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BLOG: Sweden's political power forum - Day Five

The Local · 2 Jul 2015, 20:22

Published: 02 Jul 2015 18:12 GMT+02:00
Updated: 02 Jul 2015 20:22 GMT+02:00

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Thursday July 2nd

8.20pm Three days to go

That's about it for today. Thanks again for following our live coverage.

We'll be back tomorrow with another live blog about the Moderate Party's day in the spotlight, followed by the Left Party on Saturday and the Liberals on Sunday.

This time last year its leader Fredrik Reinfeldt was Prime Minister. On Friday, new head Anna Kinberg Batra will take to the stage to reveal how the party hopes to make its way back into power by the time the next election takes place in three years time.

READ ALSO: Who's who in Swedish politics

8.10pm Green supporters

Green Party voter Tor Persson (below right) just told The Local that he's worried Fridolin focused too much on education on the stage at Almedalen.

"It's an import issue, but maybe they shouldn't let it take up half an hour of the speech. It's not the right priority for our party."

But with friends Lucas Henriksson and Rebecka Forsberg in agreement, he said he was generally happy with the tone of his speech, noting that it had felt "positive".

Lucas added: "It's good that he didn't attack other party leaders".

Meanwhile Rebecka said she thought it was fair that Fridolin talked so much about schools.

"It makes sense...he is the Education Minister," she noted.

Photo: The Local

7.52pm Reaction from Almedalen

The Local's reporter Emma Löfgren has been chatting to Swedes who watched Fridolin on stage.

Karolin Fridell, a member of the centre-right Liberal Party said she thought he had done a "good speech" but suggested that he had focused on policies similar to those already pushed by other parties - including her own.

"Great proposals, but they are not Green Party proposals," she added.

The centre-right Liberals have long focused on education and plenty of other commentors on social media have also suggested that the Greens appeared to stray too far into Liberal Party territory. 

"Fridolin's speech was a very open flirtation with fundamentally liberal voters," wrote Twitter user Sven Dahl.

Karolin Fridell. Photo: The Local

7.42pm Applause and a hug

Fridolin got a huge applause as his speech ended, with co-leader Åsa Romson quickly joining him on the stage and giving him a hug, before the pair posed together.

7.40pm "Proud" to welcome refugees

The 31-year-old leader is making it very clear that he supports Sweden's current refugee policies, which have seen the country take in more asylum seekers per capita than any other EU nation in recent years.

7.39pm Thanks to the centre-right

Fridolin is now touching on immigration and has thanked Sweden's former centre-right Moderate Party leader and Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt for promoting open immigration parties during the previous government.

7.36pm Creativity

Creativity is a word that Fridolin has used throughout his speech. He has said that Sweden must be more inventive in future and added that the country is not "lagom". This word doesn't have a direct translation in English, but roughly means "just enough". So Fridolin is suggesting that the nation should aim higher.

7.34pm Broadening support

The Green Party leader has said he wants to expand support for his political party.

It's time for Sweden to make a green push, "to make up for lost years", he has told the crowd.

7.29pm Co-leadership

Gustav Fridolin's co-leader Åsa Romson is in the audience, which mostly appears to be made up of party supporters. Last night, protestors heckled nationalist Sweden Democrat leader Jimmy Åkesson's speech.

7.26pm Climate change

After more than 20 minutes, the Green Party leader is now talking about environmental policies.

7.22pm Applause

The Green Party co-leader got a cheer a moment ago when he said that no pupils should get left behind in Sweden. He's now saying that schools need to focus more on learning and teaching and not just improving grades.

7.20pm Teaching teachers

Fridolin has praised his country's teachers and said they need more help to do their jobs even better. He has said that schools should not be afraid to make high demands on pupils but that both students and teachers need the right tools for this to work.

7.15pm Multi issue parties

As Sweden's Green Party's name suggests, it has a clear focus, but Fridolin is clearly trying to score the party a stronger reputation for its other policies.

His approach echoes that of the nationalist anti-immigration Sweden Democrats, who spent most of yesterday talking about improving preschools and children's rights in Sweden, rather than using the anti-refugee rhetoric they are best known for.

7.13pm A global reputation

Fridolin has criticised the growing number of free schools in Sweden, arguing that schools should focus on teaching, not making profits. He has also spoken about his country slipping down international education rankings in recent years.

7.10pm Education

Gustav Fridolin - a former teacher - has put education at the top of his agenda in his speech, ahead of environmental issues. Earlier in the day he said he wanted schools with high numbers of pupils leaving without basic qualifications to be given more resources and he is reiterating that message now.

