Sweden’s Moderates make joining Nato their number one election pledge

Sweden's Moderate Party opposition has made applying to join the Nato alliance the first of five election pledges, as it becomes the first party to launch its campaign ahead of the September election.

Moderate Party leader Ulf Kristersson launches his five election pledges at the party's annual congress in Örebro
Moderate Party leader Ulf Kristersson launches his five election pledges at the party's annual congress in Örebro. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

“Sweden belongs in Nato,” Kristersson said in his speech, announcing the five main election pledges at the party’s national congress. “The question is… no longer ‘if?’, but exactly ‘when?’, and exactly ‘how?’.”

 “As Swedish prime minister, I am going to do everything to lead Sweden into Nato during the next mandate period,” Kristersson promised in his speech, made on Saturday in front of 2,000 Moderate party members in the city of Örebro.  

The party is betting big that the coming election will be fought around Sweden’s defence, with its second big pledge being to increase defence spending to two percent of GDP by 2025, and its third to “get back control on law and order”. None of the party’s main pledges concern any of the Social Democrats’ classic campaigning issues, such as health, education, pensions or welfare. 

On its website showcasing the pledges, the party promises to apply to join Nato, “if there is majority support in the parliament”. 

This shows Kristersson going much further than his predecessor Fredrik Reinfeldt, whose position was that the country should only apply for Nato membership if there was a majority in parliament, if the move was also supported by the Social Democrats, and if Finland was also joining. 

For Kristersson, the second and third of these were only ‘nice to have’. It would “be best”, Kristersson said, if Sweden were to join “as early as this spring, together with Finland”, and it would be “very much preferable”, if this were to happen “with broad political agreement over the left-right divide”.

But he made a point of no longer insisting on Reinfeldt’s two last requirements, putting pressure on the Social Democratic party to shift its own position on Nato membership. 

“It’s high time for Sweden to come out of the closet. Time to bring an end to outdated locked positions,” he said. “Let’s not beat about the bush: it’s time for the Social Democrats to change their policies on national security.”

On its third pledge on law and order, the party is betting on a series of hardline policies borrowed from neighbouring Denmark, including criminalising gang membership, imposing double-punishment on gang crimes, and deporting more people who commit crimes.

It also said it would increase the number of police officers to 32,000 by increasing salaries and paying new recruits a salary while they are educated. 

The party’s fourth pledge was to create a “completely fossil-free energy system through more nuclear power”. 

Finally, its fifth main pledge was to “bring back the arbetslinjen [literally, “work-line”] in Swedish politics,” by which it means  getting people off welfare benefits and into work. To do this, the party said it would bring in a “welfare cap”, so that it is always more worth people’s while to work than receive benefits, cut taxes on labour, and crack down on benefits fraud.

The Social Democratic party is currently polling higher than it has for about eight years, with a recent poll by Sifo putting its support at 32.8 percent to the Moderate Party’s 21.4 percent. 

But in Örebro, the Moderate Party, argued that the left and right blocs were still relatively even, with an opinion poll by Demoskop finding that, if both the Liberal Party and the Green Party falls under the four percent threshold to enter parliament (meaning their votes don’t count), there are just 13,000 votes between the right-wing and left-wing political blocs. 

“It’s completely even at the moment, as it usually is in Swedish elections,” Kristersson said. “It’s the election campaign which will make the difference.” 

Member comments

  1. How ridiculous. Why join Nato now?
    Currently, Sweden gets all the protections of Nato – without the responsibilities.
    And Sweden currently gets to remain independent.
    Be smart. Have a strong miltary. Stay out of Nato.

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INTERVIEW: ‘We, as Moderates, should be good winners on Nato’

Hans Wallmark, foreign policy spokesperson for the opposition Moderate Party, tells The Local that the Social Democrats' imminent decision to support Nato membership for Sweden should be celebrated.

INTERVIEW: 'We, as Moderates, should be good winners on Nato'

When Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24th, Sweden’s opposition Moderate Party moved quickly to turn their longstanding support for Nato into a campaigning issue in the run-up this September’s election. With the Social Democrats due on Sunday to shift their position and back Nato, this will no longer be possible. But this does not worry Hans Wallmark, the Moderate Party’s foreign policy spokesperson. 

