2022 Swedish election For Members

INTERVIEW: 'Tough rhetoric on immigration? I don't think so'

Richard Orange
Richard Orange - [email protected]
INTERVIEW: 'Tough rhetoric on immigration? I don't think so'
Photo: Richard Orange/The Local

Justice Minister Morgan Johansson is the face of the Social Democrats' new tougher position on crime and, arguably, also immigration. The Local caught up with him on the campaign trail in Kalmar.


Morgan Johansson, Sweden's justice minister, has been visiting the chunk of forest south of Kalmar where work will begin early next year on a new prison for more than 340 detainees.

Given the way his party is competing with the opposition over who can put the most extra people behind bars, those extra cells will be needed regardless of who wins the election on September 11th. 

"We have had too short punishments for quite severe crimes," Johansson declares, when we meet him outside the party's election shed, or valstuga, in Kalmar, the historic naval city on Swedens southeast coast. "We've had a level of gang-related crime now in Sweden that has increased in the last years in a way that has really made us think 'how do we turn this around'."


Asked for evidence that longer prison sentences actually reduce crime, he fell back on common sense reasoning around rehabilitation and incapacitation, rather referring to any academic studies. 

"For the most active criminals, the ones who are doing the most crimes, I really think that we need to have longer punishments in order to work with them and to rehabilitate them," he says. "We have also had a problem that we have sent those people for a couple of months in prison, and then they are out again, committing more crimes.  We have to get those people who are committing the most crime off the streets. Otherwise, they will recruit new generations into these gangs. And they will also be some kind of bad role models for the young." 

But the Social Democrats' approach to crime is not simply to fill up prisons, but also to enact a version of former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair's famous formulation, "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime", with harsher prison sentences combined with more prevention initiatives. 

"We need to do a lot more on the issues concerning young people: schools, education, after school activities, and social services," Johansson says. "We have to combine these two things." 



'I don't recognise that our party has used that kind of rhetoric'

As well as being tough on crime, many immigrants in Sweden feel that Johansson's party has begun to adopt some of the anti-immigrant rhetoric of the Sweden Democrats, with readers of The Local telling us they have been made distraught by the way immigration has been debated. 

"I don't recognise that our party has used that kind of rhetoric," Johansson retorts. "What we are always trying to say is that if there are too many people coming in a short period of time, and these people are not integrated, they don't get jobs, and they don't have the possibility to learn the language and so on, that will cause social problems. I don't recognise all that we have had a harsh or tough rhetoric against immigrants. I don't think so." 


He does however agree that the current election campaign was unusually nasty in tone. 

"Yes, I do [think that]. We've had a right-wing extremist party, the Sweden Democrats, that has a very hateful rhetoric against immigrants, against Muslims, against anyone who is not ethnically Swedish, and now, they are up on levels of almost 20 percent, they might become the second biggest party in this election." 

"They find their role models in Hungary and Poland. They have a party leader who, on the edge of the war in Ukraine, couldn't choose between Biden and Putin. I'd say that there is really very much at stake in this Swedish election, about what kind of country Sweden will be." 

Labour Market Testing will not mean a longer wait for work permits 

For readers of the The Local, one of the Social Democrats' most worrying policies is the plan to bring back Labour Market Testing, the restrictive former system for work permits, in which unions and the government decide which skills and industries Swedish has a shortage of, only approving permits for jobs in these fields.

Johansson is adamant, however, that the return of the system will not make it harder for skilled foreign workers to come to Sweden, or make it more difficult for businesses to recruit the international employees they need. 

"If we need it, then we will have IT professionals coming to Sweden," he protests. "Nowadays, Sweden has the most liberal legislation of any country in the whole world."

"We're the only country in the world that allows work migration for professions that we do not have any lack of, to wait tables, to work at McDonald's, to clean people's homes, and everything like that. We have a lot of people already living in Sweden who could do those jobs." 

When The Local argues that by adding in an extra layer of bureaucracy, the new system would mean a longer wait for highly educated foreign workers, he argues that the opposite is in fact the case. 


"On the contrary, because the total numbers of applicants will go down, the number of applications will be much smaller," he argued. "In the old days, when we had this kind of legislation, there were no long waiting lists. We can focus more resources on the people that we really need."

Under the current system, he continues, foreign people are being exploited by employers providing low wages and poor living and working conditions, while the work permit system is being abused by organised criminal groups. 

'It is a necessity to speak the language'

When it comes to another new possible hurdle for foreigners living in Sweden -- the prospect of a language requirement for permanent residency and citizenship -- Johansson said his understanding was that the Social Democrats would seek to bring both in if they regain power after the next election. 

"The decision from the parliament, on the new migration legislation is that you're going to have a requirement for permanent residence," he says, and what has been discussed is to also have requirements at a higher level if you go on to be a citizen, then there will be a big, big discussion, how is that going to be implemented and tested, and so on." 

It is reasonable to expect those who are awarded permanent residence to have reached an adequate level of Swedish, he argues.

"I think that if you're going to have permanent residence, that means that you're going to stay here for the rest of your life, and if you're going to do that, it is a necessity to speak the language that most other people are speaking in this country, in order to get a job and to integrate yourself." 

And with that, Johansson is pulled away by his press secretary to chat to locals in Kalmar who have gathered to meet him at the valstuga, after which he is due to visit local police in an area outside the historically sleepy coastal city recently affected by a series of fatal shootings.


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