onsdag 13 april 2016

Sverige är jättebra idag, säger Löfven

I en intervju med Financial Times beskriver Stefan Löfven att det har varit helt ”overkligt”, eller surrealistiskt, att hantera flyktingsituationen i Sverige.

Swedish PM describes countrymen’s gloom as ‘surreal’

Sweden’s economy may be booming and its authorities may have stemmed a massive influx of refugees but prime minister Stefan Lofven is getting little of the credit.

Sweden, says Mr Lofven, is a country where “it is as if everything is going in the wrong direction”.

The prime minister’s statement is all the more extraordinary as the economy is rattling along at 4.5 per cent while unemployment is at its lowest since the financial crisis.

But Mr Lofven’s centre-left government remains unpopular amid the fallout from a refugee crisis that saw a country of 9.6m people welcome 163,000 asylum seekers in 2015.

Mr Lofven says dealing with the biggest refugee crisis since the second world war is “surreal”.

He adds: “But the more surreal thing is that all the numbers are going in the right direction, but the picture the public have is that the country is now going in the wrong direction. It’s not only a question about if they are afraid of the refugee crisis; it’s as if everything is going in the wrong direction.”

The latest opinion polls put Mr Lofven’s leftwing bloc almost 5 percentage points behind the centre-right bloc. The Social Democrat-led bloc is polling at 38.5 per cent.

The prime minister is convinced this is because “everything has been overshadowed” by the migrant disaster.

The past six months have been traumatic for the Swedish left. A surge in the number of asylum seekers in the autumn placed Sweden’s public services and welfare system under severe strain. Mr Lofven says the 80,000 asylum seekers who arrived in a two-month period in Sweden were the equivalent of 25m entering the entire EU in one year.

In response, Mr Lofven announced a massive policy u-turn, downgrading Europe’s most generous set of immigration policies to the European minimum. His deputy prime minister was in tears over the move while the minister implementing the policy said it was the toughest thing he had had to do in more than 20 years in politics.

In terms of the numbers of asylum seekers entering Sweden, the policy seems to be working. Following the crackdown — combined with strict identity checks on trains, boats and buses coming into Sweden from Denmark — just 500 asylum seekers arrived in Sweden last week compared with a peak of almost 10,000 per week.

The focus in Swedish politics is now turning to integration. Foreigners are 2.6 times more likely to be out of work than natives, the second highest ratio of developed countries, according to the OECD. And after 10 years in Sweden, only half of asylum seekers have a job.

That disappointing employment figure has been seized upon by the centre-right opposition. Anna Kinberg Batra, leader of the Moderates, the biggest rightwing party, says: “We have people out of society for a long time. We have to change that.”

The three other centre-right parties all want to introduce a lower minimum wage to help immigrants get a job. But Ms Batra prefers a new jobs contract that would allow immigrants to study Swedish during almost half their working hours.

Mr Lofven, a former trade union leader, is also trying to speed up integration. He wants asylum seekers to start learning Swedish while they wait for their claims to be processed; and employers to accept overseas qualifications.

For all the domestic focus, Mr Lofven is also deeply concerned about events in Europe. The first problem is the refugee crisis “because we haven’t proved ourselves capable of solving this situation”.

A second dilemma is a potential UK exit from the EU. “As a union, we would be weaker. We are not in a position now to divide ourselves in a global economy with India, with China and the United States on the other side. In that position, to suddenly divide and split up is going to weaken us . . . It would be very, very bad,” he says.

A rare bit of good news for both Mr Lofven and Ms Batra is a fall in the polls for the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats. From a high point of about 25 per cent, the party — which Mr Lofven calls neo-fascist owing to its roots in the neo-Nazi movement — is now polling at about 15 per cent. Many credit both the tougher policies of Mr Lofven and the harsher rhetoric of the centre-right on immigration for the decline.