7.09pm Proud of Sweden

7.07pm Gustav Fridolin arrives

The 31-year-old co-head of the Greens has arrived in Almedalen park. He's also Sweden's Education Minister.

6.55pm The Green Party's co-leader prepares to speak

If you're new to following Swedish politics, you might be wondering if both of the Green party's co-leaders are planning to take to the stage for the party's keynote speech. Åsa Romson will sit this one out, having spoken at last year's Almedalen. So Gustav Fridolin, who has been doing most of the major media interviews today will be in the spotlight.

6.50pm Keep it in the ground

With the Green party in the spotlight on Thursday, environmental groups including WWF, Greenpeace, Naturskyddsföreningen (Sweden's Nature Preservation Society) and Friends of the Earth as well as Svenska Kyrkan (the Church of Sweden) got together to stage a huge rally to promote sustainability this afternoon, marching through Visby.

"Keep it in the ground," chanted campaigners as they filled the cobbled streets of the city, calling for Sweden to focus more on renewable energy rather than fossil fuels.

The group also asked Swedish companies to "stop financing climate destruction".

"The fossil fuel industry will take our future away from us but we will not let it happen!" said a statement on the event's Facebook page.

6.36pm Pornography and surrogacy

Sveriges Kvinnolobby released an eight point manifesto campaigning for a "porn free" society earlier this week and is also strongly against surrogacy being introduced in Sweden (legislation on the issue is expected to be passed in the autumn).

"We think it violates human rights, asking women to use their bodies in this way," programme manager Stephanie Thogersen, programme manager told The Local.

The group's campaign will not be welcome news to childless couples in Sweden hoping to use a surrogate to carry their unborn children. 

6.20pm Feminist meet-up

Only parties with seats in parliament get the chance to put their leaders on the main stage during the official Almedalen Week, so Sweden’s Feminist Initiative Party (FI) won’t be making an appearance between now and Sunday, although they will be holding events next week.
In the meantime feminist issues are being discussed elsewhere in Visby. Sveriges Kvinnolobby, an umbrella group representing women’s rights has just held a mingle, with including plenty of men joining the crowds.
Oscar, 23, who voted for FI last year said:
"Feminist issues are very important and current," he said.
"It's a misunderstanding that the FI are a one issue party, because women's equality affects everything. I think a lot of people think we are equal in Sweden but we are not. Women still get paid a lot less than men."

Oscar, 23. Photo: The Local

His friend Jonathan, also 23, said he had voted for Prime Minister Stefan Löfven's Social Democrat party but that he still wanted to attend the mingle to "show support for women's issues".
But he said disagreed with the current government's push to encourage more men to take three months paternity leave. 
"Yeah, men can share the leave equally with women, why not? But I don't think that parents should be told what to do. You should have the opportunity to choose."

Jonathan, 23. Photo: The Local

4.02pm Sizzling Sweden

Almedalen is taking place as Sweden is finally enjoying the heatwave that has already swept across Europe. A Local reader at Almedalen sent us this snap of two police officers enjoying a break in the sunshine here in Visby. If you look closely, you can see one of them is snacking on an ice cream.

Photo: Private

3.46pm Back to school

Right that’s enough about business and foreign policy for now. 

Education is a huge issue at Almedalen and as we mentioned earlier the Green Party has put improving Sweden’s schools high on its agenda, alongside its more traditional environmental campaigning.

At a press briefing ahead of the party’s keynote speech at 7pm, co-leader Gustav Fridolin has told reporters that around 13 percent of Swedish pupils leave high school without basic qualifications.

“We have a growing inequality in the Swedish school system,” he said.

“Today, the fact is that the state’s money goes to the schools that already have the best preconditions [for students]”.

He said that his party - which is the junior coalition partner in Stefan Löfven’s Social Democrat-led government - was pushing to develop a system that would ensure that troubled schools were given a larger slice of state funding.

“If we are to have equal education system, then you have to give more money, more resources to the schools and students who need it most.”

Green co-leader Gustav Fridolin at Almedalen. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

3.22pm More migration chatter

Immigration has been a hot topic throughout the week and today Almedalen has heard from Cecilia Wikström, a Swedish MEP who is one of the most vocal campaigners in Europe fighting for "legal and safe routes to Europe" for migrants in the wake of the recent Mediterranean boat disasters.

