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

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.

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

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.

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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For members


What’s the Swedish Christian Democrats’ abortion contract all about?

Ebba Busch, leader of Sweden's Christian Democrats on Monday presented an "abortion contract", which she wants all of Sweden's party leaders to sign. What's going on?

What's the Swedish Christian Democrats' abortion contract all about?

What’s happened? 

Ebba Busch, leader of Sweden’s Christian Democrat party, called a press conference on Monday in which she presented a document that she called “an abortion contract”, which was essentially a pledge to safeguard the right of women in Sweden to have an abortion.  

“There is room for signatures from all eight party leaders,” she said. “I have already signed on behalf of the Christian Democrats.” 

What does the so-called “abortion contract” say? 

The document itself is fairly uncontroversial.

It states simply that Sweden’s law on abortion dates back to 1974, and that it grants women the right to an abortion up until the 18th week of pregnancy, with women seeking abortions later in their pregnancy required to get permission from the National Board of Health and Welfare. 

“Those of us who have signed this document support Sweden’s abortion legislation and promise to defend it if it comes under attack from forces both within our country and from outside,” the document reads.  

Why have the Christian Democrats produced it? 

The decision of the US Supreme Court to overturn Roe vs Wade, and so allow US states to ban abortion has aroused strong feelings in Sweden, as elsewhere, and Busch is seeking to send a strong signal to distance her own Christian party from the US religious right. 

Abortion has been a recurring issue within the Christian Democrats with several politicians and party members critical of abortion. 

Lars Adaktusson, a Christian Democrat MP, was found by the Dagens Nyheter newspaper to have voted against abortion 22 times when he was a member of the European parliament. 

The party has also in the past campaigned for the right of midwives and other medical professionals who are ethically opposed to abortion not to have to take part in the procedure. 

So why aren’t all the other party leaders signing the document? 

Sweden’s governing Social Democrats, and their Green Party allies, dismissed the contract as a political gimmick designed to help the Christian Democrats distance themselves from elements of their own party critical of abortion. 

“It would perhaps be good if Ebba Busch did some homework within her own party to check that there’s 100 percent support for Sweden’s abortion legislation,” Magdalena Andersson, Sweden’s prime minister, said. “That feels like a more important measure than writing contracts between party leaders and trying to solve it that way.”  

In a debate on Swedish television, Green Party leader Märta Stenevi argued that it would be much more significant if Busch’s own MPs and MEPs all signed the document. 

It wasn’t other party leaders who needed to show commitment to abortion legislation, but “her own MPs, MEPs, and not least her proposed government partners in the Sweden Democrats and even some within the Moderate Party”. 

She said it made her “very very worried” to see that the Christian Democrats needed such a contract. “That’s why I see all this more as a clear sign that we need to move forward with protecting the right to abortion in the constitution,” she said. 

How have the other right-wing parties reacted? 

The other right-wing parties have largely backed Busch, although it’s unclear if any other party leaders are willing to actually sign the document. 

Tobias Billström, the Moderates’ group parliamentary leader, retweeted a tweet from Johan Paccamonti, a Stockholm regional politician with the Moderate Party, which criticised the Social Democrats for not signing it, however. 

“It seems to be more important to blow up a pretend conflict than to sign the Christian Democrats’ contract or look at the issue of [including abortion rights in] the constitution, like the Moderates, Liberals and Centre Party want to,” Paccamonti wrote. 

The Liberal Party on Sunday proposed protecting abortion rights in the Swedish constitution, a proposal which has since been backed by the Moderate party and the Centre Party