Tuesday night.

7.03pm Sweden's nationalist leader speaks

6.50pm The countdown begins

At 7pm, Sweden's most controversial party leader will take to the stage. Jimmie Åkesson, head of the nationalist Sweden Democrats (the country's third largest party) has so far spent the day talking about his party's family policies. But he's expected to address his main goal shortly: cutting immigration. The Local's Emma Löfgren is already in place to watch the action.

6.42pm Sweden's heroes

Almedalen isn't the only mass gathering hitting the headlines in Sweden today. Thousands of Swedish football fans headed to Kungsträdgården park in Stockholm this afternoon to welcome home the country's Under-21 football team which scored Sweden it's biggest sporting victory in decades on Tuesday night. Here in Visby, broadcaster TV4 showed the spectacle on a huge screen opposite Almedalen park.

Photo: The Local

5.35pm Women in Tech

Sweden has a world famous start-up scene, having spawned firms from household names such as Spotify and Skype (also claimed by Finland and Estonia) to card reader iZettle and of course The Local.

Plenty of entrepreneurs and would-be business owners are networking hard at Almedalen and while the majority of events here in Visby take place in Swedish, events for start-ups have a more international focus.

The Women in Tech event has just got underway. The keynote speaker is Karin Nilsdotter, CEO of Spaceport Sweden, which is trying to make the Nordic nation one of the first and leading countries in the world for manned spaceflights.

5.23pm Cutting through the jargon on deprivation

One trick for anyone trying to make sense of Almedalen is to cut through the jargon. Two bits of jargon The Local's Managing Editor James Savage has been dealing with this afternoon are ’social sustainability’ and ‘co-creation’. But these buzz words get to the heart of how to deal with one of Sweden’s biggest problems: integration.

According to Maria Borelius, who chairs an organization that helps immigrant women become entrepreneurs, Sweden has the rich world’s third most segregated job market: unemployment among native Swedes is very low; among immigrants, it’s extremely high. Immigrants live in different parts of cities to native Swedes, and these areas have big social problems. 

She says the problem is that when politicians, construction companies and others try to tackle problems in these areas, they often do it without talking to each other - and over the heads of the locals. You end up with solutions that don’t really solve the problems. That, in the jargon, is not socially sustainable. In other words, it won’t solve social problems for the long term.

In Malmö this led officials to start something called the Commission for a Socially Sustainable Malmö, which tried to get everyone affected to contribute ideas.

One concrete example of where this process led to concrete solutions was a project by Malmö housing company MKB to provide 100 apartments for homeless families. The city council was paying 50-60,000 kronor for families to live in hotels. MKB offered a solution in which these families were offered apartments - giving families a better life and slashing the costs for the council.

So behind the jargon, it seems there can be real results.

3.28pm Outdoor office space

We don't want to brag too much, but this is a truly beautiful place to work for a week. And plenty of the 20,000 people here are doing just that - bringing their laptops to the cafes, parks and beaches around Visby to write up their notes from event speeches or prepare their timetables for the coming days.

3.05pm The show goes on

While the Sweden Democrat are grabbing a lot of headlines with their unexpected focus on children's policies, there's plenty more going on elsewhere at Almedalen, with around half of the some 3000 events scheduled for this week still yet to take place.

Susanne Oxenstierna, from the Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI) was one of numerous speakers discussing grown Russian aggression in the region earlier this afternoon, noting that the two neighbours are "mutually dependent" due to Russia's sale of energy to Europe.

2.29pm Leaving the EU

Richard Jomshof has also shared his views on the UK’s upcoming referendum on membership of the European Union, which the Sweden Democrats are also in favour of quitting.

“I think they should [leave]….I don’t like that Europe is growing into some kind of United States, so I think it is good that England is talking about it…they are showing us the way I think and we are looking at them at the moment,” he told The Local.

Read The Local's full interview with one of Sweden's top nationalist politicians

12.33pm Business owners can get by without Swedish, but not refugees

While immigration has so far not been the focus of the Sweden Democrats (SD) at Almedalen, and access to the party leader Jimmie Åkesson has so far been extremely limited for journalists, The Local has managed to speak to party secretary Richard Jomshof about the SD’s thoughts on Sweden’s rising foreign population.

After immediately agreeing to speak in English himself, Jomshof said he had mixed feelings about the global language becoming more common in Swedish workplaces due to rising immigration.

“It depends…if you have a business for example - if you’re just planning to stay for six months or one year or so then it’s okay if you speak English, I mean of course. But if you are a refugee or whatever and you have a plan to stay here forever then you have to learn Swedish of course.”

11.55am Impressive performance?

Jimmie, a voter from Gothenburg, told The Local he had been impressed with the news conference.

"I like their policies. Unlike all the other parties who are trying to tell us when parents should have time off -- maybe three or even six months for fathers -- the Sweden Democrats are closer to what the people want. They want to let us make our own minds up."

He said he also supported the party's key message of cutting immigration, which was not mentioned at the press conference.

"Immigration stops Sweden being what it could be. We are a big country but we have a small population and having more people here will hurt the economy," he said.

Photo: The Local

11.48am What do voters think?

Tove, 18, left,  who has a Swedish mother and a British father, came to watch Åkesson speak "out of curiosity", she told The Local.

"Since the party got into parliament there has been so much more talk about immigration and integration and those kinds of issues," she said.

"I think it's good in a way because people weren't talking about these things before, but I don't agree with their [the Sweden Democrats] views."

Photo: The Local.

11.34am New directions?

