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ANALYSIS: What are Magdalena Andersson’s plans for Sweden as prime minister?

Magdalena Andersson this week won the backing of a majority of Social Democrat party districts, making it close to a certainty she'll be the party's next leader. So what does she have planned if she becomes PM?

ANALYSIS: What are Magdalena Andersson's plans for Sweden as prime minister?
Magdalena Andersson at a debate in Sweden's parliament on September 9th. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

As luck would have it, Andersson, or “Magda” as she’s known in Social Democrat circles, published something approaching a manifesto in the run-up to the summer, and if it’s any guide to her thinking, she might be considerably further to the left than her cautious handling of Sweden’s accounts as finance minister would suggest. 

So what is Magdalena Andersson’s ‘manifesto’? 

It’s less a manifesto than a position paper, and comes with the catchy title, Fördelningspolitik för jämlikhet och rättvisa, which translates as something like “Redistributive policy for equality and justice”. 

It was put together by a working group headed by Andersson, but which also included Katrin Stjernfeldt Jammeh, the mayor of Malmö; Fredrik Olovsson, former head of the Swedish parliament’s finance committee and a possibility to replace Andersson as finance minister; Bodil Hansson, the mayor of Sundsvall; Philip Botström, leader of the Social Democratic youth party; and Ola Pettersson, chief economist of the Swedish Trade Union Confederation. 

The paper is, on the face of it, an analysis of what has happened to make Sweden the country in the OECD where inequality has increased the fastest since 1980, together with suggestions for policies to reverse the trend. 

But it also includes a critique of the whole project of neoliberalism launched by US President Ronald Reagan and the UK’s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and then embraced enthusiastically by the Moderate party-led governments of Carl Bildt and Fredrik Reinfeldt (and even arguably by that of the Göran Persson, the Social Democrat PM who gave Andersson her first break). 

In particular, the paper rails against the introduction of market forces and private interests into healthcare, education and other welfare services, and comes close to calling for this to be completely reversed. 

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How seriously should it be taken? 

It is unclear whether at the time it was written, any of the authors had the slightest suspicion that Stefan Löfven would step down as prime minister before next year’s election. 

Mari Huupponen, an investigator with the Kommunal union, who has analysed some of the same topics around profit-making in welfare, warned The Local not to see the document as a set of serious policy proposals, let alone as Andersson’s political programme. 

“It’s not as if it’s an official document that the party will now pursue. It’s just like a policy paper that one group working inside of the party has produced. I don’t think that this is a big picture of what the dreams of Magdalena Andersson look like.”

But it does at least gives an idea as to the sort of things she is thinking. 

Magdalena Andersson speaking at a press conference. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

What does the report say about Neoliberalism? 

That it has failed completely and should be abandoned.

A chapter on “the failure of Neoliberalism” argues that tax cuts for the rich have not “trickled down” but have stayed with the rich, that cutting taxes on income did not make people work harder or reduce unemployment, and that introducing market forces to the welfare system has not made them more efficient. 

Instead, letting the private sector supply health, welfare and education has led to corruption, the siphoning off of public money to private actors, and services that were shown up during the pandemic as weakened and badly coordinated. 

“It has today become clear that bringing competition into healthcare, education and elderly care, which people cannot choose not to have because they have a fundamental need for it, does not function like a traditional market where bad alternatives are competed out,” the report says. 

“Lobbying for actors seeking to profit from welfare has risen considerably, which might explain the big discrepancy between the majority of parliamentary parties’ positive position towards profits from welfare, and citizens’ opposition to the same thing.”

“It is time,” the paper concludes, “to bring an end to the neoliberal era characterised by the withdrawal of the political sphere in favour of market forces”.

What does the report say about the causes of inequality? 

Rather than being the result of falling union membership, or global competition for highly skilled workers, the report argues that growing inequality in Sweden has been primarily the result of deliberate policy decisions taken by the centre-right governments of Carl Bildt and Fredrik Reinfeldt (who led Sweden from 1991-1994 and 2006-2014, respectively).

“To a large extent, growing inequality is due to political decisions – or the lack of political decisions – which have made it possible for the top to pull away, while the bottom has fallen behind,” it says. 

“Although global trends have had an effect on income distribution, research indicates that policies play a crucial role, and that domestic policies can both fuel and counteract widening income gaps.” 

The policies that have increased inequality in Sweden include scrapping the country’s old förmögenhetsskatt or “wealth tax”, scrapping tax on inheritance or gifts, changing Sweden’s old property tax to a municipal change, and bringing in the investeringssparkonto, or individual savings account, which shields shares, bonds, and investment funds from capital gains tax. 

