The centre-right alliance in Sweden has a slight lead over the ruling Social Democrat party in polls prior to elections on 17 September. The actual unemployment rate, welfare benefits and tax on labour are key issues.
The opposition alliance’s political program does not amount to an outright rejection of the Swedish model that has been established over almost eight decades of near constant Social Democratic rule, only ever interrupted for a nine-year period.
Radical reform of the welfare state does not cut any ice with the voters, of whom an estimated 30% are employed by the state, and another 30% dependent on some social benefit. Thus, the Moderates have indeed become more moderate.
It now dubs itself ‘the new worker party’ in a clear challenge to Persson’s party, and the radical cuts in unemployment benefits of the previous election campaign, which the Moderates lost by a huge margin, are now long gone.
Even if there is some focus on ‘incentives to work’ in the shape of tax cuts of €4 billion to make it more profitable to work instead of receiving welfare payments, the Moderates’ election program also focuses on protecting the environment, and it generally promises to keep up spending on public services.
So, without wanting to do away with the cherished welfare state, the Moderates do represent a change of substance.
PM Persson’s Social Democrats, by contrast, have promised to raise welfare spending by €2.7 billion. In spite of a generally good performance in terms of the economy with a growth rate of 5,6% in the second quarter of 2006, the opposition is challenging the Social Democrats on their claimed success in the field of employment.
Thus, the opposition maintains that the true unemployment figure is significantly higher than the official figure of 6%. The claim is backed by a McKinsey Global Institute study which assess the real figure to be between 15-17%. This counts people who are on early retirement and state funded employment-creating schemes.