Sweden gets new government after four months of negotiations

, by Louise Olander

Sweden gets new government after four months of negotiations
Stefan Löfven in 2014. Photo: Arild Vågen / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

The Social Democrats and the Green Party will remain in power in Sweden until 2022, with the support of two of their former opponents, the Centre Party and the Liberals. After the longest government negotiations in history, Sweden has managed to forge a cross-party alliance to keep the far-right at bay. However, there will be challenges ahead and it is uncertain which political direction the country will take. On the EU, the new government has reaffirmed its commitment to European values, but remains vague on policy details.

131 days of negotiations at an end

On Friday, the Swedish parliament voted in favour of letting Stefan Löfven, leader of the Social Democratic Party, stay on as prime minister after four months of intense negotiations. Löfven secured the vote after the Centre Party, the Liberals and the Left Party abstained from voting against him. Löfven announced his new cabinet yesterday, consisting of ministers from his own party and the Greens. The government will cooperate with the two liberal parties on budgetary priorities.

The long-awaited decision came after 131 days of negotiations following the election on 9 September, in which neither of the left/right blocs that have dominated Swedish politics for the past decade managed to secure a majority. Support for the far-right Sweden Democrats also increased to over 17%. Several rounds of negotiations followed, during which the Social Democrats, the right-wing Moderates and the Centre Party took turns trying, and failing, to form a government.

The main issue dividing the parties was whether or not to cooperate with the Sweden Democrats. The Moderates together with the Christian Democrats were willing to govern with the support of the far-right, but this was unacceptable to their liberal allies in the Centre Party and the Liberals. The latter therefore chose to support Löfven’s centre-left government instead, on the understanding that he would allow them considerable influence on policy.

Tough times ahead for strange bedfellows

While no other cross-party solution could be found, political commentators have warned that this will be one of the weakest Swedish minority governments since the Second World War. Before the vote on Friday, the Social Democrats and their new allies set out a compromise deal consisting of 73 policy objectives that they will work towards in the upcoming years. Yet, the four parties still have wide ideological differences, and lack a common political project beyond wanting to diminish the influence of the Sweden Democrats.

The deal has met with disapproval from both left and right, and the opposition parties have threatened to call for a vote of censure if they disagree with the government’s policies. Trade unions and the Left Party fear that Löfven’s government will be forced to advocate policies that go against its own social-democratic values; Löfven has already had to agree to lower income taxes for the highest earners, and the Centre Party and the Liberals will probably succeed in their demands to weaken labour rights. However, left-wing criticism has been tempered by the fact that Löfven’s deal has made it possible for a social-democratic government to stay in power for another four years, while splitting the liberal-right opposition and stopping the Sweden Democrats from gaining power.

The Centre Party and the Liberals’ decision to cooperate with the Social Democrats rather than support a right-wing government has caused friction with their former partners, the Moderates and the Christian Democrats. The Moderates’ leader Ulf Kristersson said on Friday that the new government “lacked a political compass” and Ebba Busch Thor of the Christian Democrats dismissed the cross-party deal as being based on irreconcilable promises from both left and right.

Speaking to the press on Friday, Löfven noted that the next four years will be tough, but that the compromise is proof that Sweden will not let right-wing forces prevail. He also stated that his government would work to decrease social divisions and advocate reforms to welfare and taxes, police, education, integration and climate.

The government’s EU approach – clear on values, vague on details

In a statement about government policy yesterday, Löfven confirmed that his government remains committed to the EU, and will push for an effective union that works to create jobs and security, increase competitiveness and tackle climate change. He also mentioned the importance of ensuring an orderly Brexit, establishing a fairer common EU asylum system, and (in an echo of social-democratic Spitzenkandidat Frans Timmermans) protecting European rule of law.

Yet, the details of the new government’s EU policy remain unclear. Unsurprisingly, the negotiations of the last few months have almost exclusively focused on domestic policy. Of the 73 points in the cross-party compromise, the EU is mentioned only four times, related to climate and fisheries. It seems that the four parties have not yet agreed on a common direction for key EU issues such as trade, technology, finance or foreign policy.

Moreover, as some Swedish journalists have noted, most of the policies called for by the compromise deal have already been decided at the EU level, such as bans on single-use plastic and state aid for fossil fuels. Still, government coordination on EU policy is likely to be strengthened by the fact that responsibility for EU issues has now been moved from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs closer to the prime minister’s cabinet. Hopefully, the next few months will bring more clarity about Sweden’s EU priorities before the European Parliament elections in May.

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