Magdalena Andersson in a regional Swedish folk costume, speaking with Social Democrat and Green Party colleagues on the opening day of parliament. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

What about immigration? 

Given that immigration is likely to once again become an important top in the coming election campaign, surprisingly little is known about Andersson’s position. If this paper is any guide, and as Huupponen warned we should not automatically assume that it is, she will push for a more restrictive immigration policy. 

Since the 1970s, the paper declares, “large groups have come from countries outside Europe, with a weak tradition of education, which impacts on the possibilities of integration in a knowledge economy like Sweden”. 

As a result, the paper declares, “immigration to Sweden needs, to a greater extent, to be adjusted to the practical possibility to integrate people”. 

When it comes to labour immigration, the paper calls for an even more restrictive approach, blaming the Reinfeldt government for liberalising labour immigration laws in 2007 so that employers did not need to show that they could not find people with the necessary skills in Sweden. 

Only about half of the 21,000 people who received work permits in 2019 were highly skilled workers, with the rest in jobs seen as low-qualified such as carpenters, cooks, care assistants, caretakers, and berry pickers. 

This is a poor fit with the ambition to get low-skilled unemployed people in Sweden into jobs,” the report argues. 

Would an Andersson government kick the private sector out of education, health and welfare?

The paper stops short of calling for an end to private sector involvement in health, education and welfare, but it suggests a long list of measures that will make it much less profitable for the companies involved, and in some cases ban profits altogether. 

In a section called Stoppa marknadskrafterna i välfärden, or “Stop the market forces in welfare”, it calls for a ban on profit-making for companies operating in primary healthcare and elderly care within the Lagen om Valfrihet (LOV), or “Freedom of Choice System Act”, brought in by the Reinfeldt government in 2008. 

This law allows Sweden’s regions or municipalities, if they wish, to let individuals choose between private actors who provide a certain service, instead of the municipality or region itself tendering for contractors to provide the services through public procurement. With primary healthcare, this is compulsory for municipalities. 

The paper proposed that “profit-orientated actors should only be allowed within the bounds of public procurement”, and that municipalities and regions should be able to decide whether to allow private actors to offer primary care, just as they can with elderly care. 

When it comes to profits in the education centre, the paper stops short of calling for profit-making to be stopped entirely. 

The paper proposes abolishing the right of operators of free schools to establish schools wherever they want to, instead giving municipal education authorities the right to allow or turn down applications depending on need. 

It also proposes ending the system where free schools can set up their own queue system, with applications to all schools taking place through a central municipality system, making it harder for free school operators to choose which students they have. 

Magdalena Andersson on one of her traditional “budget walks” – when the budget proposal is brought from the government building to parliament. Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT

Higher taxes for the well-off, particularly on investments, property and high incomes 

The report calls for dramatic reductions in the value of shares that can be shielded from capital gains tax in an individual savings account, or ISK, and will also bring in a “millionaire tax”, for those with the highest level of wealth (excluding property). 

Tougher to get work permits

Although there are no concrete proposals in the paper, it is clear that the party wants to limit labour immigration to jobs Sweden cannot fill with its existing workforce. This could make it tougher for, say, people who want to come to Sweden to work in restaurants or as care assistants. 

Harder to be freelance or get short-term work 

The paper wants long-term, full-time employment to be the norm in Sweden, and proposes greater scrutiny of those registered as self-employed who carry out most of their work for a single employer. It also stresses that “short-term employment contracts” should not be misused, meaning that the fields, such as academia or the media, where people are often employed on rotating short-term contracts because their employers do not want to take on the commitment involved in full-time employment, may be harder to get. 

Magdalena Andersson and outgoing Prime Minister Stefan Löfven. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

End of asylum seekers’ right to choose where they live 

The paper proposes abolishing the asylum seekers’ right to arrange their own accomodation in the municipality of their choice and still be able to receive benefits. The so-called EBO law has already been limited by the Social Democrats to prevent asylum seekers becoming too concentrated in areas of Sweden’s big cities with large existing immigrant populations. 

Better access to vocational education for the unemployed 

The paper proposes giving the Swedish Employment Service, or Arbetsförmedlingen, greater resources and responsibilities for sending underqualified workers for additional training, adult education, or even university degrees, to help counter the skills shortage that leave some in long-term unemployment. The paper also proposes increasing the resources available for adult education. 

Will any of this actually happen? 

Huupponen at Kommunal doubts it.

“The Social Democrats have historically been harsh in rhetoric when it comes to profit-making in welfare, but they have rarely demanded changes to policy. It’s more like big words, and big rhetoric.” 

