Mundus Brief: November 2022


The right-wing last came into power in Sweden 16 years ago, as Fredrik Reinfeldt shaped an alliance of market-oriented parties into what became known as “the Alliance”. These parties campaigned together at the election, and came into government with a relatively coherent and thorough plan that they then executed on over two terms of government. 

Sweden has changed a lot since then, and amongst the biggest changes has been in its population. The Reinfeldt government changed the immigration laws, and net immigration into Sweden exploded. In 2005, around 60,000 people came into Sweden and around 40,000 left. Net immigration was around 20,000. By 2010, around 100,000 people were arriving every year, whereas there were only around 45,000 leaving. Net immigration had climbed to 55,000. Immigration peaked in 2016, at over 160,000, with only 50,000 leaving. In 2006, the country’s population was 9.08 million. By 2021 it had risen to 10.42 million. And included in this wave of new Swedes were hundreds of thousands of people culturally distant from Swedes – Syrians, Iraqis, Somalis and Afghanis. The statistics might be dry, but the effects were real. Many Swedes felt that the country that they had grown up in had changed under their feet. 

This has shaped the right-wing Government that has formed after this year’s election in more than one way. It is well-understood that the election was fought, and won, over crime and immigration – which is linked directly to immigration in many Swedes’ minds. But there was a more insidious effect on Swedish politics, which became more fragmented and less polite. Riven by the challenges of managing political issues across not just the capitalism/socialism divide, but also both views on immigration and the pace of tackling climate change, the old Alliance fell apart, to be replaced by a new right-wing majority that is far less homogeneous in its views. The value system of the Sweden Democrats (SD) is best described as nationalistic and socialistic, which puts it quite a way from the Moderates, who are more traditionally conservative capitalists, and to which there is another jump again to the Liberals, with their laissez-faire market and social beliefs. During the election campaign, these parties said that they were ready to govern together. But, in practice, it now looks like they only began the hard work of agreeing to their common platform after the election. It took 5 weeks to form a government – consisting of the Moderates, Christian Democrats and the Liberals, with SD coordinating policy and budget from within the government offices –  requiring an extension to get their agreement solidly documented. Finally, on October 14 they revealed the Tidö Agreement, and on October 18, the newly appointed PM, Ulf Kristersson presented his Government’s policies to the Riksdag. However, this was far from the PR triumph that Kristersson might have hoped for. The messages about getting tough on gang violence and immigration were largely expected. So, what the media latched onto instead were the other parts of the governing program. Our summary in our lead story in this month’s Monthly Policy Review, “Tidö Times” observed that the fundamental definition of Swedishness is subject to reinterpretation via changes to citizenship law, constitutional amendments could be on the table, and even moves towards a potential conflict with Sweden’s obligations as an EU member. Ultimately, it seems the four parties in power were so busy figuring out how to cooperate on a few controversial issues that they forgot how to govern on the other issues. 

Climate and energy became an immediate lightning rod as the pro-nuclear policy that the right took to the election was picked apart by both business and green groups as being too little, too late to do anything about either the climate or energy problems. The woes started with the Tidö Agreement that declared that wind power would have to compete on a level playing field, without the state subsidising deep-sea connections to the grid. And the Government only acted to feed green concerns by making the Environment Ministry subservient to the Industry Ministry, which was reported as the Environment Ministry being closed down. Furthermore, it then announced that it was to relax the amount of biofuels blended into petrol and diesel to EU minimum levels. And as our second MPR story, “Sweden’s New Radical Energy Politics”, the Government’s big bet is all about a decades-long nuclear vision. All-in-all, it was as if the right parties had deliberately set out to undermine Swedes’ confidence in their own green credentials. The newly appointed ministers, such as the 27 year-old Environment Minister, Romina Pourmokhtari, were left trying to play catch-up. But, with a one-way flow of bad news, and not a green strategy in sight, it was hard for them to argue that their ambition was no less than the outgoing Social Democrats. Having got off to such a bad start, it will be a long road ahead for the Government to correct perceptions that they are weak on the environment. 

