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Sweden Elects: Liberals face questions over Sweden Democrat links

The Local's editor Emma Löfgren explains the key events to keep an eye on in Swedish politics this week.

Sweden Elects: Liberals face questions over Sweden Democrat links
Liberal leader Johan Pehrson and Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Åkesson at a debate on broadcaster SR before the election. Photo: Christine Olsson/TT


Here’s this week’s Sweden Elects, with the latest political talking points.

It’s starting to seem like the Swedish Liberals may have underestimated the strength of their international liberal colleagues’ reaction to the centre-right party’s decision to co-sign a bunch of governmental policies worked out together with the far-right Sweden Democrats.

There’s now talk of potentially expelling them from Renew Europe. The organisation tweeted that its president would “for the time being” not invite their leadership to its events, and that they welcomed the liberal Alde Party’s “fact-finding mission to Stockholm (…) to assess the relationship of the parties supporting the government”.

For any readers who want a crash course on European politics: the Alde Party is a transnational European political party made up of liberal parties from across Europe. Its members are part of the Renew Europe group in the European parliament.

Liberal party leader Johan Pehrson told Swedish media that he was “trying to explain” to his European colleagues that the policies also include “meaningful liberal reforms”.

When The Local spoke with the legal director of human rights group Civil Rights Defenders, he said that the government’s policies take Sweden in an illiberal direction.

“It’s not aimed at strengthening the protection of our human rights. It’s not meant to strengthen the rule of law. It’s not meant to strengthen democracy either,” he told The Local of the political programme agreed by the three government parties and the Sweden Democrats. Read the full interview, for members of The Local, here.

At The Local, we will continue to keep an extra close eye on how government policies and any new legislative proposals affect international residents living in Sweden – and we’ve had quite a few questions from readers about this. This article explains what we know so far about who will be affected by Sweden’s new immigration policy.

(I just want to say a quick thank you here to you as a member of The Local – your support lets us strengthen our coverage of these issues. If you enjoy this newsletter or The Local in general, please feel free to help us spread the word about membership)

Sweden Democrat in hot water over Anne Frank comments

In other news, Rebecka Fallenkvist, a high-profile Sweden Democrat and a presenter on the far-right party’s Riks web television channel, grabbed global headlines last week for making degrading remarks about the Jewish teenage diarist and Holocaust victim Anne Frank.

The party’s press chief called the comments “insensitive and inappropriate”, and told Swedish media that Fallenkvist would be suspended pending an internal probe.

She was instead forced to leave her role as a Riks presenter and was moved to an administrative role, working for the party’s finance department in parliament, reported Aftonbladet. The party confirmed she would help plan its “conference activities”.

Fallenkvist, if you remember, also caused a scandal on election night by declaring “helg seger” – which means “weekend victory” but sounds like and is often used in place of the Nazi salute “Hell seger” (Sieg Heil) – in an interview with pro-SD newssite Samnytt.

Power shifts in Stockholm

While Sweden as a whole handed over power from the left to the right, in the Stockholm region, the winds are turning in the other direction.

A centre-left coalition of the Social Democrats, Green Party and Centre Party is set to take over the reins of Stockholm’s regional government, with the support of the Left Party.

It’s easy to draw the conclusion that the urban areas of Sweden are turning leftwards and the rural areas rightwards (the left wing won Stockholm City too), but that may be too shallow an analysis in this particular case. Discontent had been brewing for several years.

In short: the Swedish capital region had been run by centre-right coalitions, headed by the Moderates, for 16 years, but the leadership had been facing growing criticism.

A scandal over cost overruns and operational problems at what was supposed to be Stockholm’s flagship hospital, several structural errors laid bare by the Covid crisis, and accusations of avoiding questioning by the media all led to the shift of power.

The new government of Sweden

Last but not least, the most significant political event since my last Sweden Elects newsletter is Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson’s new government being installed.

Here are the key points about everything you need to know about the new government. On the latest Sweden in Focus podcast, the Local’s team speaks more about the controversial decision to merge the Ministry for the Environment with the Ministry for Business, creating a new ministry headed by Christian Democrat leader Ebba Busch, with Liberal Romina Pourmokhtari working underneath her as Climate Minister.

Here’s a quick rundown of Sweden’s new government ministers, who represent three parties in total: the conservative Moderates and Christian Democrats and the we-promise-we’re-still-the-liberal-conscience-of-the-government Liberals. Thanks for reading and speak again next week.

Best wishes,

Sweden Elects is a weekly column by Editor Emma Löfgren looking at the big talking points and issues after the Swedish election. Members of The Local Sweden can sign up to receive the column as a newsletter in their email inbox each week. Just click on this “newsletters” option or visit the menu bar.

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For members


Politics in Sweden: Six things we learned from a new interview with the migration minister

The Local's editor has listened to a new interview with the Swedish migration minister, the Social Democrats now know what went wrong in the last election, and the key interest rate decision you need to keep an eye on this week. That and much more in this week's Politics in Sweden column.

Politics in Sweden: Six things we learned from a new interview with the migration minister

Swedish Migration Minister Maria Malmer Stenergard gave a long interview to public radio broadcaster Sveriges Radio Ekot’s Saturday interview show.

