A new minority government with Moderate Party leader Ulf Kristersson as Prime Minster was established this week following the elections last September and has published its statement of government policy.
As previously reported by The Brussels Times, the elections on 11 September resulted in almost a tie between the two blocs in Sweden – the incumbent center-left government led by the Social Democrats and the center-right bloc led by the Moderates. The center-right received 176 mandates against 173 mandates for center-left bloc.
Kristersson was elected on Monday with a majority of 176 votes from four parties, the Moderates, Christian Democrats, Liberals and Sweden Democrats. The latter party, a far-right anti-immigration party, was the winner in the elections and received 20,5 % of the votes, second after the Social Democrats (30,3 %) but ahead of the Moderates (19,1 %).
This meant that they became king-makers and enabled the change of government in Sweden but not that they were included in the new coalition government which continues to be a minority government with only about 30 % of the seats in the Swedish Parliament (Riksdagen). Exactly how much influence the Sweden Democrats would have on a new center-right government was unclear after the elections.
Now it is known. It appears that the ’Swedish model’ has renewed itself and offers a new governance form that could be copied by other polarized countries. The Sweden Democrats are formally kept outside the government but will strongly influence its policy from the outside. In fact, they have been promised to have the same say in policy-making as the three parties in the government.
First, members of their party will head four important parliamentary committees: the judiciary-, foreign affairs-, economy- and labour market committees. Second, and importantly, the Sweden Democrats will have political staff at the Government Offices.
In fact, according to an agreement between all four parties, the so-called Tidö agreement, named after the castle where it was concluded, the parties will cooperate on the same conditions in all political reform projects through the whole planning and legislative process. “This will guarantee full and equal influence for all partner parties,” the agreement says (see link in Swedish).
No wonder that Sweden Democrats leader Jimmie Åkesson was satisfied after the vote when the new Prime Minister was elected and accepted to be outside the government. “At last, the electorate voted for a new direction and a new start for Sweden,” he said. “What’s important is what the government does, not how it looks like.”
Foreign Affairs outside party agreement
The Tidö agreement covers several domestic issues that have become burning socio-economic problems in Sweden, such as gang criminality, migration and integration, health care, education, and economic growth and household economy. Foreign policy and European affairs have been kept outside the agreement. In these areas, the new government intends to continue the policy of the previous government.
The government aims at completing the NATO accession process together with Finland and to systematically integrate Sweden into NATO’s various structures. For this “paradigm shift” in Swedish defence and security policy to happen it will need to get the remaining approvals of two NATO members, Hungary and Turkey.
Any new political initiatives are not to be expected from the new government. It says that it will pursue a primarily Swedish and European foreign policy. “Protecting Swedish interests and standing up for democratic values are at the core of this policy”.
Sweden will also shoulder the EU Presidency starting on 1 January 2023. The new unexperienced European Affairs minister will be assisted by Christer Danielsson, a former Swedish ambassador to the EU and Director General of DG Enlargement (now DG Near).
The new government promises that “Sweden will be an active, engaged and proactive member of the EU – before, during and after the Presidency”. In fact, it will have to deal with a number of important EU files, including the EU support to Ukraine, and ensure support for them also from the Sweden Democrats.
Besides the Tidö agreement, the statement of government policy (see link in English) published on Tuesday is necessary reading for understanding the changes in Sweden the new government intends to implement. It reads as a frank recognition of deep socio-economic problems that for too long have been ignored or denied in Sweden because of “political correctness”.
Wake-up call on socio-economic problems
Contrary to common perception, Sweden lags behind other EU member states in several policy areas.
“Several of the cornerstones of the Swedish welfare state – internal security, external security, energy supply and social cohesion – must now be repaired and reinforced,” the new Prime Minster said in the government statement. “If they fail entirely, the damage will be monumental. And if that happens, Sweden will no longer be Sweden.”
On crime, he said, Sweden broke its own bloody record in fatal shootings shortly after the elections. No other country in Europe has had the same trend of violence as Sweden. So far this year there have been 53 fatal shootings – many of them nothing less than executions. Innocent bystanders are also hit and killed by gangland bullets. “A country ruled by criminal gangs, that’s the impression”.
To combat crime, the government will undertake a complete review of criminal legislation. Among others, it intends to double the sentences for offences committed in gang environments and make participation in criminal networks a punishable offence.
On immigration, he admitted that it has been unsustainable. “The result has been dangerous social exclusion among many people born in other countries, but also among children and young people born here in Sweden.”
The integration problems now affect all of society in the form of housing segregation (even “ghettos”) and overcrowding, unemployment and benefit dependence, health problems and poor school outcomes, crime and vulnerability to crime, honour-based oppression, insecurity and violations of young people’s rights. “This Government’s message is that this cannot continue and requires a paradigm shift.”
While Sweden continues to commit itself to uphold the right of asylum, the new government published a long list of proposed changes in Swedish law which will reduce and discourage immigration to Sweden, increase voluntary return to home countries and reinforce internal controls of foreigners in the country.
Among others stricter conditions for receiving residence permits and Swedish citizenship will be introduced (after at least 8 years residence). A previous proposal on a national ban on begging, once proposed by the new foreign minister Tobias Billström when he was migration minister has been dusted off.
A controversial proposal is that Swedish asylum reception legislation will be adapted to ensure that it is not more generous than is required of any Member State under EU law. Whether there is a “minimum” level of compliance with EU law on asylum reception is unclear. A European Commission declined to comment on it when asked by The Brussels Times.
On the more positive side, everything will be done to improve the integration of immigrants to Sweden, and ensure that they become part of Swedish society by promoting integration into the labour market and reducing the dependence on benefit allowances.
On education, Ulf Kristersson said that Swedish schools have serious problems. Many children start school with deficient linguistic skills and lacking help with their homework at home.
On health care, he said that Sweden has very high-quality health and medical care – when it is available. Even before the pandemic, health care queues had already doubled since 2014.
Queues for child and adolescent psychiatric services tripled during the same period. Less than half of all women with breast cancer receive care in time – and the same holds true of more than two thirds of men with prostate cancer. “This is an enormous failure”.
He finished with a call for unity, relying on a track record of cooperation in the Swedish parliament. “Let us honour Swedish democracy by debating openly… I will now form a government for the whole of Sweden and for everyone who lives here. As Prime Minister, I want to lead Sweden from a divided country to a united country.”
The Brussels Times