ANALYSIS: Why do Swedish politicians hold back in their criticism of the US?

Sweden's silence on Donald's Trump's baseless claims of election fraud may appear inconsistent with the Nordic nation's reputation as a protector of democracy, but fit into a wider pattern of Sweden-US relationships, political scientist Ian Higham told The Local.

ANALYSIS: Why do Swedish politicians hold back in their criticism of the US?
President Donald Trump falsely claimed victory and called for vote-counting to stop with many votes yet to be counted early on Wednesday morning. Photo: AP Photo/Evan Vucci/TT

On Wednesday, the race was still close to neck-and-neck between President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden, with many votes remaining to be counted and a final result not expected for days.

But Trump said he had won the election, baselessly saying “major fraud” had taken place and appearing to call for votes not to be counted.

In a brief press conference about the US election, Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde began by saying that the high voter turnout “is a sign of good democratic health”. She did not condemn Trump's comments, but called on viewers to avoid speculation and to “allow the American system to work”.

While Linde was restrained in her comments, other Swedish politicians did speak out about the president's actions.

The leader of the Swedish Left Party, Nooshi Dadgostar, told public broadcaster SVT that Trump “is twisting the democratic method we have to hand over power peacefully”, while the leader of the Centre Party Annie Lööf described Trump's actions as “upsetting and worrying” and “lacking democratic instincts”.

Political scientist Ian Higham, who works at Stockholm University, said the cautious official response could be seen as hypocritical given Sweden's stance as a defender of democracy.

“I don't think they would tolerate some of the things Trump does if it was happening elsewhere, in a country that's smaller and maybe has a greater history of corruption,” he told The Local.

But it's not the first time Sweden has kept quiet about actions harmful to democracy in the US. President Trump has refused to condemn white nationalist groups, and repeatedly labelled the national media as “the enemy of the people”.

“That's a criticism Sweden might level against a government in Belarus or Russia, but when the US does it they're pretty silent so I'm not that surprised that they're not commenting today,” Higham said.

The same pattern is repeated when it comes to moves to restrict rights to safe and legal abortion, or related to the rights of women and children.

“I don't think I've seen a Swedish politician comment publicly on the fact that more than 500 children have been separated from their parents by the current administration and the parents and children cannot be reunited. Forcibly taking a child away from their parent should be part of [Sweden's] feminist foreign policy and yet it's not something that's criticised.”

“I think Sweden would be more likely to criticise it there than in this powerful country that has a very important relationship with Sweden, not least economically.”

That important relationship encompasses security collaboration as well as trade, with Sweden the USA's 13th largest investor and hundreds of thousands of jobs in each country directly linked to trade between the two.

In some ways, Swedish-US relations have even strengthened under Trump's four-year term. Speaking on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Ann Linde described deepening this relationship as “one of my most important tasks”.

Foreign Minister Ann Linde. Photo: AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici/TT

That's even despite the American president's criticism of Scandinavian social democratic policies, including the comment “you wouldn't believe what happened last night in Sweden“, referring to a YouTube documentary about immigrants and crime in Sweden which has been widely discredited.

The key example of positive development is Sweden's role in facilitating talks between the US and North Korea, giving the Scandinavian country greater prominence in Washington.

Meanwhile, Sweden's relationship with the other major superpower, China, has deteriorated during Trump's time in power due to issues including the imprisonment of Swedish dissident Gui Minhai and repeated threats from China towards the Swedish media.

But according to Higham, the main reasons for the lack of intervention from Swedish politicians is nothing to do with Trump himself.

“Resources would be poorly spent wasting too much political capital on the US, which isn't likely to change based on what Sweden says, but an aid-receiving country like Uganda may be more likely to listen,” he said.

“And the US is still mostly seen as a country that's democratic and respects human rights. Sweden's promotion of human rights and democracy and human rights is tied up with its reputation, so I think Sweden may be more likely to vocalise this view when it's going to be seen as worthwhile.”

“Swedes and the Swedish press are pretty happy to criticise Trump, he's not very popular here, but Sweden in general is reluctant to criticise the US government no matter who's in power in either country,” Higham explained.

As for whether Sweden will change its attitude towards the superpower, that likely depends at least in part on the result of the election, which should become clear later this week.

If Trump wins fairly, Higham doesn't anticipate significant change in these relations, but should the president attempt to hold onto power through illegitimate means such as ignoring votes, this could be something that tips the balance.

“There might come a point at which attacking the media, or challenging the counting of votes may not be something Sweden can ignore. Sweden has sought to play a big role in countries like Belarus that don't recognise democratic election results so a situation like that would become almost untenably hypocritical,” he said.

Sweden's Linde was not the only European minister to refuse to condemn Trump's actions.

British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab repeatedly said he did not want to “comment on the commentary” by saying whether the president was right or wrong to say he had won before many states had counted their votes.

Slovenian prime minister Janez Janša echoed Donald Trump's false early claims of a victory, accusing the media for “denying facts” in a tweet which was labelled by the social media platform as misleading.

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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