Swedish minister calls for 50 percent cap on non-Nordic citizens in troubled areas

Immigration Minister Anders Ygeman has suggested that Sweden follow Denmark and seek to limit the concentration of people with immigrant backgrounds in the most troubled areas of its cities.

Swedish minister calls for 50 percent cap on non-Nordic citizens in troubled areas
File photo of Integration and Migration Minister Anders Ygeman. Photo: Ali Lorestani/TT

In an interview with the Dagens Nyheter newspaper (DN), Ygeman said that it was a problem for Sweden that there are districts where a majority of inhabitants come from outside the Nordic countries – Denmark, Sweden, Iceland, Finland and Norway.

“I think it’s bad to have areas where the majority have a non-Nordic origin,” he told DN.

“If you want to learn Swedish, you need to practice. If you live in an area where you can get by with the language of your home country, it becomes hugely more difficult to learn and develop the language. If, in addition, you have a job where you can get by in the language of your homeland, where are you going to practice Swedish? In that context, I think having this sort of goal can say something important.” 

A 50 percent limit

Ygeman suggested a 50 percent limit when pushed by the newspaper’s reporters on whether he thought Sweden should bring in a similar target to that of Denmark, where the ruling Social Democrats have brought in a target that no housing development in the country should have more than 30 percent of the population with a non-Western background by 2030.

The Danish government considers “Western” countries to be EU countries plus Andorra, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Norway, San Marino, Switzerland, the UK, the Vatican, Canada, USA, Australia and New Zealand.

“That’s just a starting point. If we’re going to impose that number [as a target] for real, then we need to carry out an inquiry and think about it. But if you want to have my “hunch”, I’d put the number there,” Ygeman said.

Ygeman, however, believes that other factors – such as unemployment, level of education and criminality – are more important than residents’ country of origin when determining whether an area should be classed as ‘vulnerable’ or not.

Sweden’s “vulnerable areas” – the lowest on a three-step scale, followed by “risk areas” and “especially vulnerable areas” – are described by the police authority as areas “characterised by a low socioeconomic status where criminals have an effect on the local community”.

“But the socio-economic factors also have an ethnic dimension,” Ygeman told DN, “as around 75 percent of the long-term unemployed have a non-Nordic background.”

Ygeman told DN that the number of residents with a non-Nordic background could “maybe be one of five criteria”, when classifying “vulnerable areas”.

Flexible renting

Another Danish idea which Ygeman would like to see in Sweden is so-called “flexible renting”, DN reports.

This consists of letting workers and students skip housing queues in “vulnerable areas”, in a bid to fill these areas with people who can support themselves financially.

“We need to make it easier for people who work or study to move into vulnerable areas and risk areas,” Ygeman told DN.

“We need quite tough requirements so that we don’t fill vulnerable areas up with people who are less able to pay.”

On the question of where the unemployed and those who are less able to support themselves will live, Ygeman told DN that “in all cities with vulnerable areas, there are twenty areas which aren’t vulnerable. Why do newly-arrived people need to live in that exact vulnerable area?”

This could be due, in part, to the fact that it’s easier to get an apartment in these areas, since they have a bad reputation and are cheaper, the newspaper’s reporters argued.

“Maybe we need to think about whether the requirements on income and being able to support yourself should be as strict across municipalities,” Ygeman told DN. “Maybe requirements should be a bit more simple in other areas, so you get a more mixed population.”

‘Non-Western’ sounds ‘colonial’

Ygeman did, however, admit to DN that Denmark’s debate concerning “non-Western” immigrants has “maybe not been so successful”.

“There’s something about that ‘non-Western’ thing which sounds ‘off’,” he said.

“There’s a colonial touch to it. ‘We’re Western, you’re…’ I think ‘non-Nordic works just as well to describe the problem.”

Member comments

  1. I was wondering, what about people coming from the US, Australia and such countries. They do not speak Swedish and there is a risk they might create their own pockets too. Perhaps non Nordic is a better term to use because the entire purpose of this rule would be for people to integrate well in the society and it’s easier for Nordic countries to do that because of language similarities.

