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Five things to look out for at the EU summit in Sweden

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Five things to look out for at the EU summit in Sweden
Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven speaks to press ahead of Friday's summit. Photo: Alexander Larsson Vierth/TT
17:22 CET+01:00
Sweden will on Friday host an EU 'social summit' with the aim of promoting policies to boost economic growth and confidence in the bloc amid uncertainty created by the Brexit vote and a rise in populism across the continent.

The summit is the first of its kind since 1997, and leaders will discuss ways to boost the job market and working conditions in order to improve citizens' everyday lives.

So what can we expect on Friday?

Recharging the labour market and promoting the Swedish model

The official title of the meet is 'Social summit for fair jobs and growth', and the focus will be on promoting well-functioning, fair labour markets within the EU.

Ahead of the summit, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven said: "In these challenging times, we need to show that we can deliver results in peoples' everyday lives. A more social Europe, with fair working conditions, effective labour markets and a strong social dialogue, should be a priority for all of us."

While not perfect, many of the EU's countries could learn something from the Swedish labour system, where wages are typically high, benefits such as parental and sickness leave are generous, and a system of trade unions leads to a high degree of job security, while productivity and economic growth are high.


Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

Löfven himself has a background as a welder and metal workers' union boss, and has called for the EU to put effort into helping the real people affected by the financial crisis, just as they have helped the banks.

However, he is unlikely to attempt to export the Swedish model just yet.

"I think the object of the summit will not be to push forward with new things, but to focus on what can be saved," political scientist Stig-Björn Ljunggren told the Local. "And Sweden will want to show that we are an important player, both to Swedish voters and to the rest of the EU."

This is in line with previous comments from Löfven, when he has pushed for a socially responsible Europe and stressed the importance of implementing existing policies.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about Sweden's party leaders

Threat of populism and extremists

Fairer labour conditions will make life better for European citizens, but of course there's also a strong political motive behind the summit, particularly ahead of Sweden's 2018 election.

Left-wing parties are losing ground to populists and even far-right extremists across Europe; elections in France and Germany this year saw huge gains for such parties at the expense of the traditional left, and the same thing could happen in Italy's election next year, where the ruling centre-left party is also suffering from internal rifts.

In Sweden, the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats have been gaining ground ahead of next year's election, which could pose problems for Löfven's governing Social Democrats. Addressing working class concerns over job security is one way to tackle this.


Jimmie Åkesson, leader of the Sweden Democrats. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

"One reason for voters moving from the Social Democrats to the Sweden Democrats is a nationalistic sentiment. The Social Democrats want to win back these voters with a more decent way of talking about the nation, by showing this is what Sweden really is," explained Ljunggren.

So while the far-right might exploit worries about job security by stoking anti-immigrant sentiment, Friday's summit is an opportunity for Löfven to show how they can be alleviated by fair labour laws and a good social safety net.

READ ALSO: Just how far-right are the Sweden Democrats?

Boosting confidence in the EU

"One question which will likely be raised between leaders, if not publicly, is how to win back the support of the European people for the project," said Ljunggren.

"What Sweden will try to do is help make the EU a project with life again. Today it's not the most sexy thing to talk about."

Many of the populist parties gaining ground across the continent are anti-EU, and after Britain's vote to leave the EU, the bloc needs to rejuvenate its image and show citizens that the project can still have a clear, positive impact on their lives.

READ ALSO: How Brexit made me quit my job and move to Sweden

A no-show from Merkel

One thing not to expect from the summit is the German Chancellor. Angela Merkel will not be attending the summit as it clashes with coalition talks in Germany.

This may cause disappointment in Sweden, which is hoping to strengthen ties with Berlin ahead of the loss of its closest ally within the EU when Britain leaves the bloc next year. Germany is already Sweden's strongest trade partner and seen as the engine of the EU.

OPINION: Germany is Sweden's most important EU ally post-Brexit


Merkel will be holding coalition talks rather than joining the summit. Photo: AP Photo/Michael Sohn/TT

Concerns over riots and traffic

For many people in Gothenburg itself, the most pressing issue will be not what the leaders discuss at the summit, but the impact of the event on local traffic. With 28 heads of government expected, Sweden hasn't hosted so many since a 2001 EU summit.

That event was marred by massive riots involving hundreds of demonstrators who smashed windows, damaged shops, and clashed with police. This time, the threat level is considered to be low, but there will be thousands of police officers in place in one of Sweden's largest police operations in modern times.

On the days around the summit, border checks will be in place at the city's Landvetter airport, the Öresund bridge on the border with Denmark and the Svinesund bridge between Sweden and Norway, and there will be several road closures in Gothenburg itself, with some parts of the city cordoned off.

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