While her speech focused on the need for Europe to unite in the wake of the humanitarian disaster, Migration Minister Morgan Johansson, who joined her at the seminar, talked about the positive contributions that asylum seekers could make to Swedish society.

He said that people arriving in Sweden now could end up hugely successful in future, citing the example of Sweden's top goal scorer in history, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who was born to immigrant parents as well as pop star Loreen, whose family moved to Scandinavia from Morocco.

READ ALSO: 'Swedes will compare this to the Holocaust'

3.12pm Grexit?

Asked by The Local what Greece leaving the euro would mean for the rest of us, Tina Fordham, Chief Global Political Analyst for Citi, who is at Almedalen said that the risk of disruption to the rest of the Eurozone economy "is certainly less now than it would have been a few years ago, but that’s not to say that it will be a minor event."

"The capacity of a Greek exit to disrupt Sweden is less than it was, but it’s not insignificant, so I think the logic for a deal still prevails."

"The main reason I think the creditors will hold their noses and make a reasonable deal, is because of what it says about the common currency more generally. If it is reversible, then that really undermines the strength of the union as a whole."

Asked about the recent Russian aggression in the Baltic region, she added: "Russia is signalling, to create anxiety, destabilise and to challenge the perception that being a Nato member state makes you safe.

It would be interesting if Sweden or Finland decided to join Nato, because it would be exactly the opposite of what I think we can agree Putin was hoping for, because it’s the expansion of Nato in the first place that was on his list of pet peeves."

READ ALSO: 'Threat from Russia? Bullshit. I'm not scared'

Tina Fordham taking part in a debate at Almedalen. Photo: The Local

3.03pm Top US bank exec 'blown away' by Almedalen

The Local has just caught up with Tina Fordham, Chief Global Political Analyst for Citi, one of the world's largest banks. UK based American Fordham was previously a senior advisor in the British Prime Minister's strategy unit.
She said she was "enchanted and mesmerised and blown away," by Almedalen.
"I went to the UK party conferences last year, and then the US as well. The idea that all the parties [in Sweden] come together in this peaceful place and have these convivial discussions, when politics are becoming more tribal and antagonistic everywhere else, is a real credit to Sweden," she said.

"I also think it’s a good idea to be on an island, away from everyday concerns and in a very serene environment, because it takes some of the poison out from what has turned into a very polarised and toxic political debate elsewhere," she added.

Citi is one of the international firms represented at Almedalen. Photo: TT

2.33pm Negative interest rates

Speaking of finance, there was shock a few hours ago when Sweden's central bank, the Riksbank, announced that it was slashing interest rates to -0.35 percent, a record low. Analysts said it was partly due to the crisis in Greece, which has strengthened the krona against the euro, meaning that Swedish firms hoping to export to other countries in the Eurozone could struggle as this pushes up costs for trading partners using the single currency.

When interest rates are negative, lenders (i.e. banks) have to pay to loan money or to make an investment. The basic idea behind negative rates is to stop organizations or people from making risky investments or transactions that could impact on the wider economy. There has been some chatter in the Swedish media that savers in Sweden could end up being charged to keep money in Swedish banks, as they deal with extra costs as a result.

So what do the clued-up visitors to Almedalen make of the decision? 

"I am a little bit bothered, although I don't save much right now," said Jonas, 22, who is a researcher at a lobbying firm based in Gothenburg.

"Swedes can be quite laid back about this sort of thing generally and we think the banks or government will just work this stuff out, but the idea of not making so much money on your savings or being charged to have them does annoy me."

Johanna, 42, a teacher from Stockholm added:

"I trust the Riksbank to sort things out. I am actually off to Spain next week so right now I am happy to know that I'll be able to spend a bit less than I had budgeted for because the euro is weaker. I've seen what's happening of the streets of Athens though and I really feel for the Greek people."

Swedish kronor. Photo: TT

2.16pm Anders Borg talks digitalisation

Former Swedish finance minister Anders Borg has told an audience in Almedalen that he sees digitalisation as one of the big challenges of our time.

Borg, who was finance minister in the centre-right government from 2006 until last year, said: “I get insights now I wish I’d had as finance minister, for instance on digitalisation”, which he said he feared was contributing to the creation of “angry men”, spurring on populism and threatening stability.

On the upside, he pointed to Sweden’s success as a start-up hub. Six of Europe’s thirteen ‘unicorn’ companies (startups whose valuation has exceeded $1bn) are Swedish, he said. An additional three are German, but owned in part by Swedish firm Kinnevik (for whom, it should be noted, he is an advisor).