The test, she says, will come at the party conference in November where not only is Andersson likely to be chosen as party leader, but the subject of private actors in education, health and welfare will be hotly debated. 

Daniel Suhonen, the unofficial ideologist for the Social Democrats’ left faction, argued in the ETC newspaper at the start of this month that Andersson’s track record of compromise and moderation made it unlikely that any of the more dramatic proposals would make it into government policy. 

“It sounds radical to declare the Death of Neoliberalism, but she isn’t prepared to face the conflict on any real issues. There will be a lot of rhetoric but no action (mycket retorik, men ingen verkstad).”

Time will tell. 

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NATO

EXPLAINED: How are Sweden’s Social Democrats deciding on Nato?

The Nato debate has put the party machinery of Sweden's Social Democrats in the spotlight. It's fairly clear the leader, Magdalena Andersson, wants Sweden to join, so why is it all so complicated?

EXPLAINED: How are Sweden's Social Democrats deciding on Nato?

The party is currently consulting members and party district organisations across the country, with press secretary Tobias Baudin saying on May 9th that the party’s final decision on whether to back joining Nato will definitely be taken at a meeting in Stockholm on May 15th. 

According to Karl Loxbo, an associate professor at Stockholm University who wrote his PhD thesis on inter-party decision-making in the Social Democrats, the consultation process will not give the party rank and file a genuine a real say in the Nato decision. 

“This is about keeping up the appearance of being a movement of the people,” he says. “It used to be a mass movement for the people, building on principles of internal democracy and internal deliberation, with a view that decision making comes from below. Although it has never really been like that, it is still a main source of legitimacy for the party.”

The party leadership, he argues, has no choice about whether to hold such a process. “If they ignore this ‘ceremony’, as I would like to call it, it could backfire and lead to a lot of internal controversies.”

When it emerged last week that the Social Democrats’ women’s league, S-kvinnor, had voted in a board meeting against joining Nato, it started to look like the process might end up being more than a ritual.  

But Loxbo said he was certain that none of those questioning a decision to join Nato would end up getting their way. 

“At the end of the day, it’s what the people in government and in the absolute leadership of the party think that always determines the outcome,” he says.  “I see it mainly as a formality, although it’s less of a formality than it would be in a Conservative party.”

Here’s our attempt to explain the party’s decision-making process over Nato membership. 

What is the Social Democrat party’s current position on Nato membership? 

At the party’s national congress in November, the delegates voted to keep the party’s historic policy of non-alignment.

“Our security politics will be grounded on a credible national defence capacity, military non-alignment, deepened defence cooperation, especially with Finland, and an active, broad and responsible foreign policy,” the section reads. “It is absolutely central that we stand up for international law, human rights, and the principle of human security.” 

The national congress, held every other year, is the party’s “highest decision-making organ”, but it will not be reconvened to handle the Nato question.

What has the party’s leadership said officially? 

While it’s fairly clear that Magdalena Andersson, and perhaps also her ministers, have already decided to apply to join Nato, this is not something any of them will yet say officially. 

They continue to maintain that Sweden’s national decision will require, first, an assessment of the results of the inter-party security politics group, and second, a decision from the Social Democratic party. 

They have, however, already started to dismiss some of the most common arguments against Nato membership, arguing, for instance, that Sweden can continue to fight for nuclear disarmament from within the Nato alliance. 

Who will take the party decision on Nato membership and when? 

As the congress is not being reconvened, the decision has been delegated to the ruling party committee, or partistyrelsen, which will hold its meeting on May 15th.

“If a decision needs to be taken, it is up to the party committee, as the highest decision-making organ between party congresses, to take it,” reads the background document for the party’s internal discussions. 

 Who is in the Social Democrats’ party committee or partistyrelsen? 

The party committee includes all 27 members of verkställande utskottet, the party’s executive committee, which is led by Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson.

The members of the operating committee include some of the government’s most important ministers, such as Finance Minister Mikael Damberg, Justice Minister Morgan Johansson, Civil Service Minister Lena Micko and Social Security Minister Ardalan Shekarabi. 

It also includes Susanna Gideonsson, head of the Swedish Trade Union Confederation, and the leaders of the party’s five sidoförbunden, which are semi-independent organisations within Social Democracy. These are the Swedish Social Democratic Youth League SSU, S-studenter, the student organisation, HBT-S, the party’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) league, and Religious Social Democrats of Sweden, or Tro och Solidaritet.

In addition, the party committee also includes 39 members taken from the 26 party districts (of whom 15 are suppleanter or “substitutes”). There are also two additional union representatives, from the Seko and Byggnads unions. 

What is the internal ‘security policy dialogue’ the party has launched? 

