Though the new Swedish prime minister, Stefan Löfven, previously seemed uninterested in discussing EU affairs, his centre-left government will consist of high-profile EU politicians, as well as having different EU policies, in certain areas, than the previous government.
On Friday (3 October), the Swedish government, which consists of the Social Democrats and the Environment Party, and was presented on Friday, will have Margot Wallström, the former Environment Commissioner (1999-2004) and Commissioner for Institutional Relations and Communication Strategy (2004-2010), as Foreign Affairs Minister.
Wallström, who was also a Vice-President in the first Commission under President José Manuel Barroso, since stepping down as commissioner, has also worked as a Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General. Political commentators in Sweden have called Wallström a ‘scoop’ for Löfven.
For many years, the Social Democrats hoped that Wallström, or the previous foreign minister, Anna Lindh, who was tragically murdered in 2003, would become the next leader of the party. But until Friday, it seemed as if Wallström would never return to Swedish national politics. Apart from Wallström, Löfven has also appointed Green MEP Isabella Lövin as Minister for Development policies, and Socialist MEP Kristina Persson as Minister for the Future.
Wallström has already left her mark, as Sweden announced over the weekend that it will recognise Palestine statehood.
The UN General Assembly approved the de facto recognition of the sovereign state of Palestine in 2012, but the European Union and most EU countries, have yet to give official recognition. Hungary, Poland and Slovakia recognise Palestine, but they did so before joining the 28-member bloc.
Sharp criticism from Israel
Israel has sharply criticised the plan. On 5 October, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the Swedish declaration was counter-productive and would not facilitate a peace agreement with the Palestinians. The Ambassador of Sweden was summoned for a “conversation” at Israel’s Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem.
While Löfven’s government is multiethnic and gender-balanced (there are 12 male and 12 female ministers), the new prime minister aims to have gender quota on private companies’ boards, with at least 40% women by 2016.
This is a step further than what has been agreed in Brussels. Here, a proposal requires publicly-listed European companies to make sure that by 2020 at least 40% of their non-executive board members are female though small and medium enterprises are excluded from the legislation.
Furthermore, the government wants to work for a strong data protection law in the EU, something that goes against any previous Swedish government’s policies. Löfven also plans to advocate for workers in Sweden ‘getting paid a Swedish salary’.
Currently, foreign companies that move their business to Sweden for a shorter period are able to pay their workers a salary agreed in the home country. Swedish unions are likewise calling for foreign workers to receive salaries at the same level as Swedish workers.
However, Marianne Thyssen, the Belgian Commissioner-designate for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility, said during her hearing in the Parliament on Wednesday (1 October) that she has no plans of proposing labour legislation in this area.
Sweden's centre-left parties won the general elections on 14 September. However, despite winning more than 30% of the votes, Stefan Löfven, the Social Democrats' leader and the country's next prime minister, will form a minority government in a hung Parliament after the far-right Sweden Democrats became the country's third-biggest party.
- By 2016: Mandatory gender quotas on Swedish company boards