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SWEDEN ELECTS

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
Finance Minister Elisabeth Svantesson with her first government budget. Photo: Pontus Lundahl/TT

Hej,

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.

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TERRORISM

Sweden to make it illegal to be active in a terrorist organisation

Sweden's government has submitted a new terror bill which could help convince Turkey that the country is acting to crack down on Swedish residents active in the Kurdish PKK terror group.

Sweden to make it illegal to be active in a terrorist organisation

The new proposal, titled “a special penalty provision for participation in a terrorist organisation”, will make participation in the activities of a terrorist organisation in any way that “promotes, strengthens or supports” the organisation punishable with up to four years in prison. 

“This is a wider criminalisation that takes aim at a slew of activities within a terrorist organisation that don’t need to be concretely connected to a specific terrorist crime,” Justice Minister Gunnar Strömmer told a press conference.

“Sweden has an increased terrorist threat which must be taken very seriously,” he continued. “Now the government is putting forward a legislative proposal which means that both participation in and financing of participation in terrorist organisations will be punishable.” 

Actions such as handling equipment, organising camps or locations for meetings, cooking or being in charge of transport for designated terrorist organisations would be criminalised under the new law, which Strömmer stressed was a “considerable widening of the scope compared to current legislation”.

In November, the country amended its constitution to allow the proposed bill to move forward, as it was deemed to infringe on Sweden’s freedom of association laws.

The proposal will now go to Sweden’s Council on Legislation, which judged a previous proposal to ban membership of a terror organisation, brought in in the wake the 2017 Stockholm terror attack, as in conflict with Sweden’s constitution right to free association. 

Under the proposal, serious cases of the new crime will be punishable by up to eight years in prison, while those found guilty of holding a leadership position in a terror organisation could be jailed for 18 years or even for life. 

The proposal criminalises all forms of support for terror organisations, regardless of whether it is financial or other ways of taking part in it, promoting it and strengthening it. 

Strömmer noted that “partaking in a demonstration or at a meeting will not in itself be punishable”, adding that said flag-waving in itself would not be criminalised but such activities could potentially be used as evidence in court.

The government hopes to be able to submit the proposal to parliament on March 7th, and for it to come into force by June 1st. 

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