Furthermore, the Government’s first budget did not receive much critical acclaim, either, when it was handed down on 8 November. The Minister for Finance, Elisabeth Svantesson (M), stressed that the budget proposal came at a time when the prognosis for Sweden’s economy was bleak and that she did not wish to feed inflation via an expansionary fiscal policy. This self-restraint meant that many of the reforms that the various right parties had promised their voters during the election campaign were ditched without ceremony. Amongst these was the promise made by SD that fuel prices would drop by a massive 5-10 kronor per litre, when in reality they are now given a rebate of less than 1 kronor. The opposition was obviously quick to jump upon any hint of broken promises, and a liberal-leaning press was equally critical. But, perhaps one unexpected source of friendly-fire came from Benjamin Dousa, a former head of the Moderates Youth Wing, who labelled the budget “left-wing”, for which he blamed SD. 

Here lies the challenge for the Government in its need to develop a narrative to organise voters’ understanding of what it is doing. The reality is that there is no coherent political thesis that drives decisions. Everything must be negotiated between parties that have different values. Sometimes one value system will win, but it must lose on the next decision to keep harmony. And the budget process is the prism through which political values are explicitly expressed. With limited resources, the political leadership decides a price tag for what policy they will choose. As the largest party, the Sweden Democrats have a heavy influence on how much (or little) liberal causes are valued. Hence the dramatic reduction in the biofuels quota in 2024. But this is even more clearly evident in the startling decision to scrap the bonuses for buying electric vehicles. Oscar Sjöstedt, economic policy spokesperson for SD, claimed a prominent role in the negotiations. “Our approach was to remove it [the bonus] completely as quickly as possible … That was our line and we got it through, says Oscar Sjöstedt. Another Moderate source said, “What happened was that we simply got a picture of how much money was involved. What was supposed to be 3 billion, would end up at over 7 billion in the future as well. It was simply too much money.” 

The compromises make it challenging to develop an overall narrative for a philosophy by which the Government is running the country. And this challenge is most acute for the Government when it comes to green policies. It is not that the Government is en masse anti-green, it is just that they are not pro-green enough to fight for expensive policies in the crucible of the budget process. Hence an alternative narrative is already developing that Sweden is giving up its climate leaders jersey. As Finance Minister Elisabeth Svantesson put it bluntly, when talking about the risks of missing the climate targets, ”If we don’t, then we won’t.”

However, with the challenge of nailing down the Tidö Agreement done, and assuming that the budget passes in the Riksdag, ministers will get a little time to master their portfolios. The Government political managers will need to use this time wisely to shape events and the narrative. If they don’t, they risk becoming the story themselves. 

They will be assisted in their jobs by Sweden’s powerful civil servants, who lurk in the shadows, providing advice. With every change of government, there are a large number of important political posts in the government offices – ranging from State Secretaries to press secretaries and political advisors – that change over. The third story in this month’s MPR gives insight to the people in power in the new Kristersson administration.


Our final story was an “Interview with the Czech EU Minister”. For recent EU Presidencies, Mundus has spoken with the relevant embassy, and in some cases, also with their EU Minister. This gives both a good understanding of their political priorities and the style with which they intend to approach the role, which helps in assessing how well this fits with Sweden’s objectives. This is especially the case today, with Sweden due to take up the role on 1 January.

Naturally, such conversations also provide useful insights into the current state of thinking amongst the most senior leadership. 

The remarks made by Czechia’s Minister for European Affairs, Dr. Mikulás Bek, were candid and logical. The discussion covered a very broad agenda, from the EU’s support for Ukraine, energy issues, common basic European values, continued union cooperation and the key importance of good relations and goodwill as the basis of everything that the EU stands for. 

Two comments stood out as being particularly noteworthy. Firstly, he noted several times that following Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, ideology over the energy transition was dead at EU level. Now, leaders’ minds are focused on how to manage the shock loss of Russian gas, while delivering on the longer term Fit for 55 objectives. This requires less purity in the short term – so there will be more coal used now and views around nuclear were “more sober”. But he remarked that even former ideological opponents to renewables now see the necessity of delinking economies to Russian gas. (Our view is that this means that gas has a limited future in Europe over the medium to long term. You can see a similar argument here from RystadEnergy, an analyst firm.) Instead, leaders’ visions are about a greener energy market by the 2030s, and the current practicalities of rolling out such a massive number of projects.

The other matter, which will be of great relevance during Sweden’s EU Presidency, are the current efforts to reform the European market for gas, with the aim that gas prices will be far less impactful on power prices. Czechia has initiated this discussion, but Minister Bek did not expect that the discussion would land by the end of the year. Therefore, Sweden will need to take the responsibility for this major policy reform, which will be a challenge for the Swedish Presidency.

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