She spoke among other things about the many planned migration law changes proposed in the Tidö Agreement, the deal that allowed the Moderates and Christian Democrats to form a right-wing government with the controversial support of the far-right Sweden Democrats.

Here’s a roundup of some of the things that emerged from the interview (or didn’t emerge – there were several issues that she didn’t want to go into specifics on):

1. Asked by interviewer Johar Bendjelloul whether she felt she had been appointed to carry out the far-right Sweden Democrats’ migration policy, she said no, her job is to carry out what “the government and its collaboration parties, including the Sweden Democrats, have agreed”.

But she also conceded that the Sweden Democrats’ influence on the policies was significant.

2. The government and the Sweden Democrats are working on launching an inquiry that will look into whether or not to make it mandatory for Swedish authorities in general to report to the police and Migration Agency when they encounter someone in Sweden without the proper permits.

This has raised concern among for example teachers and hospital workers that they will have to act as informants and be unable to protect their students and patients. People without permits still have the right to urgent healthcare or, in the case of children, school.

Malmer Stenergard, when pressed on the issue, said that one-off exceptions could be made on compassionate grounds, for example in the case of healthcare staff. However, she said such exceptions would have to be investigated and that she preferred to await the inquiry before commenting on the specific details.

3. The government and the Sweden Democrats want to phase out the institution of permanent residence permits, but the bid that has caused the greatest concern would abolish some permanent permits that have already been handed out, instead replacing them with temporary permits.

But the move applies only to people who hold asylum-related permits, Malmer Stenergard reiterated. When pushed, she guaranteed several times that foreign residents who already hold permanent residence permits that are not related to asylum would not be affected.

She said she was “troubled” to hear that many people are worried that their permanent residency will be revoked, because “people who are living here in an honest way and are trying to learn Swedish, be self-sufficient and do everything they can to become a part of society, those people shouldn’t have to feel worried. If I’ve communicated in a way that’s caused that worry, I should think about how I communicate in the future.”

As regards to what would happen to people who are affected by the suggested changes to permanent residence permits, she said “First and foremost we will try to find a route for them to become citizens. In other cases we will look at what should happen to those who have permanent [permits], if they should be turned into temporary [permits].”

Again, she did not want to speak about specifics before there’s been an inquiry. Many lawyers have speculated that it will not even be possible to revoke permanent permits, due to Swedish administrative law stating that when a decision from authorities favours the individual, that decision can never be changed.

Malmer Stenergard said it would be up to the soon-to-be-launched inquiry to investigate those possibilities.

4. She said that the government was looking into how it could best help Ukraine and Ukrainian refugees, including potentially making it possible for Ukrainian refugees to study Swedish for Immigrants (SFI). Currently, all that’s offered to them is a course called Swedish From Day One, which isn’t offered in all Swedish municipalities.

5. She said that the government was “constantly” evaluating the benefits of the 71 kronor ($6.74 according to today’s exchange rate) per day which are handed to asylum seekers to buy food, clothes and hygiene items. The sum, which is difficult to live on in Sweden today, has remained the same since 1994 – even as costs have risen – and has become the topic of debate following the arrival of thousands of Ukrainian refugees. However, she refused to say anything for sure.

6. Mikael Ribbenvik’s contract as director-general of the Migration Agency is set to expire in June. He has said he would like for it to be extended, but when asked, Malmer Stenergard only said that she was in “close dialogue” with him and that what was being said would remain between them until she is ready to announce a decision.

In other news

The centre-left Social Democrats, who have been in opposition since Sweden’s September election, soar to 36.7 percent in a new poll-of-polls by Kantar Sifo on behalf of public radio broadcaster Sveriges Radio Ekot. They got 30.33 percent in the election.

Together with its left-wing allies the party gets 54.0 percent, almost ten percentage points more than the ruling Moderates and its allies. The Moderates themselves climb to 18.8 percent, overtaking the far-right Sweden Democrats who drop to 18.0 percent.

There’s an easy explanation. Much of the public debate is currently focused on the economy, an area where, the CEO of Kantar Sifo told Ekot, the Social Democrats – and their decades of experience running Swedish finances – usually enjoy strong confidence, even among voters who usually vote conservative. It probably also helps that their current leader is former Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson.

The Social Democrats last week presented their analysis of the party’s performance in the September election. The party increased its votes in the election, but due to the poorer performance of its left-wing allies, it lost the government to the right wing.

The analysis expresses concern over its conclusion that the main reason behind the party’s growth was the popularity of party leader Magdalena Andersson, rather than its policies. It says, however, that it aims to reach the support of at least 40 percent of voters in the future. Here’s a link to the full analysis, in Swedish.

The Centre Party has a new leader. Muharrem Demirok at a party conference last week formally took over from Annie Lööf. You can read more about Demirok in this article by The Local, or by listening to the latest episode of our Sweden in Focus podcast.

And some government proposals that aren’t to do with migration: Business and Energy Minister Ebba Busch on Sunday promised to speed up permit approvals for sea-based wind power, which she in an interview with public broadcaster SVT’s news show Agenda called “one of our most important election pledges”.

What’s next?

Put February 9th in your diary. That’s when the Swedish Central Bank, under the new leadership of Erik Thedéen, will announce its latest decision on the interest rate. The bank is widely expected to raise the interest rate by another 0.5 percentage points. We’ll cover the announcement on The Local when it comes.