Borg, who is now an advisor to global bank Citi, also criticised the policies of the new Social Democrat-led government, which he said should focus on reforming the public sector, increasing labour market flexibility and cutting taxes.

2.00pm International visitors

While most events at Almedalen take place in Swedish, this hasn't stopped international entrepreneurs from checking out the conference.

Hamed Khoramyar, who is originally from Iran, told The Local he had travelled to Gotland for the first time to promote his web hosting and security consulting firm, which is based in Stockholm.

"It's an impressive place and I've enjoyed going to a few seminars on foreign policy," he said.

"I am disappointed that so few events are in English, but I have enjoyed meeting people. The Swedes are very polite so I've had no problem talking to people, but we'll have to wait and see whether my new connections turn into anything," he added.

Photo: The Local

With the conference running through until Sunday, British expat Rebecca Reading has just arrived at Almedalen, where she's hoping to promote her new marketing and communications business in addition to exploring some of the island's nature.

"Gotland is absolutely stunning," she told The Local.

"I haven't been here long but I must say I haven't heard as many international voices as I do in Stockholm. It's a really interesting place to be though."

Photo: The Local

12.47pm Swedish charity helps women to help themselves

Almedalen is packed full of small Swedish charities, many working to ease big global problems like poverty in the developing world.

The Local's Managing Editor James Savage has spoken to one such organization. Hand in Hand is a charity financed by London-based tycoon Percy Barnevik that helps people in the developing world to become entrepreneurs. 

“We’ve trained two million women in entrepreneurialism over past twelve years, giving 10 million people a better life. The idea is that they can support themselves become economically active,” says general secretary Charlotte Boman.

Hand in Hand says it’s different from other organizations in that it focuses on empowering people to help themselves. It works by mobilising people, training them and then helping with micro-financing. The financing can only be used for productive investments.bringing people into a group or ‘study circle’.

The organization works in ten countries across Africa and Asia.

“We either support existing economic activity like vegetable cultivation, weaving, or help them to start something completely new like a bike repair shop, making jewellery or making pots.”

12.40pm Not all work and no play

Think TTIP and job contracts are too heavy subjects to get your head around on a sunny day like today? Not to worry, there are plenty of lighter topics on offer at Almedalen.

How about living out your childhood's space cowboy dreams at a seminar on the Swedish space industry? Or a talk discussing what humans will do when the robot apocalypse hits? You've already missed the figure skating workshop with Swedish NHL ice hockey legend Peter 'Foppa' Forsberg though; that one took place yesterday.

11.20am Temp contracts best way into work?

Employers' use of temporary job contracts is a touchy subject, not least for trade unions, who say that short-term jobs often leave workers exposed and exploited.

But Sweden’s main employers’ organization, the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise (Svenskt Näringsliv), says that temp jobs are a vital way into employment for jobless people. 

The Local's Managing Editor James Savage was at a seminar this morning, where Svenskt Näringsliv presented a survey by Statistics Sweden which showed that 80 percent of people who went from unemployment into a job last year went into a temporary job. They also showed that very large numbers of people in temp jobs then got a permanent position.

Researcher and The Local’s former columnist Nima Sanandaji argued that in a knowledge-based economy, temp jobs were key to helping people learn. “The most important factor for job security is your own competence,” he said. 

The leader of the youth arm of the centre-right Moderate Party, Rasmus Törnblom, said that Sweden was the worst country in Europe at creating people’s first job.

Restaurateur Anna Lallerstedt argued that many young people want temp jobs rather than permanent positions, citing a survey that showed that “young people are more worried about not having fun than not having a job.”

10.40am European politics

Returning to today’s agenda, while the Green Party is in the limelight, there’s plenty more going on throughout day five at Almedalen.

The Local’s CEO Paul Rapacioli is currently at Europahuset, the European Commission’s tent at Almedalen where TTIP is being debated.

Never heard of it? It stands for the Trade and Investment Partnership and it’s essentially about making it easier for the EU and US - the world’s two biggest economies - to work together.

The idea is that fresh bi-lateral trade agreements could reduce barriers to trade for big businesses. Everything from banking regulations to food safety laws and green legislation is being discussed by senior officials. Tariffs on exports, such as clothing made in the EU, could be removed. 

Critics argue that it may be tricky to harmonise safety standards between the US and EU, that extra trade could harm the environment. In the UK in particular there have been concerns that the move could possibly lead to the privatisation of more public services - with US firms running some national institutions.

