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HEALTH

INTERVIEW: Does coronavirus mark the end of neoliberalism in Sweden?

Just before Christmas, Sweden's finance minister Magdalena Andersson declared that the coronavirus crisis marked "the end of the era of Neoliberalism". But for Daniel Suhonen, the leading ideologue of the Social Democrats' left flank, the party needs concrete policies as well as words.

INTERVIEW: Does coronavirus mark the end of neoliberalism in Sweden?
Daniel Suhonen at the launch of his Reformisterna group of Social Democrats last year. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT
The rhetoric Andersson has been using, both in a long interview in the Dagens Nyheter newspaper, and elsewhere, marks a definite shift in tone for the leadership of the centre-left Social Democrats. 
 
“I think that this marks the end of the era of neoliberalism which was established under Thatcher and Reagan,” Andersson said.
 
“Going forward, we're going to realise that we need more politics, more collective solutions. My expectation is that the 2020s will be a decade where there is a growing call for collective solutions. This is a paradigm shift.” 
 
 
The Social Democrats are seeking to frame the high death rate in Swedish elderly care and the shortages of equipment and staff problems faced by healthcare, as the result of tax cuts, privatisation, and under-investment, arguing that this is the chief message to come from the first report of the Coronavirus Commission. 
 
Magdalena Andersson is mooted as a potential future leader for the Social Democrats. Photo: Amir Nabizadeh/TT
 
 
For Suhonen, who leads Katalys, a left-wing Social Democrat think tank, this is very welcome. 
 
“She wants to have Socialism a week from now. I'm very happy. She sounds like I have done for the last 15 or 20 years,” he told The Local. 
 
But he complains that Andersson, in her six years as finance minister, had done almost nothing to counter these problems. 
 

“Who is guilty of this? In September 2019, one year ago, she was bragging about how she had saved so much money that we were well prepared for the next crisis.  
 
“But she was only thinking about economic crises. It's a bit of a sad story, because she didn't let the public sector expand when when it could have. We were poor in every sense that mattered in this crisis. We didn't have what we needed to have.” 
 
 
What worries him, he said, is that while Andersson is ready to hail the shift in public mood against privatisation, and in favour of higher taxes and higher public spending, she has never followed up with any details of what the Social Democrats might do. 
 
“In three to four interviews, almost all on the same theme, she says the public mind has changed: no one's wants more privatisation, people want a stronger society, people would maybe accept rising taxes,” Suhonen complained.   
 
“But she gives no sign that the Social Democrats have those policies. She says, 'the people would like to end privatisation', but she doesn't say, 'we want to end privatisation” .  
 
 
Are Social Democrats to blame for starving the state of funds? 
 
Suhonen pointed out that almost half of the tax cuts over the past 30 years had been carried out under Social Democrat-led governments. 
 
“During the last 30 years, Sweden has gone from a very clear Social Democratic structure and society, with public monopolies in health care, education and all that, to a very diverse market-oriented neoliberal system,” he said. 
 
“If what what the state took out from the economy was at the same level today as it was in the year 2000, the public sector would have had 300bn Swedish kronor (€30bn) more every year for public spending.” 
 
But centre-right Alliance government which ruled from 2006 to 2014 was responsible, he claimed, for just 160bn kronor of those reductions. The rest of the cuts had been carried out under Social Democrats. 
 
Not a left-wing Social Democrat
 
Suhonen said his fear was that Andersson was simply positioning herself for a coming campaign to succeed Sweden's current prime minister Stefan Löfven.  
 
“What you're seeing with Magdalena Andersson is that she knows that this critique is coming. She's maybe one of the ones that want to be the new leader on that day that Stefan Löfven resigns.” 
 
“She's not a left-wing Social Democrat. She wants to like, have those kind of words in the history of what she has been saying.”
 
He said that the situation during the past two years, when the Social Democrats have agreed to weaken labour laws and cut taxes for the richest in return for the support of the Liberal and Centre parties, risked undermining the foundations of democracy. 
 
“It's not the Social Democrats' mission to rule on a neoliberal agenda,” he said. “That destroys how the the political and democratic system works.” 
 
A historic chance
 
Where he agrees with Andersson, though, is that the Social Democratic party in Sweden do now have a historic chance to seize control of the political narrative, as their counterparts have successfully done in Denmark. 
 
Doing so, however, will require bold political action the party has as yet shown few signs it is willing to take. 
 
“Maybe you can double the number of people that work in elderly care, and maybe you can stop all presentations, maybe you can stop the privatisation of schools,” he said.  
 
“Of course, I know that the Social Democrats don't have a majority in parliament, but for God's sake start doing this!”
 
“If the liberal parties don't want this, then call a snap election and make it a referendum about the welfare state and privatisation.”
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Member comments

  1. “She wants to have Socialism a week from now. I’m very happy. She sounds like I have done for the last 15 or 20 years,”
    In other words:
    – She wants Sweden like a Venezuela….

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NATO

PM: Social Democrats could decide on Nato on May 15th

Sweden's Prime Minister has said that her party has brought forward the date for a decision on Nato membership by ten days, meaning a decision could be in place before a state visit by Finland's president in mid-May.

PM: Social Democrats could decide on Nato on May 15th

The decision had previously been tabled for a meeting of the party board on May 24th, but could now be taken at an extra meeting of the Social Democrats ruling committee on May 15th, Magdalena Andersson said at a press conference on Thursday. 

“We will of course discuss the issue and then we can see if we feel ready to take a decision or not,” she said at a Ukraine donors’ conference in Warsaw. 

She said that the security guarantees Sweden has received from the US and Germany for the period between a possible application and full Nato membership were significant. 

“It means a lot if Sweden chooses to send in an application, that we will be safer during the period up until we become members than we otherwise would be,” she said. 

“The party committee can take a decision then,” Party secretary Tobias Baudin he told Sweden’s TT newswire of the May 15th meeting. 

The meeting will come just two days after the Swedish government’s ‘security policy analysis group’, which includes representatives from all political parties, is due to submit its own reassessment of Sweden’s security situation. 

“It depends on what the security policy dialogue shows,” Baudin says of the decision. “Right now meetings in party districts are going at full pace.” 

The May 15th meeting will take place on the Sunday before the week when Finland’s Iltalehti and Sweden’s Expressen newspaper last month reported Finland and Sweden had already decided to jointly announce a decision to join Nato.

Finland’s president, Sauli Niinistö, is due to visit Stockholm on 17th May and 18 May on a state visit, where he will be hosted by King Karl XVI Gustaf.  

The meeting of the Social Democrats’ ruling committee will come shortly after the party holds three digital members’ meetings on security policy, on May 9th, May 10th and May 12th (although these may also be brought forward). 

There is still resistance in the party’s rank and file, with at least three of the party’s powerful leagues still openly opposed to joining: 

  • The Social Democratic Women in Sweden voted last week to continue its opposition to Nato membership.
  • The Swedish Social Democratic Youth League has said it would prefer Sweden to bolster its security through the EU.
  • The Religious Social Democrats of Sweden has said that it believes the decision should not be rushed through at a time of conflict.  
  • The Social Democrat Students’ League has said that it wants to wait until it has seen the security police analysis before taking a decision. 

None of these leagues can block membership, however. It is the Social Democrats’ ruling party committee which is empowered to take the decision. 

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