Sweden’s Centre Party leader abandons bid to break political deadlock

UPDATED: The leader of Sweden's Centre Party, Annie Lööf, on Thursday announced she was abandoning her bid to try to break Sweden's political deadlock after a week of cross-party talks.

Sweden's Centre Party leader abandons bid to break political deadlock
Annie Lööf on her way in to meet the media. Photo: Jessica Gow / TT

Lööf's meeting with parliamentary speaker Andreas Norlén lasted an hour longer than expected, but she confirmed she had been unable to find support for a workable government and added that she did not see any possibility of leading a minority government herself.

“In such an unclear parliamentary situation as we have now, one side needs to tolerate the other in order to reach a solution to the question of government,” Lööf said. “There is currently no basis for this.”

“It is now up to the speaker to decide the next step,” she said, adding that there would be no sense in her asking for more time to carry out exploratory talks. 

She explained that there was significant cross-party agreement on the areas of defence and schools but named labour and migration policies as topics that were difficult to find common ground on.

SWEDEN IN FOCUS: How did the political situation get to where it is today?

Lööf was last week given the role of sonderingsperson, tasked with carrying out cross-bloc talks aimed at finding a solution to the deadlock that has lasted over two months since the September election. Over the past week, she has met several times with the Social Democrats and the Green Party, who together form a centre-left bloc and have led Sweden in a minority government for the past four years. 

The September election left neither the centre-left nor the four-party centre-right Alliance — comprising the Moderates, Christian Democrats, Centre Party and Liberals — with a majority, and just one seat separates the two blocs. In the two and a half months since then, both the Social Democrats and Moderates have tried and failed to break the deadlock.

The biggest stumbling block has been the fact that two parties in the Alliance, the Moderates and Christian Democrats, have so far refused to work with the centre-left. But that would require them to rely on support from the far-right Sweden Democrats, something the Centre Party and Liberals are opposed to.

Lööf said she looked into three alternatives: the Alliance working with the Social Democrats, the Alliance working with the Green Party, and a minority centrist government made up of the Centre Party and Liberals.

There is no set deadline by which Sweden must form a government, but the number of prime ministerial votes that can be held before a snap election is automatically called is capped at four.

Three of these chances remain after Moderates leader Ulf Kristersson was not accepted by parliament, due to the Centre Party and Liberals refusing to back a government that relied on support from the far-right Sweden Democrats. This means the country is now in untested waters — previously, parliament had always accepted the first candidate to be proposed.

Lööf cancelled a planned event on Wednesday and was also absent from parliamentary debates over several proposed law changes due to the ongoing talks.

Shortly after Lööf announced her decision, the speaker issued a statement in which he said he would contact the different party leaders by telephone during the day and that he will hold a press conference on Friday.

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Sweden Democrats threaten government crisis over biofuels obligation

The far-right Sweden Democrats are threatening to push Sweden's three-party ruling coalition into a political crisis as they fail to reach agreement over how drastically to cut the country's biofuels obligation, a key part in its plan to reduce emissions.

Sweden Democrats threaten government crisis over biofuels obligation

The party is claiming that a pledge in the Tidö Agreement calling for the biofuels obligation, or reduktionsplikt, to be cut to the “lowest EU level”, should mean that the amount of biofuels that must be blended into petrol and diesel and Sweden should be cut to close to zero, rather than to about half the current share, as suggested by ongoing EU negotiations. 

“We are being tough in the negotiations because of the power we have as the biggest party in this bloc,” Oscar Sjöstedt, the party’s finance spokesperson told TV4. “There is going to be a change at the end of the year that is going to be pretty significant and substantial, that I’m 99.9 percent certain about, otherwise we will have a government crisis.” 

The Liberal Party is pushing for a much less severe reduction, perhaps to a little more than half the current level, where 30.5 percent of all petrol and diesel must be biofuel. 

“We have signed up to a temporary reduction in the biofuels obligation, and it’s clear that that is what we are going to do, but zero is not an alternative for us,” the Liberal Party’s leader Johan Pehrson told TV4.

The decision to reduce the amount of biofuel in the mix at Swedish pumps has made it much more difficult for Sweden to meet its targets for emissions reductions, putting pressure on Pehrson’s colleague, Environment Minister Romina Pourmokhtari. 

Next Wednesday, Pourmokhtari will have to defend the extent to which her government’s policies have pushed Sweden away from being able to meet its 2045 target of net zero emissions when the The Swedish Climate Policy Council reports on the country’s progress towards its target.