STOCKHOLM – The debate sets the agenda

Gang violence and urban segregation, healthcare, nuclear energy and immigration. The issues for the coming political agenda in Sweden were laid on the table in the spring’s first party leader debate.

Unsurprisingly, Stefan Löfven’s minority government of the Social Democrats and the Green Party was heavily criticised. What was surprising was the strength and seemingly unanimous tone of the opposition.

There was even mention of possible new elections, after no more than eighteen months since the last ones – “to break the political debate,” in the words of Ulf Kristersson, the Moderate Party Chairperson.

If something, the discussion mirrored the new political constellation. For decades, Sweden has been governed by either a leftist or a right-leaning bloc and majority governments. Now, like in many other European countries, parliamentary democracy is in disarray and the political landscape is splintered.

Arguably, the strongest critique came from the Sweden Democrats and their Chairperson, Jimmie Åkesson. In the last few years, the country has been riddled with a growing number of bomb attacks and gang violence. In 2019, the police reported around one hundred explosions in the major cities. The criminal elements waging war against each other even have machine guns at their disposal.

According to Sweden Democrats, lenient immigration policy is the main reason behind the phenomenon. Last year, Sweden took in some 120,000 asylum seekers. Åkesson’s recipe was simple: the country is fully booked, send more of them back to where they came from.

The government also faced a lot of flak for abandoning nuclear energy too quickly, and the opposition may have a case. Sweden has ambitious climate targets. According to the plan by the Ministry of the Environment and Energy, there will be no net emissions of greenhouse gases by 2045.

The achieve this, a wide range of measures are needed. But, towards nuclear energy – causing no emissions – the attitude is somewhat schizophrenic.

In 2019, Sweden produced 40% of its electricity with nuclear energy and 36% cent of the electorate would even increase its share of the energy palette. However, in the government scenarios, the four oldest nuclear reactors are taken out of service this year.

In the programme from last September, nuclear energy is practically sentenced to death. The energy issue is handled in a very Swedish way: “We will cope with the transition and we will do so in the same way as before: together.”

As some kind of consolation for the government, unanimity prevailed on one issue: public health care requires more funding.

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