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POLITICS

EXPLAINED: What you need to know about Sweden’s new foreign policy declaration

Covid-19 has put Sweden's relationships with Denmark and Norway under strain, and Foreign Minister Ann Linde hopes to deepen Sweden's relationship with the UK post Brexit. Here are the main takeaways from this week's foreign policy declaration.

EXPLAINED: What you need to know about Sweden's new foreign policy declaration
Sweden's Foreign Minister Ann Linde in parliament on Wednesday. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

What is the 'foreign policy declaration'? 

Every year, Sweden's foreign minister makes a 'foreign policy declaration', or utrikesdeklaration, to parliament, spelling out the foreign ministry's view of the current global situation and laying out Sweden's priorities. 

What did Foreign Minister Ann Linde have to say about Sweden's neighbours? 

She said: “Nordic cooperation is important but has been sorely tested during the Covid-19 pandemic.”

This is the latest in a series of diplomatic rebukes from Sweden to Norway and Denmark, first over their decision to impose border controls on Sweden in March, and then over their refusal to remove controls until the level of infection in Sweden, and later in individual Swedish regions, fell below a certain level. 

At the same time, she singled out Finland as the country where Sweden's military cooperation needed to be tightest.

What about Brexit? 

Linde hailed the trade agreement reached between the EU and the UK at the end of December as providing “the foundation for an important future partnership”, but she said the government hoped for closer links. 

She said that Sweden intended to “deepen Sweden's and the EU's relationship with the UK, even in foreign and security policy”.

What was the latest message on the prospect of membership of the Nato alliance? 

Linde asserted Sweden's commitment to mutual defence and assistance. 

“Sweden will not remain passive if a catastrophe or attack hit another EU or Nordic country, and we expect these countries to act in the same way if Sweden is affected. We should therefore be able to give and take support, both civil and military.” 

But she reiterated Sweden's neutrality, and said the government was not interested in joining Nato. 

“Our military non-alignment serves us well and contributes to stability and security in northern Europe,” she said. 

But she said the country would continue with its “active, broad and responsible” security politics, which would include “deepened defence cooperation, in particular with Finland”. 

What are Sweden's plans for its year chairing the OCSE? 

Sweden is this year chairing the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which was originally set up to build cooperation between Western Europe and the Soviet bloc. 

She said that Sweden would seek to improve the security situation in the bloc, and increase the emphasis on human rights, democracy and the rule of law, and would also prioritise women, peace and security. 


The Swedish parliament now advises politicians to wear face masks in parliament, except when speaking. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

Which countries did Linde have the toughest messages for? 

The declaration's toughest words were directed at Russia and Belarus, with more diplomatically expressed criticisms also made towards the human rights failings of China and Turkey. 

“Russia's aggression against Ukraine, and the illegal annexation of Crimea is unacceptable. These crimes under international law undermine European security and are the motivation for continuing sanctions against Russia,” she said. 

She also said that Sweden viewed the “negative trend” for human rights and civil society in Russia with “great concern”, saying that the country condemned both “crimes against international rights and poisoning attacks”, a clear reference to the poisoning of regime critic Alexei Navalny. 

As for Belarus, Linde said that the “rigged election and the brutal abuse” that the country's government had carried out was “unacceptable”, saying that this explained the sanctions currently in place. 

When it came to China, she said that the country's “international significance” meant that it concerned Sweden's national interest “to an ever greater extent”. 

At the same time, she said she viewed the “shrinking democratic space in Hong Kong” with “especially great concern”. 

“The freedoms and human rights of Hongkongers must be respected,” she said. 

She recognised Turkey's “central role for the EU”, but said Sweden would support “democratic forces” in Turkey, and be “outspoken in our criticism of crimes against human rights”.

What about Sweden's feminist foreign policy?

Linde reaffirmed the country's commitment to the feminist foreign policy launched by her predecessor Margot Wallström, saying it was “more important than in a long time”, pointing out that Sweden was leading a global coalition for economic equality, and would make women's rights an important theme in its chairmanship of the OCSE.

What about the environment?

With the US rejoining the Paris Agreement, and the United Nations Climate Change Conference in November, there was relatively little on the environment.

Linde did say that Sweden would campaign to strengthen “the link between the Paris agreement and trade”, so that Sweden's trade policy works towards meeting the goals of the Paris agreement. As part of this, she said Sweden would push for “more ambitious” sustainability clauses in the EU's free trade agreements.

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2022 SWEDISH ELECTION

Why is Sweden’s parliamentary speaker election so important?

Sweden's parliamentary speaker is second only to the King in terms of formal rank. The prospect of a Sweden Democrat speaker taking over the role from popular Moderate Andreas Norlén has sparked debate. Here's why.

Why is Sweden's parliamentary speaker election so important?

On Monday, Sweden’s newly-elected parliament will elect a new speaker – talman in Swedish, but it’s still not clear who is likely to take over the post from Moderate Andreas Norlén, who has held the position since 2018.

How is a speaker candidate usually chosen?

There is no formal rule on how a speaker candidate is nominated, with the Social Democrats usually insisting the largest party supplies the speaker, and the Moderates arguing that the largest party in their bloc should provide the speaker.