Most seem to agree that it was an unusual press conference, with none of the party's spokespeople mentioning immigration -- the Sweden Democrats' key issue -- even once. Often accused of being a one-issue party, they are clearly trying to target a wider range of voters.

"We already know what they think [about immigration], they can stop harping on about it now," political scientist Stig-Björn Ljunggren has told public broadcaster SVT.

11.25am Press conference ends

That's the Sweden Democrats' presentation of their agenda over. Our editor Maddy Savage is going to stay behind at the press conference to try to get hold of key party representatives to find out more about their plans for the future.

11.20am Overcrowded classrooms

11.17am Sickness leave

The party's school politics spokesman, Stefan Jakobsson, is now talking about sick leave. As we mentioned earlier, further down in the blog, the Sweden Democrats want to change the current rules, where workers do not get paid for the first day they take off work due to sickness. Wages on subsequent days off are usually capped at 80 percent of their salaries.

11.15am Family politics

Carina Herrstedt, chairwoman of the Sweden Democrats' women's group, is now talking about parental leave. Currently two months are allocated to the so-called 'minority parent' (usually the father), which the centre-left government wants to increase to three months. The Sweden Democrats want to get rid of the policy completely. "Dads should not be forced to stay at home with their children," says Herrstedt. 

11.10am Broader policies

"We're now a big party, we need broader policies," Jimmie Åkesson is telling reporters. His party scored 12.9 percent of the vote in last September's general election, making them Sweden's third biggest party.

11.05am 'Childish politics'

Those are Åkesson's own words. Having attempted to give the nationalist party a softer image in recent years, the Sweden Democrat leader is now presenting a new party strategy focusing on children. 

11.00am Åkesson on stage

Jimmie Åkesson has started speaking to reporters at a press conference at Almedalen.

10.55am Football and immigration

Åkesson's Sweden Democrats want to radically cut immigration to Sweden, a discussion likely to be high on the agenda at Almedalen today. But how will Swedes, still high on their national Under-21 team's European victory yesterday, react to this? While all but two were born in Sweden, almost a dozen of the young football champions have foreign roots, with parents from countries such as Ghana, Finland, Poland, Kongo-Kinshasa and so on. Plenty of commentators on social media have already mentioned the irony.


10.45am Jimmie Åkesson meets the press

Sweden Democrat head Jimmie Åkesson is about to hold a press conference at Almedalen. The Local's editor, Maddy Savage, is there to find out what themes the nationalist leader will be addressing today. It's probably a fairly safe bet to assume immigration will be one of the topics.

8.58am Core issues

The Sweden Democrats take centre stage at Almedalen following claims that the party has courted several high profile members of the Christian Democrat party in recent months, including its new leader Ebba Busch Thor, as The Local revealed at the start of our live blog on Tuesday.

Speaking to Swedish public broadcaster SVT, Åkesson said on Wednesday that his party was “not very close” to the Christian Democrats, but admitted that the Sweden Democrats had held talks with them.

He also told the news network that he had noticed Sweden’s other political parties adapting their immigration policies as a result of the nationalists’ success.

Referring to Sweden’s Prime Minister’s speech at Almedalen on Monday, he said: “Stefan Löfven stood here on the scene the other day and talked about how he wants to forbid organized begging. The successes we have garnered in recent years have had an indirect effect on the other parties; we require them to adapt to our core issues.”

8.34am Sickness

While the key goal of the Sweden Democrats is cutting immigration, the party will be attempting to score media coverage of some of its other policies throughout the day, here at Almedalen.

Leader Jimmie Åkesson has already told Sveriges Radio program Ekot that he wants to change the rules on sick pay to make sure that preschool teachers do not go to work when they are ill, a move he believes will reduce infections spreading among children, staff and their parents.

Currently anyone working in Sweden does not get paid for the first day they take off work due to sickness, with wages on subsequent days usually capped at 80 percent of their salaries. 

Åkesson’s proposal is expected to cost the Swedish state around 250 million kronor a year.

The leader has himself recently returned from long term sick leave.

READ ALSO: Why nobody cares if a Swedish leader is off sick

Jimmie Åkesson at Almedalen. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

7.24am Who are Sweden's nationalists?

If you're new to Swedish politics, here are a few facts about the Sweden Democrats.

They were founded in 1988, evolving from far-right organizations with neo-Nazi roots. In recent years the party has worked to tone down its image as a racist and extremist group, including through mass expulsions of some of its more conservative members, causing a rift between the mother party and its youth wing which wants to pursue a more radical path. However, cutting immigration remains the party's main goal.

The group is Sweden's third biggest party following the 2014 election.

6.38am The Sweden Democrats

Welcome to our next slice of coverage from Almedalen, the week when Sweden’s political elite mingle with campaigners, start-ups, charities and locals on the Swedish island of Gotland.

Each day one party dominates the agenda and on Wednesday it is the turn of the nationalist Sweden Democrats. We're the only news organisation live blogging events in English.

Sweden's anti-immigration party scored 12.9 percent of the vote in the Nordic nation's last general election in September 2014 and has since seen its support swell, with one poll even suggesting that 20 percent of Swedes now back the nationalists.

Tonight, its leader Jimmie Åkesson - who recently returned from sick leave - will deliver his biggest speech of the year so far after taking part in media interviews and debates throughout the day.

New to Swedish politics? Here’s our guide to the eight parties you need to know about.

Want to join discussions about Almedalen in English? Use the hashtag #AlmedalenENG.

READ ALSO: How the Sweden Democrats went mainstream


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