The party on April 22nd launched a ‘security policy dialogue’. This will see 14 of the party’s most experienced figures within defence and foreign policy tour party districts to talk to ordinary members and local politicians about the changed security situation. 

In the background document to the discussions, titled “a safer Sweden”, five general topics of discussion are laid out to be discussed at the meetings. 

1. An active foreign policy pushing for peace and security

2. Strengthening Sweden’s total defence 

3. Deeper cooperation with EU countries 

4. Deeper cooperation with other countries  

5. Membership in Nato. 

How are the discussions being held? 

While the discussions are supposed to be open, they seem designed to lead party members to the conclusion that the security order which was the basis of Sweden’s non-alignment has been shattered by Russia’s invasions of Ukraine. 

Hans Dahlgren, Sweden’s EU minister, who has been active in foreign policy since the early 1970s, has, according to SvD journalist Torbjörn Nilsson, been touting a yellowing copy of the 1975 Helsinki Accords. 

As a 20-something foreign policy advisor, he was there at the signing of the accords, which saw the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries agree to refrain from the use of force and respect the territorial integrity of sovereign states, something Russia has singularly failed to do with its invasion of Ukraine. 

“This here is the European security order, that which has been broken. I have it here in my hand. I was there,” Dahlgren told Nilsson on a plane to May Day celebrations in Gotland. 

While Dahlgren will not come out openly in favour of joining Nato, the implication is that the security order that supported non-alignment no longer exists. 

Swedish speakers can see the sort of points Dahlgren is making in the video below. 

When are the party district meetings happening? 

The party district meetings are happening between April 24th and May 11th. You can see the full list of dates here

What other meetings are taking place? 

The party is also holding three digital meetings for members on May 9th, May 10th, and May 11th, all of which will feature former foreign secretary Margot Wallström.

In the first Wallström will be with Ann Linde and Matilda Ernkrans, in the second with Peter Hultqvist and Hans Dahlgren, and in the last with Kenneth G Forslund and Åsa Lindestam. 

Who in the party has so far come out against Nato membership, and does it matter?  

Perhaps the most powerful statement against joining Nato has come from Henrik Fritzon, one of the leading figures in the party in Skåne in southern Sweden and a member of the party’s ruling committee. 

He wrote a joint article in the Aftonbladet newspaper with Pierre Schori, a former assistant to Olof Palme who then went on to become aid minister. 

“Nato is an alliance with nuclear weapons, of which almost all are American and under the Pentagon’s exclusive control,” the two wrote. “If these doomsday weapons are ever used, we’re all going down.” 

“If we join Nato, we will be stopped from signing the UN convention banning nuclear weapons, or pushing the issue of nuclear-weapon-free zones, which the party congress has supported,” he added. 

So far, at least three out of the five sidoförbunden have also come out against joining Nato. 

“S-kvinnor has a long history of struggle in issues around peace, disarmament, detente, and military non-alignment, and we have in the league’s ruling committee decided to stick to the congress decision that Sweden should remain non-aligned and outside Nato,” the league’s chair Annika Strändhall told DN.

Lisa Nåbo, chair of the Swedish Social Democratic Youth League, told DN that her group remained sceptical. 

“For me, the most important thing is that the young members of the Social Democrats are allowed to speak, as it is ultimately we who may need to stand at some national border to protect our country, or some other country within Nato,” she told DN. 

Sara Kukka-Salam, chair of Tro och Solidaritet, said that such a decision should not be made at a time of war.

“You should not rush into decisions like this,” she told DN. “To change a position which has been in place so long requires a deep analysis.” 

Emma Fastesson Lindgren, chair of the student’s organisation, is not giving a position until the government’s security policy analysis has been published. 

“We are academics so we want to have facts,” she said. “We want to have full knowledge and then we will have an extra board meeting.” 

Does this opposition matter? 

It does, but not that much. Formally, everything comes down to the decision in the party committee, and according to Loxbo the party committee invariably supports the line taken by the party leadership. 

He predicts that opponents of Nato membership within the party will not put up much of a fight, judging by what happened, when, for instance, the party reformed the pension system. 

“They have always had to cave in to pressure from the party leaders,” he says. “Everyone can express disagreement and voice their opinion. That’s always the case. But they’re usually somehow co-opted because the Social Democratic Party doesn’t want those controversies to become public. Opponents are usually offered something to keep quiet.” 

This is not to say the leadership has nothing to lose. 

The more open opposition to Nato there is in the party, the more difficult it will be for members such as Annika Strändhäll to back a change in policy.  And if the party fails to convince its rank and file to back membership of the alliance, it risks losing votes in the coming election to the Left and Green Parties, which still oppose joining. 

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