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KEY POINTS: What we know so far about Sweden’s first census in more than 30 years

Sweden's new right-wing government has promised to carry out the first national census in more than 30 years. What do we know about the plans, and when or if it is likely to happen?

KEY POINTS: What we know so far about Sweden's first census in more than 30 years
Moderate leader Ulf Kristersson, then in opposition, announces his party's plans for a national census in 2020. Fredrik Sandberg/TT

What has the government so far said about its plans? 

In the Tidö Agreement between the three parties in the government coalition and the far-Right Sweden Democrats, it says that  “work shall be carried out to prepare a large-scale national census”. 

According to the agreement, work would start with an individual (or perhaps agency) being given a “myndighetsöverskridande uppdrag“, a charge which will give them power over several government agencies, to prepare how to carry out such a census. 

The agreement also calls for changes to make it “easier to trace afterward who has been registered in a certain apartment or property in order to prosecute civil registration offences.”

In the regeringsförklaring, the speech made by Sweden’s prime minister Ulf Kristersson laying out the government’s plans the language is stronger. It says that “a census shall be carried out and coordination numbers which are not confirmed will be recalled”.  

Then in the coming budget, the government has set aside nearly 500m kronor for carrying out a budget, with 80m to be spent in 2023, 170m in 2024 and a further 170m in 2025. 

READ ALSO: How does Sweden’s new government want to change migration policy? 

While the language in the Tidö Agreement suggests only that preparatory work need be done during this mandate period, the language in Kristersson’s speech indicates that the actual census will be carried out.

The budget allocations, however, do not look large enough to carry out the sort of full-scale census the parties have promised. 

“The way they spoke about the census [during the campaign], it will require a massive amount of money and and resources. And since they have not allocated those resources in the budget, we are wondering what is happening,” Peder Björk, a Social Democrat MP who sits on the tax committee, told The Local. 

“The 500m kronor indicated for the coming three years,” he said, was “not even close to enough to do the kind of census that they have been talking about”. 

“We are afraid that they will take money that could be used for other important work at the Tax Authority, and use it for the census.”

Björk on December 1st, submitted a parliamentary question to the government asking for clarification about its plans. 

What do we know about how the census will take place? 

Richard Jomshof, the Sweden Democrat chair of the parliament’s Justice Committee, told the Dagens Nyheter newspaper this week that he believed that this census would require an “outreach organisation”, with teams of officials visiting homes around the country to check that those, and only those, registered there are living there. 

In a written statement to DN, Sweden’s Finance Minister Elisabeth Svantesson confirmed that officials would be required to visit some citizens’ homes, with “targeted checks in areas where there is considered to be a significant risk of incorrect registration in the population register”.

In a proposal made in 2020, the Moderate Party suggested that the Swedish Tax Agency should lead the census, with Statistics Sweden, the Police Agency, and local municipalities and regions working under it.  

The census will primarily be carried out digitally, with people encouraged to verify their details online, or, failing that through filling in a physical form. 

According to the 2020 proposal, the relevant authorities would only make home visits to areas where there is a suspected high level of false registration, or to homes where an unusually large number of people are registered, or to homes where the people registered changes very frequently. 

Anyone who is not registered in the census would immediately lose their right to welfare benefits according to the proposal. 

When did Sweden last have a census? 

Sweden has not had a census since 1990, when the country switched from having a questionnaire-based system to having a registry-based system, where each individual has to be registered with the Swedish Tax Agency in order to access government services, health, and welfare. 

Up until 1990, Sweden carried out regular censuses. Between 1965 and 1990, a census and housing register was carried out every five years. From 1955 until 1965, a census was carried out every five years, and from 1930 until 1955,  a census was carried out every ten years.

Why is there such pressure to have a new census? 

Sweden’s population has grown by close to two million people since the last census, from 8.6m in 1990 to 10.4m in 2020. 

While most of those people are represented in the national register, there have been growing concerns about the number of people living in Sweden illegally, some of whom are not registered at all, of people being registered as living at a false address, or of the large number of identity numbers that do not correspond to a real person. 

The Swedish Tax Agency has estimated that as many as 200,000 people are registered as living at the wrong address in Sweden, with criminals accused of registering themselves at the wrong address to avoid the police and debt collection agencies.

What have the parties’ policies been?  

For the Sweden Democrats, this has long been a campaigning issue, with the party claiming that relying on registration means that no one knows for sure who is living in Sweden.

“Sweden has lost control of the situation when it comes to who is living in the country and who is registered,” Sweden Democrat MP David Lang wrote in a 2021 motion to the parliament calling for a census. 

In 2020, the Moderate Party started to campaign for a census and in launching an initiative in the parliament’s tax committee

In April 2022, Sweden’s parliament voted in favour of a Moderate-party led proposal to carry one out. (Ibrahim Baylan, Sweden’s former business minister, voted against Social Democrat party line by mistake, allowing the motion to pass.)

The then Social Democrat-led government refused to act on parliament’s decision, however. 

“The registry-based system,” Ida Karkalainen, the then minister of social affairs, said was “simpler for the population” and allowed “better and more up-to-date statistics”. 

The Social Democrat approach has been instead to take actions to improve the registration system, developing, for example, the proposal passed this week which will require people holding coordination numbers to visit the Tax Agency with some ID to prove their identity. The party has argued that holding a separate census would both be costly and unnecessary. 

Which other countries in Europe have recently carried out censuses? 

Germany carried out a national census this year, with the stated aim being to “determine how many people live in Germany and how they live and work”. 

The UK carried out a census in 2021, with the results published this year. 

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POLITICS IN SWEDEN

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.

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