Mundus July Brief

The Mundus Brief is our monthly summary of Swedish news and current affairs

The top stories in July

What began in May as a gloriously warm Spring, has just kept on going. As the world press has come to report, it’s not just a Swedish or Scandinavian phenomenon – the jet stream has altered it position, with dramatic effect for much of Europe. Given July is always slow for news, on some days it seemed that all that was reported was the heatwaves, drought and bushfires, with today’s lead business story about record ice cream sales underlining the point. But, if you look a bit harder, there were other stories – Sweden’s relative success in the World Cup, political jockeying at Almedalen and the strong economic and business conditions.

Will summer ever end?

Not for a while yet, according to the weather forecasters. Although, over the weekend we had the first proper rain in months. The jet stream keeps pushing the rain fronts north, and sucking in subtropical weather from the south, baking Sweden. By the time it ends, this summer will have rewritten the record books, likely producing a range of hottest days, longest warm periods and driest summer on record. And whilst this has been great news for holidaymakers and the tourist industry, it’s been disastrous for many. Our daily Mundus News has been packed with stories about drought and forest fires. Not only has the drought created the conditions for the fires, but it will also have a considerable effect on the agricultural economy. The cereal crop will be one third lower than the 5-year average, and with cows lacking pasture and energy, some are saying Swedes will have to adopt a LCHF diet, without milk. More seriously, the lack of pasture, down by 60% in some parts, means that farmers are culling their herds, which will need to be built back up again, leading to higher meat prices down the track. The fires will of course also effect forestry, with the bill now forecast to be around a billion kronor.

The political implications of the weather shouldn’t be ignored. Despite the fact that good summers are celebrated in the Nordics, the point will stick in Swedes’ minds – global warming is already upon us, and Sweden is already well established on its crusade to be the world’s first fossil-free state. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Margot Wallström (S), says it will not be long before Europe receives people fleeing their homes because of climate change, and has raised the issue in the UN Security Council. EurActiv reported that Sweden had smashed its 2030 renewable investment target 12 years ahead of schedule, and the Climate Action Network ranked Sweden #2 on its list of EU country’s response to climate change – a list where there was no #1. Adding to the story, Vattenfall (an electricity generator) and Preem (an oil refiner) announced their plans to invest in building a new hydrogen gas plant that would be the largest biofuels factory of its kind in all of Europe.

The second hottest story in July was Sweden’s relative success in the World Cup, but in the end, this was the story that almost was, rather than one that actually happened. It had Swedes reminiscing fondly of the “summer of ‘94”, which was almost as good weather-wise, and even better on the football pitch. Sweden finished third that year, which it wasn’t able to replicate this time around. Still, knocking Germany out of the last 16, and then winning through over Switzerland to the quarter finals was celebrated. The end result, losing to England was soon accepted – the sort of lagom result that Swedes are used to.

Another good news story that might not be widely understood in expat circles is the police’s success in reducing burglaries, which are down a third over last summer. At a time when many other factors are getting worse, this success might have an effect in mitigating suburban Swedes fears.

And then came the announcement that had been surrounded by rumours for months: Telia said it will acquire Bonnier Broadcasting from Bonnier AB for SEK 9.2 billion. The announcement prompted calls for the State to sell its shares in Telia, Mundus News reported.

Competing economic visions for Sweden’s future
The economy continues to do well. GDP growth is being propelled along by Sweden’s manufacturers and exporters. Inflation is now in the Riksbank’s target zone of 2%, which should give the Riksbank the confidence to begin raising rates, as it has planned. And youth unemployment, which had been a weak point, has started to fall.