Until now, that has meant that the Social Democrats believe the speaker should be a Social Democrat, and the Moderates believe the speaker should be a Moderate.

However, with the Sweden Democrats now the second-largest party in Sweden’s parliament, they have made claims on the speaker post, as they are now the largest party in their bloc, meaning under the Moderates’ rules, they should supply the speaker.

This has made the question of who should take over as the new speaker unusually charged.

Often – but not always, the speaker has been from the same party or bloc as the government. However, there are examples, such as in the case of Norlén, who has held the post despite there being a Social Democrat government for the last eight years, as there was a majority supporting him in parliament.

Moderate Party leader Ulf Kristersson sits down for a talk with Andreas Norlén, speaker of the Swedish parliament. Photo: Anders Wiklund / TT

How is the speaker elected?

The first time parliament meets after an election, members of parliament (MPs) decide which MP will become the parliamentary speaker and which three MPs will become the deputy speakers. These four speakers are elected in separate ballots, first the speaker, then the first deputy speaker, the second deputy speaker and the third deputy speaker.

The candidates are nominated by parliamentary party groups, after which a secret ballot is held where each MP votes anonymously. To be successful, a speaker candidate must secure a majority of votes – 175.

If no candidate secures a majority, another vote is held, where a candidate must still gain 175 or more votes to win.

If no candidate is successful, a third vote is held, where the candidate with the most votes is elected – they do not need a majority.

If the third vote ends in a tie between two candidates, lots are drawn to determine which candidate is elected speaker.

A speaker is elected for an entire election period – they cannot be removed by parliament during this period, and the role can only change hands after a new parliamentary election, which usually means that a speaker sits for four years at a time.

What does the speaker do?

The speaker – aside from being the second-highest ranking official in the country after the King – holds a prestigious position.

They do not have political influence and, if elected, must resign from their role as a member of parliament. But they have an important role to play in building a government, nominating Sweden’s new prime minister after an election and dismissing the prime minister if they lose a no-confidence vote.

Although there are checks on these powers – a new prime minister must be approved by parliament before they take power – a speaker could, theoretically, nominate four prime ministerial candidates to parliament in succession, knowing that each would lose a parliamentary vote, and thereby trigger a general election.

The speaker, currently Andreas Norlén (left) regularly welcomes foreign dignitaries alongside Sweden’s King Carl Gustaf. Here seen with King Carl Gustaf (left) and Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö (centre).
Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

The speaker could also theoretically refuse to nominate a prime ministerial candidate despite them being the leader of the largest bloc, although this has never happened in practice.

It is also impossible for parliament to remove a speaker once they are elected, unless a new parliamentary election is held and an entire new parliament is elected, meaning that if a speaker were to misuse their powers, it would be difficult for parliament to replace them.

The speaker is the main representative of parliament, leading and planning parliamentary activities. The speaker is chairman of meetings in the parliamentary chamber and is an official representative for Sweden at home and abroad.

Why would it be controversial if the Sweden Democrats supplied the speaker?

Electing a Sweden Democrat speaker would be a win for the far-right party, as a confirmation that the party has finally been accepted into the corridors of power.

According to a source at newspaper Aftonbladet, the four parties backing Moderate Party leader Ulf Kristersson to become Sweden’s next prime minister have already agreed on stricter migration and crime policies, as well as who should be voted in as speaker of the country’s parliament when the role goes up for a vote on Monday. 

Multiple parties in the left-wing bloc have objected to a Sweden Democrat supplying the speaker, with outgoing Social Democrat Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson stating that her party is willing to collaborate with the Moderates and reelect Andreas Norlén as Sweden’s speaker instead in order to avoid a Sweden Democrat taking on the role.

Andersson said her party would be willing to “make an exception” to its principle. “We think there are arguments at this time, to have a speaker who can be appointed with very broad support in the parliament. What’s important is that it’s someone who can bring people together, either a Social Democrat or a Moderate”.

“I can state that Andreas Norlén enjoys great respect, both in the parliament, and among the Swedish people,” she said. “He has handled his duties creditably and during a turbulent time, and a problematic parliamentary situation.”

She said she was offering to discuss the issue with Kristersson to avoid the risk of a Sweden Democrat speaker, something she said would be “problematic”.

“This is a party whose whole rationale is to split rather than unite. This is also about the picture of Sweden overseas.”

Moderate Party leader Ulf Kristersson has not responded to Andersson’s comments.

Sweden Democrat former deputy speaker Björn Söder (left) and party leader Jimmie Åkesson (right). Photo: Jessica Gow//TT

There are also some MPs in the Liberal Party – who have agreed to support a Moderate-led government alongside the Sweden Democrats – who have stated they will not approve a government with Sweden Democrat ministers, and may also vote against letting them have the role of speaker.

Sweden Democrat Björn Söder, who held the role of deputy speaker between 2014-18, is a possible candidate for the far-right party. Söder is a controversial figure, having previously stated that Jewish people and Sami are “not Swedes”, leading to calls that he is not suitable for a role as a representative for all of Sweden.

Söder has also previously likened homosexuality to pedophilia and bestiality, stating in an article on the Sweden Democrats’ official online news site that “these sexual aversions are not normal and will never be normal”.

A public petition against electing Björn Söder as parliament’s new speaker had over 65,000 signatures as of September 23rd.

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