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Reinfeldt and Löfven lock horns in second debate

Fredrik Reinfeldt and Social Democrat leader Stefan Löfven didn't hold back in their second face-to-face debate on Sunday night, tackling unemployment, taxes, and schooling in what some labelled the most heated debate in years.

Reinfeldt and Löfven lock horns in second debate

Jobs, taxes, and schools were the main themes of Sunday night’s debate, broadcast live on Sveriges Television (SVT). The first half of the debate held the majority of the action, in what the Dagens Nyheter newspaper called “the most heated debate in several years”.

Prime Minister Reinfeldt opened the debate by referring to his government’s plans for a fifth round of income-tax reductions, stating that “if people get to keep more of their salary, then the will and the drive to work will be higher”.

Löfven, who placed unemployment levels highest up his agenda, was unimpressed.

“I hate unemployment,” he said. “I will ensure that every council of state and every authority head gets asked about how they can contribute (to creating more jobs,” he responded.

Reinfeldt, whose four-party centre-right coalition is hoping for a third election victory in September 2014, responded that unemployment isn’t his biggest concern.

“I learned to hate something even worse, that is being an outsider,” he said, adding that such people are often neglected.

Löfven didn’t let the unemployment issue drop, however.

“We have a higher unemployment level than when you took office. You can’t escape that,” he replied.

Next on the agenda was taxes, with Löfven explaining that his party believed it was “fair” to lower taxes for pensioners, stating that “our simple argument is that pension is deferred pay”

Reinfeldt countered by calling Löfven’s tax policies a mess.

“Stefan Löfven is against all tax cuts until they are applied. But you’ll never lower taxes for ordinary people,” he said.

Löfven countered by accusing the PM of lowering taxes with “borrowed money” – a reference to the government’s recently unveiled autumn budget, which caused raised eyebrows also in the country’s conservative press.

Another hot topic was schooling. Education Minister Jan Björklund, taking part in the debate as the leader of The Liberals (Folkpartiet), claimed that school results had continually dropped for 20 years because of the mess from the last Social Democrat government’s actions still being cleaned up.

Löfven retorted that perhaps the statistics had something to do with the fact that Björklund had been the longest sitting education minister in Sweden since primary education (grundskola) was introduced in 1962.

At the close, the prime minister and the leader of the opposition were pleased with their respective efforts in the debate.

“This was a truly good debate, it was the beginning of a long election year where we are going to show that we are focusing on growth, which will get the economy to grow,” Reinfeldt told reporters after.

Swedes will go to the polls on September 14th, 2014.

TT/The Local/og

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SWEDEN ELECTS

Sweden Elects: How powerful are the Sweden Democrats now?

The Local's editor Emma Löfgren explains how Sweden's parliamentary committees work – and the role the Sweden Democrats will play in them.

Sweden Elects: How powerful are the Sweden Democrats now?

Hej,

The speaker of parliament has given Ulf Kristersson, leader of the conservative Moderates and the likely next prime minister of Sweden, October 12th as a deadline to conclude his government negotiations.

If Kristersson comes up with a viable proposal for a ruling coalition, the speaker will put that proposal to parliament within four days. Chances are Sweden will have its new right-wing government by mid-October.

What will that government look like? Most likely, it will consist of at least the Moderates and the Christian Democrats. Rumours have it Kristersson is hoping to bring the Liberals into the governmental fold, and it is unlikely that the far-right Sweden Democrats will be part of the government.

But anyone who thinks the latter means they will be left on the sidelines is mistaken. They will have demanded significant concessions in order to support Kristersson’s government (and especially to make way for the Liberals) from parliament, and judging from recent news, they got them.

In a joint press release last week, the right wing – the Moderates, Christian Democrats, Liberals and Sweden Democrats – said they had reached a deal on how to share responsibility for their parliamentary committees.

There are 15 committees in the Swedish parliament, seats on which are held by members of parliament, with larger parties getting more seats as well as more high-ranking roles such as chair and deputy chair.

The right wing is after this election entitled to 16 chair and deputy chair roles, and the Sweden Democrats will get half of those, the parties agreed. The key thing that many political pundits were keeping an eye on was which committees, as that tells us a lot about how far they got in their negotiations with the other right-wing parties. The answer: far.

The Sweden Democrats will get to chair the Justice, Foreign Affairs, Labour Market, and Industry and Trade Committees – all heavyweight committees. 

Their most high-profile appointment is Richard Jomshof, one of the most senior Sweden Democrats who in the run-up to the election gave an anti-Islam speech (not the first time). He will chair the Justice Committee.

The Moderates will chair the Finance and Social Insurance Committees (plus the EU Committee), the Christian Democrats will chair the Health and Welfare Committee, and the Liberals will chair the Education Committee.

On the other side, the left-wing parties will get to chair the Defence, Taxation, Constitution, Civil Affairs, Transport and Communications, Environment and Agriculture, and Cultural Affairs Committees.

So what exactly do the parliamentary committees do, and how much influence will the Sweden Democrats now have over legislation?

The votes of every member of the committees count equally (there are at least 15 members on every committee, representing the various parties from left to right), and the chair gets the final vote if there’s a tie. He or she also has influence over the committee’s agenda and over how meetings are directed, with the position also bringing prestige.

All government bills and proposals by members of parliament first go through one of the committees before they can be put to the main chamber for a vote. The committee adopts a position on the proposal and although the final decision rests with the 349 members of the main chamber, they usually vote for the committee’s position since the make-up of their members represent the parties in parliament.

Although chair positions give them a procedural advantage, the Sweden Democrats won’t have unlimited power over their committees, since as I said, the other parties have seats too and their votes count equally.

The main benefit for the Sweden Democrats is rather the soft power it gives them. The chair is the face of the parliamentary committee, and these senior roles will force the other parties to take them seriously.

Another aspect to bear in mind is that they’ll have enough seats on each committee that they will have a key kingmaker role where they can side either with the government or the opposition – giving them fairly significant negotiating power when it comes to future legislation.

In other news, the Swedish parliament last week re-elected the popular Andreas Norlén as speaker, it’s been taking much longer than usual to get a work permit (here’s why) and foreigners are calling for the Migration Agency to issue special visas to allow those affected by renewal delays to leave Sweden and return, the Nord Stream 2 pipeline has stopped leaking gas, and households in Sweden are starting to feel the economic squeeze.

In the latest episode of our Sweden in Focus podcast, host Paul O’Mahony is joined by Handelsbanken chief economist Johan Löf, as well as The Local’s Becky Waterton, Richard Orange and James Savage.

Many thanks to everyone who’s got in touch lately with your thoughts and feedback about Sweden Elects. I’m happy it’s useful to you. If you have any questions about Swedish politics, you’re always welcome to get in touch.

Best wishes,

Emma

Sweden Elects is a weekly column by Editor Emma Löfgren looking at the big talking points and issues in the Swedish election race. 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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