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Politics in Sweden: Is Ulf Kristersson's 'government of action' ready to act?

Richard Orange
Richard Orange - [email protected]
Politics in Sweden: Is Ulf Kristersson's 'government of action' ready to act?
Sweden's Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson photographed on his way into parliament on Tuesday. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

When Ulf Kristersson held his victory speech after last year's election, he promised 'a government of action'. In his opening speech to parliament a year later, he was still making the same promise, writes Richard Orange in this week's Politics in Sweden column.


The opening passages of Ulf Kristersson's "statement of government policy", the speech the Prime Minister holds on the first day of the new parliamentary session, sounded almost like an excuse. 

"The fact is," Kristersson concluded on Tuesday, after laying out the issues facing Sweden, "that no Swedish government in modern times has had to simultaneously tackle challenges that are so numerous, so major and so difficult".

(The former prime ministers that handled, say, the Sweden financial crisis of the early 1990s, the refugee crisis of 2015, or the Covid-19 pandemic might disagree.)

He then ran through the areas which the new government was in the process of "overhauling".

But when it came to concrete reforms that had actually been completed, he appeared to come up empty, able only to point to the "large number of inquiries" that had been launched. 

It was then that signs of frustration seemed to show.  

"These reform processes must be quicker," Kristersson said. "They take too long, problems grow bigger and many people begin to distrust government’s ability to act." 

The fact is (to borrow Kristersson's phrase), that this government in its first year, has been nowhere near as handlingskraftig – the word, meaning "energetic", "determined", or "ready to get to work", which he used in his election night speech – as he promised a year ago. 


Time and again over the past year, ministers have announced laws and reforms originally set in motion by the former Social Democrat government almost as if they were their own, or held press conferences to "update" the press on measures already announced. 

This is partly a consequence of the slow but thorough way new laws are made in Sweden. After an inquiry is launched, it takes a year or more before anything changes in practice, always a challenge for governments in their first year. 

As the inquiries start to deliver their recommendations and their recommendations become law, more and more of the changes outlined in the Tidö Agreement will start to become reality. 

But the government has also delayed or avoided taking decisions. 

The reaction to the urgent issue of the Quran burnings was perhaps the most extreme example of this, where we witnessed the spectacle of Justice Minister Gunnar Strömmer launching an inquiry into changing the Public Order Act that would not report for a year and whose recommendations he explicitly said the government might well not enact anyway. 

It smacked of a failure to take a difficult decision against the wishes of the supporting far-right Sweden Democrats. 


As if conscious of the slow pace, Kristersson announced that he was setting up a new team of inquiry chairs under the control of the Coordination Secretariat of the Prime Minister’s Office.

"The aim," he said, "is to shorten – even halve – the duration of inquiries, while maintaining high standards of legal precision. Major problems require thoroughness – but also swiftness." 

That this was the first new reform mentioned in the whole speech suggests that Kristersson is starting to hear the clock ticking. 

The opposition was, of course, ready to pounce, with Social Democrat leader Magdalena Andersson wondering on Tuesday when, if ever, the starting guns would fire "for real" on the government's "war on gang crime". 

"We've not seen anything of that yet," she complained. 

When it came to Sweden's accession to Nato, she said the issue still remained in Turkey's hands, just as it had done a year ago. "Nothing concrete has happened on that since I left my position as Prime Minister a year ago," she told the Dagens Nyheter newspaper.

A narrative of inaction is also starting to take hold in the media coverage. 

"The government is terrified of running out of time," observed Dagens Nyheter's political commentator, Tomas Ramberg, in his commentary on the speech. "A parliamentary term runs out like peas from a sack and is over before you know it. What a government doesn't manage to get going in the first year risks not being completed before the next election." 

Svenska Dagbladet titled its podcast on the speech "a Prime Minister frustrated". 

When Kristersson made his first statement of government policy nearly a year ago, he promised "a paradigm shift". Both that phrase, and the phrase handlingskraftig regering, or "government of action", will start to sound increasingly hollow if he delivers nothing of the sort.  

Politics in Sweden is a weekly column looking at the big talking points and issues in Swedish politics. Members of The Local Sweden can sign up to receive an email alert when the column is published. Just click on this “newsletters" option or visit the menu bar.


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