“I think we, as Moderates, should behave as good winners, not bad winners,” he told The Local on Wednesday night. “The national interest is always bigger and more important than the party interest. So if this current government takes Sweden into Nato, we are going to hail it, and then hopefully, in four or five months from now, we’re going to continue the work as the new government.” 

Wallmark has over the past month been closely involved in the Nato process, as the Moderate Party’s appointee on the Swedish government’s security policy analysis group, which is due to publish its report on Sweden’s security options on Friday. 

“It is a good and comprehensive report,” he says of the result of the group’s six meetings, adding that, in his view, it is not a serious problem if the Left and the Green parties, which are both opposed to Nato membership, dissent from its conclusions. 

He said that his party had been calling for the establishment of such a group since December 2020, when parliament voted for Sweden to have a so-called ‘Nato option’ as part of its security policy. 

“But the government refused that, and then suddenly, some weeks before Easter, they invited us to this analysis group,” he remembers. 

When the government launched the group before Easter, the Social Democrats still did not know which way they were going to swing, he believes. 

“We could all then see that Finland was quite rapidly on its way to a Nato membership, so I think when the government invited the other parties, they, for that moment, didn’t really know what way they should take. But after a while, it was more and more clear that the Social Democratic Party was changing its mind due to the harsh reality of pressure from Finland.” 
Even previous sceptics of Nato membership within the Social Democrats found it hard to justify staying out of the alliance if Finland joined. “Because if Finland joins Nato, then it would have been absurd, and I would say, defence strategically, totally impossible to stay outside.”
Wallmark argues that if Finland joined Nato and Sweden didn’t, the two countries would no longer be able to work together in the same way with common defence planning, severely weakening Sweden’s security. 
“With Finland inside Nato, it would be quite impossible for Finland to have this openness in defence planning with Sweden, in the same way as it is with Norway and Denmark today. They can’t do the same defence planning with us as we do with Finland, because they are Nato members, and we are not.” 
The purpose of the group then shifted from a stalling tactic, to a way of convincing the Social Democrat rank and file of a need to shift policy. “After a while, it turned out to be a tool for the Social Democratic Party to use to explain why they are changing position.” 
Wallmark believes that pressure from Finland and the threat from Russia had both played a part in the Social Democrats’ decision, but he said electoral calculations had also come into play. 
“I truly believe that the war since February 24th is one part of the equation, but also, I think that the risk of having Nato defence and security as election issues is absolutely also part of the equation that made the party change its mind,” he says. 
As a result, he says, he fears that the Social Democrats might be joining the Nato security alliance for the wrong reasons, seeing it simply as protection for Sweden, rather than an organisation through which Sweden can take positive action to improve the security climate in Europe and the world. 
“I think that we shouldn’t join Nato because we are afraid for our own skin. I think that we should join Nato for its own logic and reasons, and that is Article 5, and the common defence planning. So, therefore, I’m a little afraid that the Social Democrats are walking into Nato with the back in the front.”
“I think that the main reason for joining NATO is that Sweden can contribute to the common security in our part of the world. And Article 5 and the common defence planning have been good reasons for 20 years,” he adds. “And now we see how the Social Democrats are changing their mind in well, 20 hours or 20 days.” 
Wallmark says that the Political Declaration of Solidarity the UK signed with Sweden on Wednesday should not be seen primarily as security for Sweden during the gap between applying to join Nato and becoming a member. It is, he argues, an expression of support Sweden has been pushing for ever since the UK left the European Union. 
“It goes back much longer, and is much deeper, and of greater importance [than the Nato process], especially as a political signal that we really want to deepen the cooperation with the United Kingdom, even if the UK is outside and we are inside the EU,” he said. “The centre-right parties with the Moderates in the front have really worked for the government to establish this kind of arrangement.” 
With Sweden’s Nato application likely to be announced within days, Wallmark believes that Sweden should be ready for a reaction from Russia. But he expects that Russia will end up accepting the new reality.
“I think it’s absolutely necessary to be prepared. But we can also see the pattern. Nato has extended, it is now 30 countries… and Russia has barked and showed publicly how disappointed it is, but they have, in the end, accepted the reality.”
“So I think that we absolutely can see things happening in cyber attacks or fake news. But in the end, I think that they are going to accept it.”