Intense political bickering is a fact of life here in the United States. Imagine what it must be like to have a handful of political parties to listen to instead of only two. Well, a handful is what you get in many other democracies, including today’s focus country: Sweden. This Northern European nation’s current coalition government, under the aegis of the Alliance for Sweden, consists of the Moderate party, whose leader Fredrik Reinfeldt is the Prime Minister, the Center Party, the Christian Democrats, and the People’s Party Liberals.
True, these parties are all of the center-right stripe, but they all have somewhat different topics of concern or policy interests. For example, the Christian Democrats’ concerns on higher fuel taxes, abortions for foreigners, and approval of same-sex unions have been set aside, as the popular Prime Minister pursues an agenda which may impact the outcome of the next national election in the fall of 2010. In general, however, the parties agree on the reform program currently going forward with an emphasis on increasing employment, cutting income taxes, and tightening controls on social entitlements.
Sweden’s opposition parties are also loosely combined in a coalition, one which may well win over voters in 2010 due to discontent with the economy, with proposed plans to continue and even extend reliance on nuclear power for electricity generation, and with increased electronic surveillance on telephone and email exchanges due to security concerns. Mona Sahlin is the Social Democratic Party’s leader and head of the prospective opposition coalition which also embraces the Left Party and the Green Party. The Greens have shifted ground slightly on the nuclear issue, no longer calling for an immediate shutdown of the country’s 10 operating plants, as the high costs and myriad difficulties of developing alternative energy resources have become clearer to the experts and the public.
On the international front, there are signs that Sweden is rethinking its position of neutrality. Currently it has troops in Afghanistan and Chad on peacekeeping missions. Additionally, it is heading up a planned Nordic battle group, a defense proposal, in an understanding with Norway, Finland, Ireland, and Estonia. Some observers have even hinted at the possibility of the country joining NATO.
Probably even more international attention has been drawn by the current court case alleging copyright infringement on a major scale and naming Stockholm-based Pirate Bay, the Internet file-sharing portal, as the facilitator. A verdict is expected in mid-April for the owners of the advertising-supported, multi-million member, movie and music downloading site.
In July, Sweden assumes the Presidency of the European Union, a six-month posting which rotates among the EU’s membership. Prime Minister Reinfeldt has mentioned that the focus then for Sweden will be the issue of climate change. Moreover, it is also likely that the slumping European economy, and in particular the ailing automotive industry, will receive considerable attention. Swedish car manufacturers Saab, already in bankruptcy proceedings, and Volvo, soon expected to be divested from U.S. owner Ford, have appealed for government aid. Auto companies in France, Italy, and Germany may also need some help, but EU policies are rather strict on the topic of protectionism.
So, we can see that local politics, economic concerns, and international relations all figure into the considerations of political parties mulling the next big election in Sweden. This fact of life is true in most democracies, even in the United States, where at least we don’t have to worry over coalition partnerships and break-ups, although political infighting appears to be the same all over and preparing for the next election is never-ending.
“Outlook – Alliance to stay strong, but recovery tough”, ViewsWire/Economist Intelligence Unit
David Ibison, “Sweden slides into recession”, The Financial Times
“Surveillance sweep”, The Economist
“Sweden Wants to Lift Reactor Ban”, New York Times
“Trial Shows Pirate Bay’s Crew Is All Hat and No Rum”, Wired.com
Charles Forelle and Leila Abboud, “EU Regulators Reject Coordinated Auto Aid”, Wall Street Journal