Sweden’s Politics: Why is Sweden’s Finance Minister Willing to Be Unpopular?
Last week, Sweden’s Finance Minister delivered her budget presentation.
She has been dubbed Sweden’s “most invisible modern finance minister.” However, when she emerged from the shadows last week to present the budget, she demonstrated that she is also the minister most willing to take unpopular measures, according to The Local’s Nordic editor Richard Orange.
Elisabeth Svantesson used the word “tuff” or “tough” 14 times in a 30-minute interview with Sweden’s public radio broadcaster on Saturday.
“I know it’s going to be difficult,” she said when asked why the government hadn’t increased funding to municipalities and regions in Sweden to help schools and regional health authorities deal with rising prices. “It’s going to tough for a lot of people next year.”
But she made no apologies. Getting inflation under control was the “a och o” – the alpha and omega, or beginning and end – of the budget for her.
“If I’d done what some people are calling for and given even more money to the municipalities and the regions,” she claimed, it would have entailed “an even bigger budget” , that “would have fuelled inflation and then next year and the year after we would have had even bigger problems with increased costs” .
Sweden is facing a “economic winter,” she has repeatedly stated, and the only responsible way to respond is with a “restrained” budget.
For Svantesson, it is preferable to be chastised in the short term for a stingy budget than to go into the next election as the finance minister who allowed inflation to take hold of the economy.
And if the mark of a good government budget is that it pleases no one but finance officials, then Svantesson has struck the perfect balance. Her budget was heavily criticized by both the left and the right, as well as business lobby groups and the regional and municipal governments that run the majority of Sweden’s healthcare and education.
The Social Democrats saw the decision to increase direct funding to municipalities and regions by 10 billion kronor per year as a “betrayal of the welfare sector.” The Confederation of Swedish Enterprise, on the other hand, was caving in to unreasonable demands from regional governments and municipalities, wasting 40% of the extra funds available, which could have been used to cut taxes.
In her interview, Svantesson refused to comment on whether cuts to health and education would be necessary, stating that it was up to “smart people from different parties” in regional and municipal governments to decide. “They know best how to handle the situation and I don’t want to speak for them.”
Svantesson’s technocratic approach sets her apart from the rest of Sweden’s current government.
This is a government forced to pursue a populist agenda due to its reliance on the far-right Sweden Democrats: it is cutting fuel taxes and biofuels content when action is urgently needed to combat climate change; implementing a slew of tough crime measures that many criminologists say risk increasing prison populations without addressing gang crime; and taking measures to reduce immigration that many see as illiberal.
It appears that figures such as Justice Minister Gunnar Strömmer, Migration Minister Maria Malmer Stenergard, and Environment Minister Romina Pourmokhtari – none of whom are natural populists – do not believe in many of the policies they are working to implement.
Svantesson, on the other hand, is almost an unpopulist, claiming in a Saturday interview that she is more willing than her predecessors to take unpopular measures.
“We are,” she exclaimed. “carrying out some of the tough reprioritisations that other governments have not dared to do” .
The only overtly populist tax decision she announced (possibly at the request of the Sweden Democrats) was a small reduction in the level of tax on snus, the tobacco pouches that one in every five Swedish men and many women have permanently lodged under their upper lips.
“Snus is going to be a few kronor cheaper,” she said as the Saturday interview came to a close. “That’s something many people also think is good.”