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Sweden Elects: Budget reforms, a paradigm shift and 26 seconds of silence

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

Sweden Elects: Budget reforms, a paradigm shift and 26 seconds of silence
Elisabeth Svantesson, Sweden’s finance minister, along with Erik Slottner, Sweden’s new Minister for Public Administration and Niklas Wykman, new Minister for Financial Markets. Photo: Finance Ministry


I’m writing this newsletter early in the morning. It’s still dark outside but I can see a thin strip of sunny orange on the horizon and it’s almost November.

Later next month, on November 8th to be specific, Sweden’s new government is expected to hand over its first budget bill to parliament.

Rumours have it that it will not contain some of the most far-reaching reforms of the Tidö Agreement, the deal between the three right-wing parties in government and the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats.

Those reforms are instead planned in time for next year’s budget, reports Swedish finance newspaper Dagens Industri, giving the parties more time to work out the finer details of the proposals that allowed Moderate party leader – and now Prime Minister – Ulf Kristersson to form his government.

We already know a little bit about what will be proposed in this year’s budget (3,000 pages, according to Expressen). As is usually the case, the parties have been releasing information in dribs and drabs to maximise the time that the Swedish media will spend reporting on their budget.

One of the proposals is a dedicated 6.7 billion kronor (approximately $612 million) to tax cuts on fuel, following up on election promises to lower petrol and diesel prices. This would mean a decrease of one krona per litre from the start of next year, according to the parties, although Swedish news agency TT reports the actual effect at the pump will be a decrease of 0.14 kronor per litre of petrol and 0.41 kronor per litre of diesel.

Last week the government also announced its plan for a so-called “high-cost protection” for those hit by high power prices. More on that HERE.

In other news, the government has also spent the past week cautiously warning that some of the ambitious pledges made before the election may take slightly longer to implement than voters may be expecting (the above-mentioned high-cost protection was supposed to have been introduced by November 1st, which is no longer a likely deadline). 

“It could get worse before it gets better,” said Kristersson in his first speech to parliament about his promise to crack down on gang crime, a line he repeated in the first parliamentary debate last week.

Social Democrat opposition leader (and former Prime Minister) Magdalena Andersson at a press conference attacked the government on missing the November 1st deadline on the high-cost protection for energy costs. “You shouldn’t make promises you can’t keep,” she told reporters.

But she was reluctant to offer any strong criticism of the government on its migration policies, when asked in an interview by the Expressen newspaper, instead suggesting they did not go far enough.

“There is absolutely no question that we need a strict set of migration laws,” she said, rejecting the claims of Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Åkesson that the new programme represented a “paradigm shift”.

“The paradigm shift happened in 2015, and we carried it out,” she said, taking credit on behalf of the Social Democrat-led government at the time.

Has there been a paradigm shift? More than 500 readers responded to a recent survey by The Local, with over half saying they felt less welcome in Sweden than before the election. Many shared personal stories of racism or xenophobia they had faced since moving to Sweden. Read it HERE.

The Local carried out the survey after US tech worker Kat Zhou found herself in the eye of a storm after posting on Twitter about her experiences of racism. Our Sweden in Focus podcast spoke to her after her series of tweets went viral for both the right and the wrong reasons.

In the world of local Swedish politics, an interview with the deputy mayor of Norrtälje went viral (it even made Australian news!) after he was asked by an SVT reporter about the top councillors’ decision to raise their salaries by up to 27 percent… and was speechless for 26 seconds.

SVT lets the camera roll while awaiting his response, and in the end he answers “it’s a question of priorities”. You can watch the video here.

To be fair, after this election, 26 seconds of silence felt like a relief.

In Sölvesborg, the hometown of Jimmie Åkesson, the Sweden Democrats unexpectedly lost control of the municipality after their Moderate allies switched sides. Here’s The Local’s report in English.

In Gothenburg, a red-green coalition took power after the Social Democrats, Green Party and Left Party managed to oust the Moderates, despite failing to strike a coalition deal with the Centre Party.

And in Nynäshamn, a Sweden Democrat councillor resigned after being outed as a former propagandist for neo-Nazi site Nordfront. Anti-racist magazine Expo and Expressen found that she had used the racist N-word several times in posts, described gay pride celebrations as “disgusting” and called on women to live a “National Socialist life”.

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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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.