“You can't live in Sweden for decade after decade and not learn Swedish,” said party leader Ulf Kristersson, speaking to journalists ahead of his speech at the Almedalen festival.
“Today we have a well-intended, but badly thought through, unlimited right to interpreters,” he said.
Currently Swedish state authorities, healthcare providers and other public bodies are legally obliged to hire a qualified interpreter when needed, to ensure non-native Swedish speakers can access the services they are entitled to.
Many parts of the Moderate Party's suggested language reforms, also outlined in an opinion piece for Svenska Dagbladet, were already known, but the proposal which would remove the right to interpreters from foreigners with permanent residence has drawn most attention.
Kristersson said that interpreters should continue to be offered to people who were newly arrived in Sweden, and said that exceptions would also be made for trials or other special situations, even for non-native Swedes with permanent residence.
But he wrote: “Unfortunately, for many years we have diminished the value of our own language. For a long time, policy has sent a signal that a person who comes to Sweden does not need to learn Swedish,” In the opinion piece, he described Swedish language skills as essential for democratic participation, entrance to the labour market, and the avoidance of parallel societies and segregation.
He argued that the unlimited right to interpreters “sends the wrong signals about the individual responsibility to learn Swedish, and the value of our language”.
Currently, interpreters cost the state around two billion kronor each year. Kristersson didn't say exactly how much this amount would be reduced under his proposals, but said he believed it would fall “substantially”.
Other suggestions for language-based reforms included strengthening the requirements for SFI, more Swedish classes in schools for foreign-born children, and for Swedish language skills to be a requirement for receiving permanent residence or citizenship — something the Moderates have long called for.
The Liberal Party, formerly part of a four-party alliance including the Moderates, also proposed a language test as a citizenship requirement, and this was part of a government deal struck between the ruling Social Democrats and Green Party and the Liberal and Centre Parties earlier this year.
Integration was the main theme for the Moderate Party at Almedalen, where each of the parties represented in parliament is given one day for talks and events.
“Everything which is affecting Sweden at the moment centres in some way around integration: gang shootings and many of our problems when it comes to children's rights and schools,” Kristersson said.
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