10.15am DJ battle

We've been talking all week about how this is the best place in Sweden to mingle with some of the country's biggest movers and shakers and last night was no exception. 

In a rammed beach bar in Visby, government politicians from the Social Democrats and Green Party took part in a DJ battle with members of the centre-right opposition Alliance parties.

After pumping out tracks such as Hey Ya! by Outcast, Beyonce’s Run the World (Girls) as well as music from Swedish legends Abba, Avicii, Icona Pop and 2015 Eurovision winner Måns Zelmerlöw, the government’s team won the battle. It was led by Culture and Democracy Minister Alice Bah Kuhnke, with support from other big names including Home Affairs Minister Anders Ygeman and Health Minister Gabriel Wikström.

The opposition offered a more old school playlist, blasting out Queen, John Travolta, The Proclaimers and Jamiroquai.

Can you imagine politicians from any other country doing something like this?

Below are a few snaps from the event. We'll be back with more hard news shortly, we promise!

Huge crowds turned up to the event, with many turned away. Photo: TT

Alice Bah Kuhnke from the winning team. Photo: TT

9.15am Weapons exports

Last week a parliamentary investigation in Sweden concluded that countries that fall short of following the principles of democracy should not be allowed to buy weapons from the Scandinavian country.

The Green Party is strongly in favour of formally implementing a ban on exports to nations run by dictators.

"I hope that we will be the first country in the world to have such a ban," co-leader Gustav Fridolin told Swedish television network SVT earlier.

READ ALSO: Swedish weapons exports in spotlight

9.09am Immigration and education

Green Party co-head Gustav Fridolin has told Swedish media that he'll be focusing on education in his party's keynote speech in Almedalen park. Fridoling is former teacher himself and in an interview with Swedish broadcaster SVT on Thursday he said that school-related policies remained close to his heart. He added that he would not be talking about immigration, despite several recent voter surveys indicating that it is one of the biggest topics voters want to hear politicians talking about.

"We're talking about immigration every day, which is reasonable because we are in the midst of the biggest refugee disaster since World War Two. But I'm actually talking about the school and the environment in the speech tonight," he said.

His party has previously spoken out in favour of maintaining Sweden's open and tolerant approach to refugees - it currently takes in more asylum seekers per capita than any other EU nation.

8.56am A tale of two leaders

The Green Party has two spokespeople at the helm rather than a traditional party leader figure. They are Åsa Romson, 43, and Gustav Fridolin, 31.

The pair are both at Almedalen this week. The Local spotted Romson out running earlier in the morning, while Fridolin did the rounds on breakfast TV and radio shows.

7.15am Who are the Swedish Greens?

If you're new to Swedish politics, here are a few facts about Sweden's smallest party in the ruling centre-left coalition.

The Greens are a fairly young party, first winning seats in the Swedish parliament in 1988. They had run a huge social media campaign before the September 2014 elections, with a view to becoming Sweden's third largest party behind the Social Democrats and the Moderates. 

Story continues below…

In the end they lost out to the nationalist Sweden Democrats, a sore point for many of the idealistic members of the Green Party. They did, however, get one up on their opponents, as they entered government for the first time in 2014, after forming a coalition with the Social Democrats.

As its name suggests, the party is focused on environmental issues, fighting climate change and promoting policies designed to protect the planet for future generations. Attempting to attract a wider audience, pushing for small businesses is also one of the issues it is focussing on.

Some topics on which it has sparred with its coalition partners include the potential closure of Bromma airport, which it supports, and the building of a motorway bypass around Stockholm, which it is against.

7.00am Hello again from Almedalen

Good morning from a sunny Visby on the Swedish island of Gotland.

Unless you've been hiding under a rock all week, you'll have noticed there's been a lot of politics on our site. That's because the country's most influential personalities and businesspeople are crammed into this medieval city for the country's huge annual debating forum, Almedalen.

Each day one party sets the agenda and today the Greens get their turn.

Missed our coverage so far? Check out the main points made this week by Prime Minister Stefan Löfven's Social Democrat party, the centre-right Christian Democrats, the Centre Party and the nationalist Sweden Democrats.

The Moderates, who led the previous government headed by Fredrik Reinfeldt until September 2014 take centre stage on Friday, while the smaller Left Party and Liberal Party will hold their events over the weekend.

Green party co-spokespeople Gustav Fridolin and Åsa Romson. Photo: TT

Due to technical issues, this article was republished at 6.12pm, but earlier blog posts are identical to a previous version of this blog.

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

The Local (news@thelocal.se)

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