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Sweden Elects: New finance minister under fire after first long interview

In our weekly Sweden Elects newsletter, The Local's editor Emma Löfgren explains the key events to keep an eye on in Swedish politics this week.

Sweden Elects: New finance minister under fire after first long interview


Elisabeth Svantesson has given her first long interview as finance minister, speaking to the Svenska Dagbladet daily just days after she presented her first budget on behalf of Sweden’s new, right-wing government.

The government has already faced accusations of deprioritising the climate crisis, and Svantesson conceded in the interview that its planned investment in nuclear power (which is a low-emission source of energy, but takes time to develop, so it pays off only in the long run) would also make it difficult to reach Sweden’s climate targets within the next decade.

Asked what will happen if Sweden does not meet its Agenda 2030 target, the sustainable development targets agreed by the United Nations, by that year, she said: “It would mean that we don’t meet the targets. If we don’t we don’t, but our ambition is to steer towards that goal.”

That quote, which was perceived as far more laissez-faire than the situation warrants, was met with criticism from the opposition.

“I’m astounded at how you sign agreements and vote for legislation in parliament only to ignore it when you feel like it,” said Green Party leader Per Bolund.

The Social Democrats’ former finance minister Mikael Damberg gave a diplomatic-or-patronising answer (a school of conflict avoidance that can be perfected only by a party that’s more used to being in power than not being in power) and guessed that Svantesson had perhaps not meant it like that. “Svantesson has had a lot to do this week, maybe she’s tired.”

Speaking of interviews, one Swedish newsroom has not yet been getting them, at least not with senior ministers. One of public broadcaster SVT’s top political interviewers, Anders Holmberg, points out that all four right-wing party leaders and several ministers have declined to appear on his “30 minuter”, a show famous for putting hard-hitting questions to politicians and senior decision-makers. It’s of course not mandatory to say yes to all interviews even as a politician, but it’s an unusual move.

It’s interesting that Bolund tried to attack Svantesson specifically on not following through on commitments. This has been a recurring piece of criticism since the new government was elected two months ago.

The budget was more conservative (in this particular case I mean conservative as in cautious rather than as in right-wing) than you might have expected based on the government’s election pledges, and it’s not the only campaign promise that they’ve been forced to backtrack on.

“The central thing is that they’re breaking most of their major election promises at the same time as as they’re not really managing to take care of the big social problems Sweden faces today,” Damberg told SVT.

To be fair, you would kind of expect him to say this (when has a political opposition party ever praised the government’s budget?), but significantly, the criticism hasn’t only come from the left-wing opposition.

Moderate Party politicians in the powerful Skåne region earlier this month slammed their party for failing to deliver the promised support to those suffering sky high power bills in the southern Swedish county.

“There are effectively no reforms, and they’re not putting in place the policies they campaigned for in the election,” the head of the liberal think tank Timbro told the Aftonbladet newspaper about the budget.

It will be interesting to see whether the label as “promise breakers” sticks, and whether that will affect the right-wing parties in the next election.

Did you know?

Parties make more and more pledges during election campaigns. Ahead of the 2014 election, a whopping 1,848 vallöften (election promises) were made, according to research by Gothenburg University, up from 326 in 1994.

You may not believe this, because the stereotypical image of the dishonest politician perhaps unfairly endures, but research shows that most politicians keep most of their election promises most of the time.

Swedish parties in a single-party government and coalition governments with a joint manifesto tend to deliver on between 80 and 90 percent of their vallöften, according to political scientist Elin Naurin. For coalition governments without a joint manifesto, it ranges from 50 to 70 percent.

In other news

the deputy mayor of the town of Norrtälje, who got 15 seconds – technically 26 seconds – of fame after he was left speechless when a reporter asked him to defend hefty pay rises for top councillors has resigned, saying he wants to take responsibility for what happened.

He also told SVT about his long and very awkward silence on camera that his brain had simply blacked out after having worked for 13 hours straight and gone nine hours without food in the post-election frenzy.

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.