Still, the economy faces challenges, and the political parties have widely differing ideas about how to solve them. These form much of the basis for the political contest in September’s poll, and the results of the elections will have a significant effect on the future direction of the country, as Mundus explains in the latest edition of the Monthly Policy Review. The context to this story is the welfare state, widely referred to as the Swedish Model, especially by PM Löfven. The Social Democrats spent most of the Twentieth Century creating Sweden as it is today, and even though the Reinfeldt Alliance government did pass some reforms, Löfven clearly still believes the Swedish Model to be intact, and a fortress worth defending from right-wing attack. The right-wing parties seem to have historical familiarity and affection for much of the Swedish system, especially the Swedish Democrats who are keen to maintain Sweden as it was. Nonetheless, they find little in the economic model that offers them solutions to today’s problems. For the right, the market economy is the tool that they reach for, one that can solve almost any issue – be it affordable housing, migrant integration or innovation in the welfare sector. Hence, the international audience could think of this election being a referendum on change. The Social Democrats represent the voice of continuity, looking to adapt Sweden along a similar path that it has taken in recent decades. The right-wing represents the more radical views, although the right is split into two parts, with the Alliance parties calling for innovative, market-led solutions, and the Sweden Democrats trying to recreate the halcyon days of the 1970s, with native Swedes being able to feel safe and comfortable once again. While the SDs view could possibly be confused with the Social Democrats, this would be a mistake. The SD is convinced that social democracy has created a long drift, with the country needing to be wrenched back to where it was some decades ago, albeit, with a more market-led economy. With such a stark rhetorical divide, there are clearly many differences in the details, as our investigation reports.

Almedalen – a microcosm of Swedish politics
The latest MPR also summarises the three broad political themes that transpired over the week-long jamboree on Gotland called the Almedalen Week. The start of the week was heavily influenced by the previous week’s infighting amongst Alliance parties, a fight that focused on whether the SD would be offered parliamentary committee posts. This seems an unusual battlefield, but it represents something far more important – the Moderate’s search for a way to accommodate the SD, recognise the voters’ intent, and take power, but without allowing the SD into government. The problem is that it is opposed, on-principle, by every other political party, with the exception of the SD. The second broad theme was about the Sweden Democrats themselves, and the third theme was about the very far-right. On Gotland, it was the NRM, or the Nordic Resistance Movement, but the MPR focuses rather on Alternative for Sweden, made up of splinters from the SD that see the SD as too interested in power, and therefore too soft on the radical solutions needed to solve Sweden’s problems. Our article investigates what they stand for, and whether they pose a threat to the SD in the upcoming election. Further, the MPR also summarises the party leaders’ speeches, which are helpful in understanding the rhetorical and policy differences between the parties.

The election: policies, procedures and polls
Over the past 6 months, Mundus has provided summaries of the positions of all Riksdag parties to the main election issues. Our final pre-poll edition next month will look at foreign policy. Our last article in this MPR looks at the procedures for the poll: who gets to vote, and how seats are allocated. Non-subscribers you can find a summary of it here. Click on the link to the Elections Compass, to see how your views align with each of the political parties.

So, what do the opinion polls say? Opinion polls have been consistent now for a long-period. There are slight trends, but these only underline the main messages of the poll. The SD and the Left party are the big winners – the SD is now the second largest party, and the Left party has lifted its support by 80% over the last election, as voters move to the extremes. The biggest losers are the Greens and the Christian Democrats, both of whom have witnessed a catastrophic collapse of their support, and are now on track towards being ejected from the Riksdag. But, neither the Social Democrats (down 5% from the last election) and Moderates (down 4%) can be comfortable with their position. Neither side of politics is close to a majority, and given the political contradictions, opposing policies and antipathy of various parties towards the others, at times it becomes hard to imagine how a stable government can be formed. So, hold onto your seats and prepare yourselves for a gripping political autumn.

Sean is responsible for Mundus’ strategy and commercial activities. He began his career in the oil industry Australia. After working internationally in commercial roles with BP in South Africa, the UK and Singapore he moved to Sweden with his family in 2009. He worked in business development and then as the Strategy and Growth Director for NASDAQ Commodities from 2009 to 2015. Sean holds an engineering degree from Adelaide University and an MBA from the Darden Business School at the University of Virginia.