Former Swedish EU Commissioner suspected of irregularity
Sunday, 17 January 2016
Media in Sweden reported last Friday (15.1) about a housing scandal involving Kommunal, the largest trade union in the country with more than 500 000 members in the municipal sector, and Margot Wallström, minister of foreign affairs. Wallström had been offered a rental apartment in Stockholm by Kommunal and claims that she was misled by the trade union when accepting the apartment.
The scandal became known after the newspaper Aftonbladet reported about irregularities in the Swedish municipal workers´ union. The treasurer of the union has already resigned.
In Sweden’s dysfunctional real estate market rental apartments are hard to come about and have resulted in a black market in Stockholm. The trade unions own apartment houses and allocate apartments to their members but also to those whom they favor. Normally vacant apartments should be made available for those who are queuing in the municipality for an apartment.
Wallström works in Stockhom but is registered in another county in Sweden. She contacted Kommunal, or was offered by them, an attractive and furnished apartment in the centre of Stockholm for a rent far below the market rent. In fact she would not have to pay the rent as her party, the Social Democrats, would pay the costs.
“If Margot Wallström had been sensible, she should have rejected the apartment offer and bought an apartment or rented a second-hand apartment on market conditions. With her present and previous incomes it shouldn’t have been any problem,” Ewa Stenberg writes in Dagens Nyheter.
After the scandal was disclosed in media, Wallström announced that she would cancel the contract and move out of the apartment as soon as possible. This is not the first time that a leading politician has been involved in a housing scandal. Former Social Democratic leader Håkan Juholt was forced to resign in 2012 after it was disclosed that he had misused housing allowances.
The Swedish Institute Against Bribery is of the opinion that a prosecutor should investigate if any crime of bribery has been committed when Wallström was offered the apartment. The Chief Prosecutor at the National Unit Against corruption has announced that it is not yet clear if an investigation should be launched.
Accepting an apartment from a trade union on non-market conditions might be considered as a conflict of interest. Political scientist Stig-Björn Ljunggren told Dagens Industri: “Later on Kommunal may want to comment on a government decision. Then it’s quite good to call Margot.”
Before she became minister of foreign affairs, Wallström was Commissioner in the European Commission during two terms, first for Environment (1999 – 2004) and then for Institutional Relations and Communication Strategy (2004 – 2009). During the second period she was also one of the vice-presidents of the Commission.