Explained: Why an overhaul of Sweden’s migration laws could spark a government crisis

Explained: Why an overhaul of Sweden's migration laws could spark a government crisis
Deputy Prime Minister and Green Party leader Isabella Lövin (R) walks by Prime Minister Stefan Löfven in parliament. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT
Disagreements over how Swedish migration policy should be changed have caused political tension, including within the government. If agreement can't be reached, the fractures could even lead to a new election.

Migration policy is a thorny issue in Sweden, but one thing all political parties have agreed on is that it needs an overhaul. 

Last year, a Migration Committee was set up to create a report on exactly how this overhaul should look. The committee includes representatives from all eight parties represented in Swedish parliament, and the decision to set it up came from the January Agreement — a deal between the Social Democrat-Green coalition government and two opposition parties which allowed the minority government to govern. 

One proposal in particular has sparked a possible crisis within the government: the question of whether Sweden should impose limits on how many asylum seekers and refugees can enter Sweden each year.

The Social Democrats met with four other parties on Friday to discuss their proposals for the Migration Committee: the Moderates, Christian Democrats, Centre and Liberal parties. These four used to make up a four-block centre-right alliance, although that more or less dissolved after the Centre and Liberals entered the cross-bloc deal with the government this year.

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The five parties met on Friday, without the Social Democrats' junior coalition partner, the Green Party.

Their exclusion sparked crisis talks within the Green Party over the weekend, according to reports in the Expressen newspaper, citing multiple party sources. The newspaper also reported that a majority of the party's board members were in favour of leaving the government if the Social Democrats sided with the centre-right parties over them.

The Green Party is positive towards many of the suggestions in the proposals, but one sticking point is the suggested cap on the number of asylum seekers and refugees per year.

Speaking on Swedish TV, Green Party leader Isabella Lövin refused to comment on the meetings or the possibility of the Greens quitting the government, but said her party would not be part of a proposal that included this kind of a limit.

The Green Party only command a small share of the vote. In a survey at the start of June, just 4.1 percent of voters asked said they would support them, down from the 4.4 percent of the vote they received in the 2018 election and dangerously close to the 4 percent threshold needed to be represented in parliament.

But they still have some power, as the junior coalition partner in the government.

If the Green Party quit the government, the Social Democrats would no longer have enough seats to govern alone, so parliament would be forced to renegotiate on a new government.

That would mean a series of talks between partly leaders and the parliamentary spokesperson, called talmansrundor in Swedish, in order to work out if any party or coalition could gather enough support to govern. This could even result in a new election, given that it took over four months of negotiation after the last election to reach the government deal in place today.

But that would be politically risky for the Greens, who might risk losing their representation in parliament altogether in a new vote. 

It would also likely depend on the outcome of other issues, chiefly environmental issues such as the expansion of Stockholm's Arlanda airport, which have caused tension for the party.

In the meantime, the Migration Committee is supposed to submit its own report to the government by August, and the goal was that this would be a set of proposals with broad parliamentary consensus.

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