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POLITICS

Sweden’s Social Democrats elect Magdalena Andersson as new leader

Swedish Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson has been voted in as new leader of the Social Democrats, taking over the reins of the party from Prime Minister Stefan Löfven.

Sweden's Social Democrats elect Magdalena Andersson as new leader
Magdalena Andersson, sitting between Prime Minister Stefan Löfven and her husband Richard Friberg. Photo: Adam Ihse/TT

Andersson’s election came as no surprise – she was nominated as Löfven’s successor by all 26 of the Social Democrats’ party districts, and all potential rivals stood down earlier this autumn before a real leadership contest was even launched.

This likely – but not automatically – means she will become Sweden’s next and the country’s first female prime minister.

Löfven has not yet said when he will resign as prime minister, awaiting the conclusion of ongoing negotiations with the Centre Party about forests and planning permission for shorelines, but has promised that he will announce a date next week for his departure.

Andersson will then have to pass a parliamentary vote, which requires a majority of members of parliament not to vote against her (in other words, a majority must vote for her or abstain). That’s not a 100 percent safe guarantee, given the current tight margins in parliament.

The 54-year-old economist from Uppsala has held her current position of Sweden’s finance minister since 2014, retaining the position through all three Löfven governments. She has been a member of the Social Democrats since 1983 when she joined as a 16-year-old, and has held several advisor roles in the prime minister’s office, the finance department, and senior director at the Swedish Tax Agency.

Taking the stage after she was elected to succeed Löfven at the party’s conference in Gothenburg on Thursday, she said: “I’m of course both honoured and glad and I feel a great deal of humility for the task, but above all I am hugely excited to lead our great and proud party.”

Andersson also outlined three political priorities for the coming years.

Firstly she wanted to “take back democratic control of schools, healthcare and elderly care” in the country that has long had a debate over welfare sector liberalisation and privatisation and companies being able to profit from tax funds.

Secondly she wanted Sweden to become a leader in the “climate transition” and becoming a role model for the world.

“Thirdly, I want, no I demand that we turn every stone to end segregation and smoke out the violence that threatens our entire community,” Andersson said.

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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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