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ANALYSIS: Magdalena Andersson’s challenge as Social Democrat leader

Magdalena Andersson, nicknamed "the bulldozer", is set to be elected as leader of the Social Democrat Party on Thursday – and she is likely to soon become Sweden's first woman Prime Minister.

ANALYSIS: Magdalena Andersson's challenge as Social Democrat leader
Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson on one of her 'budget walks', when the government brings its budget proposal to parliament. Photo: Magnus Hjalmarson Neideman/SvD/TT

The 54-year-old finance minister and heir apparent to Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven will face a fight for political survival in taking the reins of the Social Democrats ahead of combative general elections scheduled for September 2022.

The only candidate standing, the academic and former competitive swimmer, was elected party leader at the Social Democrats’ annual congress in Gothenburg at 4pm on Thursday.

Löfven has announced he will resign in the near future, albeit with no timeframe. When he goes, the only thing standing between Andersson and making history as the first woman to form a Swedish government is a vote in parliament.

The feat almost sounds anachronistic in a country that has long championed gender equality, but which has at times cursed senior women in politics.

Anna Lindh, foreign minister and fellow Social Democrat, died after a stabbing attack in a department store in 2003.

Mona Sahlin, the first woman to head the Social Democrats and a deputy prime minister, was sidelined first by a spending scandal in 1995 that involved Toblerone chocolate, and later resigned in 2011 after electoral defeat.

Provided Löfven steps down and Andersson wins the ensuing parliamentary vote, she will become Sweden’s first woman prime minister.

‘Hard-working’

The job could yet prove a poisoned chalice – she will be tasked with trying to keep her party in power at a time when it is close to its historic-low approval ratings.

Andersson describes herself as a “nice, hard-working woman” who likes to be in charge.

In political circles, she has built a reputation for bluntness that can rub some people the wrong way in a country where politeness is the law of the land.

A recent programme profiling her on public television channel SVT was entitled The Bulldozer.

“People even say they are scared of her which is kind of funny,” said Anders Lindberg, political editor-in-chief of Swedish daily Aftonbladet, which describes itself as independent social democratic.

“These kind of elite political scientists or professors of economics saying that they are afraid of her,” he added.

Finance minister under Löfven for seven years, in Brussels she defended fiscal restraint when Sweden joined Austria, Denmark and the Netherlands as the “frugal four” who counselled a more restrained European Covid-19 recovery plan.

Swimming gold

She is a close friend of Löfven but comes from a different background to the former welder turned prime minister.

Born in the university town of Uppsala, she is the only daughter of a university professor and a teacher who first made a name for herself in the water, where she twice won gold in the Swedish national junior championship.

In parallel with studies at the Stockholm School of Economics – and a spell at Harvard – she immersed herself in the life of a sosse, having joined the Social Democrats’ youth league aged 16. In 1996, she became an aide to Prime Minister Göran Persson.

“I think she’s very keen now to present herself as being someone who has done the footwork… But of course she is a from an academic elite,” Jonas Hinnfors, a professor of political science at the University of Gothenburg, told AFP.

The mother-of-two married to a professor enjoys mountain climbing and heavy metal band System of a Down.

Still relatively unknown to the general public, she will have less than a year to put herself on the map to avoid a fleeting hold on power.

She may also battle to prove that she is her own person, rather than a third iteration of the Löfven government, Lindberg believes.

“That will be the narrative conflict in the Swedish election,” he said.

Article by AFP’s Marc Préel with Viken Kantarci

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NATO

Biden gives ‘full, total, complete backing’ for Swedish Nato bid

US President Joe Biden on Thursday strongly backed Finland and Sweden's bid to join Nato in the face of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, as the Nordic nations' leaders promised to address concerns raised by Turkey.

Biden gives 'full, total, complete backing' for Swedish Nato bid

With the red-carpet pomp of a White House visit, Biden welcomed Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finnish President Sauli Niinisto days after they formally announced their NATO aspirations and said he was submitting their applications to the US Congress, where there is bipartisan support for ratification.

“The bottom line is simple. Quite straightforward: Finland and Sweden make Nato stronger,” Biden said, offering the “full, total, complete backing of the United States of America.”

“Sweden and Finland have strong democratic institutions, strong militaries and strong and transparent economies, and a strong moral sense of what is right,” Biden said with the two leaders at his side in the White House Rose Garden.

“They meet every NATO requirement, and then some,” Biden told assembled reporters without taking any questions.

Sweden and Finland, while solidly Western, have historically kept a distance from Nato as part of longstanding policies aimed at avoiding angering Russia.

But the two nations both moved ahead amid shock over their giant neighbour’s invasion of Ukraine, which had unsuccessfully sought to join Nato.

With Russia voicing anger over the Natuo bids, Biden said he told the Nordic leaders that the United States would “remain vigilant against the threats to our shared security.”

The United States will work to “deter and confront any aggression while Finland and Sweden are in this accession process,” Biden said. Drawing an implicit contrast to his predecessor Donald Trump, Biden called Nato’s mutual defense promise a “sacred commitment.”

“We will never fail in our pledge to defend every single inch of Nato territory,” Biden said.

Addressing Turkish concerns

But membership requires consent of all 30 existing members and Turkey has voiced misgivings. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused the two nations of backing “terrorism,” a reference to the presence in Finland and especially Sweden of Kurdish militants from the separatist PKK.

Addressing Turkey, Niinisto said Finland was “open to discussing all the concerns that you may have concerning our membership in an open and constructive manner.”

“We take terrorism seriously. We condemn terrorism in all its forms and we are actively engaged in combating it,” Niinisto said.
Andersson said that Sweden is hoping for a “swift ratification process by Nato members.”

“We are right now having a dialogue with all Nato member countries, including Turkey, on different levels to sort out any issues at hand,” she said.

Until Turkey’s objections, US officials voiced hope for ratification in time for a Nato summit next month in Madrid.

Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the Senate who frequently fights Biden’s agenda, said he would seek quick action on the bids by Sweden and Finland. He noted that Finland already commits two percent of its GDP to defence and that Sweden “is on pace to reach that target very soon” — a threshold backed by Nato and long pushed by Washington.

“These nations are setting an example which current treaty allies would do well to follow,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “So I’ll be proud to continue amplifying their case for accession however I can.”

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