Sweden’s conservative and liberal opposition parties rejected overtures from Social Democratic Party prime minister Stefan Löfven on Tuesday night to support his minority government’s budget, saying it would vote for its own budget proposal instead. That could leave Löfven with little choice but to resign and call snap elections only two months after taking office.
“We were clear on that we would vote ‘yes’ to the Alliance proposal and we have seen nothing to change that,” the Moderate Party’s Anna Kinberg Batra told reporters after meeting with members of the government.
The Moderates are the biggest of the four parties in the Alliance bloc that governed Sweden until September when Löfven’s Social Democrats won a plurality of the seats in parliament with 31 percent support.
Years of conservative rule ended in Denmark with the 2011 election of Social Democratic Party leader Helle Thorning-Schmidt, whose coalition also included the Social Liberal Party and Socialist People’s Party. Two years later, the Socialist People’s Party left the coalition over the decision to sell 18 percent of DONG Energy, the nation’s largest energy company, to investment bank Goldman Sachs.
Finance minister Bjarne Corydon backed the decision, arguing that the move makes green energy a financially sustainable option, while former Social Democrat premier Poul Nyrup Rasmussen opposed the sale, calling Goldman a “shady partner.”
Defense ministers from eight Northern European countries agreed on Thursday to expand cooperation in order to counter an increase in Russian incursions of their airspace.
Meeting in Oslo, the ministers from the three Baltic states, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom agreed to do more to share intelligence and widen cross-border air force training in the region. Officials from Germany, Iceland, the Netherlands and Poland also attended. Read more “North Europe Deepens Defense Cooperation Against Russia”
Sweden’s search for what is believed to be a Russian submarine that entered its territorial waters last week underscores the whole Baltic region’s growing security concerns.
The search has triggered Sweden’s biggest military mobilization since the end of the Cold War and rekindled memories of the final years of the standoff between East and West when the neutral Scandinavian country’s navy repeatedly chased Soviet submarines along its coast. Read more “Submarine Hunt Underscores Nordics’ Russia Fears”
Swedes looked certain to return a leftist majority to parliament on Sunday but the Social Democrats, ahead of the ruling liberal party in the polls, could struggle to form a government.
Surveys put the Social Democrats at around 30 percent, close to the support they got in the last election. But Prime Minister John Fredrik Reinfeldt’s Moderates are down to around 22 percent, likely giving opposition leader Stefan Löfven a mandate to form the next government.
Löfven’s Green Party allies, however, are unlikely to win enough seats to give the two parties a majority, necessitating a coalition with either the formerly communist Left Party or centrist parties that are now in Reinfeldt’s alliance.
The Sweden Democrats are expected to win more than one in ten votes but the other major parties refuse to work with what they consider to be a far-right movement.
Many Swedes believe the liberal reforms and tax cuts enacted under Reinfeldt since he first came to power in 2006 have gone too far, weakening health and welfare services and allowing businesses to profit from schools.
Yet the opposition as a whole is barely outpolling the ruling parties, perhaps because Reinfeldt’s policies also enabled Sweden to weather the global financial crisis of 2008-2009 and achieve high income growth. Gross domestic product per capita has risen almost 20 percent in the last eight years.
The Social Democrats are quick to point out that more Swedes now have less income than half the national median than when they were in power and that inequality has risen under Reinfeldt’s government.
At the same time, the labor market has vastly improved. A new earned income tax credit incentivized especially workers with low skills to find a job rather than stay on welfare.
Bo Pettersson argues in the business daily Dagens Industri that the latest job figures still favor the government. Unemployment has decreased to under 8 percent and more young Swedes and those who have been out of work for a year or longer are finding jobs — “making a mockery of the opposition’s scaremongering.”
While Löfven claims long-term unemployment is rising, Pettersson points out this “only” represents a fifth of the total, compared to over 40 percent in Germany.
According to the liberal Svenska Dagbladet‘s Per Gudmundson, the more decisive issue in the election is welfare — which he believes the parties on the left treat too much as a question of resources. “Quality may well be increased through competition and choice which independent schools and choice in care have clearly shown,” he writes.
The risk is imminent that Red-Green politics will lead to lower tax revenues and less freedom of choice. The Left Party wants to ban profits in the welfare sector, the Green Party is against growth and the Social Democrats cannot do without them.
The Greens and Social Democrats reject the Left’s proposal to ban profits from hospitals and schools but might well have to acquiesce in exchange for the radical party’s parliamentary support if neither of Reinfeldt’s current coalition partners will back a left-wing majority government.
European leaders on Friday pushed through Jean-Claude Juncker’s nomination to head the next European Commission while the prime ministers of Denmark and Finland looked likely candidates to chair their own council.
Juncker’s nomination, which is almost certain to be approved by the European Parliament, came over the strong objections of Britain’s prime minister, David Cameron, and his Hungarian counterpart, Viktor Orbán, who fear the former premier of Luxembourg will advocate deeper political integration in the European Union as the head of its executive arm at the expense of expanding the single market, liberating trade with nations outside Europe and giving member states the flexibility to opt out of specific policies.
Juncker, who previously also chaired the council of eurozone finance ministers, had claimed the commission presidency after his European People’s Party won a plurality of the seats in the European Parliament in last month’s elections.
His appointment confirms the views of British Euroskeptics who believe the European Union is beyond reform and the island nation would be better off outside the bloc.
Cameron has promised his voters a referendum on Britain’s future in the European Union, pending an effort to adjust the conditions of its membership. After Friday’s decision, he admitted, “The job has got harder of keeping Britain in a reformed EU.”
He implicitly criticized other leaders, saying that in a Europe crying out for reform, they had gone for a “career Brussels insider.”
German chancellor Angela Merkel, otherwise keen to keep liberal Britain involved in the European Union as a counterweight to more protectionist economies in the Mediterranean, told reporters, “I believe that the conclusions that we agreed showed we are ready to take British concerns seriously. The entire strategic agenda reflects Britain’s desire, which I share, for a modern, open, efficient European Union.”
However, as recently as Wednesday, Merkel signaled that she was prepared to give France and Italy more “flexibility” to meet their budget targets under European treaty rules. The two countries, ruled by leftist parties, had conditioned their support for Juncker on less austerity.
Individual commissioners are yet to be nominated. Britain can be expected to claim a powerful post given its failure to block Juncker.
The presidency of the European Council — the regular meeting of government leaders — will also soon be vacant. The prime ministers of Denmark and Finland, Helle Thorning-Schmidt and Jyrki Katainen, are believed to be candidates to replace Herman Van Rompuy.
Katainen, a conservative, has already succeeded Olli Rehn as commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs — a position he is expected to keep unless he could become European Council president.
Thorning-Schmidt, a Social Democrat, is a more likely candidate. The socialists in the European Parliament are assumed to demand the European Council presidency in return for supporting Juncker. However, the Danish leader herself insisted on Thursday she was “not a candidate.”
The new European Commission is due to take office in October.